Drew Fairservice: October 2009 Archives

nerdshirt.jpgWelcome to this week's edition of Kicking and Screaming, a Walkoff Walk introduction to Pitch F/x. Today we examine two great World Series starts.

The 2009 version of the Fall Classic has already yielded two classic pitching performances. First Cliff Lee and then A.J. Burnett turned in gems this week in the Bronx, in their own unique ways. Lee's known for his incredible control and ability to throw strikes with any one of his four pitches. A.J. is famous for his electric fastball and one of the best curveballs in the game; his Hammer of Doom.

Lee's outing utter domination of the Yankee bats is due in large part to his ability to mix his pitches. He kept the powerful sluggers from keying on any one pitch by moving the ball around the plate and changing speeds. Burnett, once known as more of a thrower, relied on his fastball as always but kept the Phillies at bay by working well to both sides.

Below I've tracked the first two pitches thrown to each batter by Lee and Burnett during their initial runs through the lineup. Not the movement of the pitch itself, but the change in location from one pitch to the next. Did they "change the hitters eye-level" as Tim McCarver loves to claim? Did they pound inside early to set up soft stuff away late? Find out after the jump!

dtrt.jpgAs I'm sure your houseboy informed you by now Bud, the Phillies dispensed with the Dodgers last night to qualify for the World Series. With the playoff schedule as currently constructed, they won't play again for one full week. The New York Yankees take the field tonight with a chance to secure their spot in the Fall Classic. If they do Bud, you must step in. You must move up the start f the World Series.

I know that you're beholden to the TV networks in a serious way. I know Joe Buck is our unholy Lord and master, drinking the blood of the non-believers. I get that Bud. But you, only you in all your bumbling glory, have the power to step in. To do right by the fans &mdash and most importantly the game you love for the bountiful riches it provides you &mdash and move the game up to within two days of the close of the final LCS.

Not only will you help avoid November baseball between two Northeastern teams, you will help preserve the quality of the on-field action. Not only would the chance of snow be lessened by a good 5%*, you would take strides to improve the credibility of your post season.

There are people in this world that view the baseball season as a marathon. A 162 game grind that separates the wheat from the chaff via attrition as much as performance. By adding so many off days between games, you tip the scales in favor of teams with front-heavy rotations (i.e. Yankees, Phillies), allowing them to continually get their top guys set up to start the series. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for best-on-best battles for all the marbles, but this goes against the entire nature of a baseball season.

By moving up the games, you could maintain the valuable momentum gained by having your event at the top of the sportscast. Move the series up the the weekend, or to Monday night. Afraid of football? Anyone who'd rather watch the Redskins over the World Series probably wasn't going to tune in anyway.

Just do it Bud. Throw a bone to the fans of your fair product game. Move the games up in spite of the networks protestations. You don't even have to air them during the day or afternoon when people might watch them. Just spare us the week long analysis of excruciating minutiae.

* - this number was absolutely generated out of thin air

The stolen Image is a Cara Mitchell joint.

moundy.jpgStop me if you've heard this one before: post-season baseball games run too long and too late into the night. Take it from me, I glogged the crap out of Saturday's five hour marathon and, frankly, I may never be the same.

The newest villain in the fight against sleep: mound meetings. Be they discussions between catcher and pitcher, pitching coach and pitcher, manager/catcher/pitcher, catcher/pitcher/Sajak, calm-eyed shortstop and wide-eyed manager and so forth. We've seen mound meetings for any one of these sundry reasons:

  • Discussion of pitching stratagem
  • Buying time for a warming reliever
  • Buying gold and other commodities as the dollar struggles
  • "Coaching up" sessions for marginal relievers
  • Exhortation of an active catcher to be more like a certain retired catcher
  • Spanglish conversations regarding pitch selection
  • English conversations regarding signs and sign-stealing malfeasance
  • Inquires into physical well-being and status of the human condition

Who is really to blame for all this consorting and micromanaging? You and I, the baseball loving second guesser. The urge to overmanage is strongly ingrained in any good baseballman in the 21st century. They're determined to cover their bases; and more importantly their asses.

The manager knows he can't trust the players to carry out his precise game-plan. The catcher knows the idiot pitcher doesn't pay attention to his perfectly sequenced pitch calls. The pitcher knows the dumb catcher never believed in his legendary curveball. The infielders know the pitcher's a flake that can't be trusted. The bench coach knows (and quickly reminds the manager) the players were BBMing B-list starlets or on the phone making tee times when the team last discussed positional coverage 8 months ago.

Obviously mound meetings aren't the only catalyst for long baseball games. Your particular flavor of agenda dictates the direction you're most likely to cast your scorn. The TV networks (with the league working in concert) have a long, proud tradition of deflecting all blame towards the primadonnas on the field. First it was too much stepping in and out of the box, spending too much time between pitches, taking too long to enter the game from the bullpen or, in a rare populist move, blaming the patient Yankees for working so many full counts and driving away youthful fans.

Each of these causations carry some blame, ranging from trivial to soul-shattering. The networks would never consider forsaking one minute of commercial time between innings as that would represent a horrific loss of revenue. A loss so substantial that only raising ticket prices league-wide by 20% will make up the difference. That's just basic economics, people!

Mound photo courtesy of flickr user Melanie, Still Waiting. Still waiting for the game to end, amirite???

sciosciaface2.jpgIt has been said that the playoffs bring the true character of baseball teams to the surface. That sounds like something that's been said anyway, which means it is halfway to becoming a truism. The true character of the LAA Angels is slowly being revealed by the New York Yankees and the 2009 postseason, and it comes in the form of Gary Matthews Jr.

Gary Matthews Jr. represents the truth about the Angels in a macrosense and the truth about Mike Scioscia in a microsense. The Angels are sold to us a scrappy bunch of upstarts, playing the game The Right Way in a feel-good package. They run and gun, they take extra bases and they play defense. Only one of these things is remotely true. The Angels, as J pointed out on the weekend, have baseball's 6th biggest payroll. The heart of their order (Abreu, Hunter, Guerrero) are all big dollar free agents brought in with owner Arte Moreno's millions. Two of these big money free agents rode into town long after the Angels inked one of the top free agents of 2006: Gary Mathews.

That the Angels can pay Gary Matthews $10 million dollars a year to sit on the bench and stew is astounding, and hardly a plucky underdog thing to do. There aren't many teams in baseball (and none in their division) that can afford such a mistake, let alone go out and pursue better options because Matthews, as it turns out, sucks.

Gary Matthews has become a pretty crappy baseball player. Blame it on a lack of playing time if you will, but he's inability to hit AT ALL cannot be overstated. Perhaps I'm guilty of selection bias (in 15 ABs versus the Jays this year, Matthews had two hits and 7 strikeouts), but I haven't seen Gary Matthews turn in a decent at bat pretty much ever. Yet there was Mike Scioscia, master tactician, calling on Gary to pinch hit for catcher Mike Napoli in the 8th inning with the two men on. Gary struck out, looking very bad in the process.

Scioscia almost HAD to pinch hit with Matthews there, as he had already removed Juan Rivera for a pinch runner earlier in the inning. Never mind that both Mike Napoli and Juan Rivera are among the Angels best hitters, Scioscia played for one run on the road and failed. Matthews later walked and scored (after a bunt!) the go-ahead before striking out with two men on in the 12th. It isn't really Gary's fault that he's not a good hitter, but Mike Scioscia's for continuing to let him do so.

It is easy for me, a self-sniffer, to sit back and question Mike Scioscia's in-game moves. Managing a big league team in high-pressure situations sure isn't easy. But Scioscia seems to possess a lifetime free pass based on the false assumption that he's a miracle worker, extracting wins from a shallow talent pool. The Angels do run and play aggressively on the basepaths, both to their credit and their detriment. As I've said over and again, putting pressure on the defense works against bad teams but good ones will make you pay.

In the post season, when your outs become an even more precious commodity, maybe bunting three times and producing one total run isn't such a hot idea. Perhaps removing two of your best hitters in the same inning isn't a great way to win a game. Maybe Mike Scioscia's record and the context in which he's achieved it is due some scrutiny? Just don't blame Gary Matthews, he's pretty much defenseless.

CACTUS1.jpgBy now you, loyal fan of baseball and the human condition, have heard of the Arizona Fall League. How could you not have? It's the only quasi-professional baseball league-come-tryout camp with its own Twitter, it must be legit. In some ways, the AFL is proof we live in the Golden Age of Fandom. We watch every pitch, discuss every nuance, second-guess every decision. It's great! Not only that, we also have access to communities in which we can poke fun at the foibles of billionaire owner's wives, pine for robot umpires, and share photos of infants in shellfish costumes to our heart's content.

Our insatiable thirst for knowledge and/or schadenfreude comes at a cost. Who will provide this endless stream of content? Where can newspapers and webpagsites generate fresh copy for the teeming masses ready to fisk at the first scent of laziness? How can sports editors embrace their inner messageboard mouthbreather and scream "FIRST"? Easy: fill up on prospects.

Just as developing and retaining high-level prospects became integral to the success of most Major League baseball clubs, fans interest in the progress of their team's Next Big Thing grew. Once isolated in far-flung corners of corn states and forgotten burghs; fans can now monitor the Second Coming of Aging Player X over the internet; breaking down performances while living and dying with every at bat. Nevermind that the kid is (likely) hung over and (definitely) smells of your kid sister's shower gel, the development of this instant millionaire is IMPORTANT! Only he can rescue your suffering franchise from the throes of mediocrity!

Enter the Arizona Fall League. A place once reserved for dusty scouts to watch rusty ballplayers do their meatmarket dance on dusty fields, the AFL is, suddenly, the focus of the non-playoff baseball world. ZOMG did you hear Stephen Strasburg made his professional debut? Send in the clowns!

And oh how the clowns have arrived. Major newspapers sending their A beat grunts to cover games that amount to public workouts. WoW favorite Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times is on site, reporting on Mariners prospects Dustin Ackley, Josh Fields, and Phillipe Aumont. That's what we're told anyway, smart money is on the Times sending Baker to get some sun before the rainy Northwestern winter lands him on 24 hour suicide watch.

That leaves us, the baseball nerds of the world, waiting with baited breath for the next report to surface or cryptic KLaw tweet to either confirm or deny our belief that big time prospect Jimmy Nocommand is going to save us all from replacement-level hell.

As Keith Law stated above, the AFL is not about results but the tools the players display. Keep that in mind when reading a breathless report from your local J-school graduate turned wizened talent evaluator. This is filler of the highest order, a way for newspapers to get more column inches out of their beat guys before the GM meetings kick off and In-N-Out season starts again in February. Let's do our best to keep our dreaming in check and be thankful the real baseball starts again tonight.

pandawatch.jpgAs the playoffs and award season gets underway, we want to take a gander at some players who had outstanding seasons in 2009 but whose teams ended up just shy of making the postseason and who will (most likely) not pick up any fancy trophies. Quite a consolation prize: a round of golf and a write-up on a low circulation sports blog.

Previously, Javier Vazquez, Russell Branyan, Ben Zobrist, Adam Lind and Prince Fielder.

Next up, Pablo Sandoval, as written by Drew Fairservice.

That Pablo Sandoval was the best offensive player on the Giants was, in and of itself, not much of a feat. The Giants offense was terrible bordering on will-to-live-crushingly bad. The brilliance of their pitching staff was offset and canceled out by the putridity of their offense. But in the middle of their order, in the middle of Bruce Bochy's pathetic coddling of mediocre veteran players, sat the man they call Panda. The Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval.

The cliche barrel usually needs a refilling after an article on Pablo Sandoval. His jolly (read: fat) build makes for much discussion of his joy and/or free-spirited ways. "He's just having fun out there!" is as familiar a refrain as "Bengie Molina ate my ribs" or "Timmy stole my knit cap" when you get around the Giants. The Panda and the Skinny Skater Kid have completely re-invigorated the Giants fanbase, allowing local columnists to go crazy and make outrageous comparisons. That's never a bad idea! (From the SF Chronicle)

On the Excitement Meter, Sandoval bumps the needle higher than any Giant since the young Barry Bonds. To find a Giant with Sandoval's kid-like enthusiasm and joy for the game, say hey, you might have to go back to Willie. Read more:

There we go! Willie Mays! That's fair.

Pablo Sandoval's numbers are much better than fair. They're worth getting excited about. 25 home runs, .396 wOBA, a tidy .943 OPS all accrued in a decidedly pitcher-friendly park. Panda puts up excellent numbers while battling with the demons known as reckless free-swinging. Oh the demons haunt Pablo, the demons perch on his shoulder and whisper "Swing, swing at them all! You can reach it!" So Pablo swung. Near or far he offered at them all.

But he fought and battled his demons. He reduced his out of zone swings from 41.5% in April to 33.5% by September. He learned to work a count and learned to talk a walk, finishing the season with a nearly respectable 8.3% walk rate. More than 12% of his PAs finished in walks for the September, where he really put his new-found patience to good use during the Giants aborted run to the post season.

In addition to being good and fun, Pablo Sandoval also gets to be young and clutch. Too things that you can't control too well on your own but sure appreciate once you've lost them. Sandoval lead his team in win probability added as well as improving his output with the pressure was on. He hit the game-winning home run on the last day of the season and added numerous other walkoff and/or high leverage contributions.

One question nags though: with the Panda's pledge to lose weight over the winter and his increasingly patient ways, does he lose what makes him the Kung Fu Panda? Does he just become another good baseball player with a high batting average on balls in play? Was he lucky this year, with only his righteous fatness buoying his considerable fortunes? In a word, no. Fat or skinny, good or average, fun dudes to hang out with are always going to be fun. Charismatic or energetic dudes will always attract attention and attract fans.

That is what the Panda is, and what he means. He doesn't have to be fat (though it does help the large cuddly bear allusions) and he doesn't have disdain walking. Just having a high-level player who isn't a polished corporate robot is more than enough for most fans, the excellent offense is just icing on the calorie-reduced cake.

AP image courtesy of McCovey Chronicles, who are good people.

acrylicaward.jpgWith the postseason stuck in that lull between the regular season and the playoffs, we here at Walkoff Walk thought it would be a good time to assault our readers' eyes and brains with some award posts. We proudly present The Second Annual Walkoff Walk Dot Com Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence sponsored in part by nobody because we don't get paid a damn thing to do this website. It's a labor of love.

We've split up our choices by award and stuck both leagues together because we're angry and spiteful men. We've spent minutes and minutes researching stats and whatnot to make these important decisions. Please consider our opinions and then feel free to express your own in the comment section.

anderson.jpgAmerican League Rookie of the Year

  1. Brett Anderson, A's

  2. Nolan Reimold, Orioles

  3. Elvis Andrus, Rangers

This selection was rather difficult as no AL kid put together a truly terrific season. Brett Anderson pitched really well, leading AL rookie starters in WHIP, strikeout per walk rate, home runs allowed and fancy component numbers like FIP and DIPS. Anderson fell victim to some bad luck (poor strand rates and BABIP numbers) and criminally low run support. He's the best positioned to improve on his numbers down the road while guys like RIck Porcello and Ricky Romero need to improve their control before the league figures them out.

Reimold is a good young hitter though a mediocre defender that figures to be part the Orioles drive for third in the AL East. Andrus played incredible defense at an important position though his offense lacked a bit. Quietly Matt Weiters fits into the same category though his bat really caught fire last in the season. Expect him to live up to the hype next year. Sorry Andrew Bailey, relievers on bad teams don't win exclusive WoW awards. Pitch some more innings and I'll consider your solid numbers legit.

tommyboy.jpgNational League Rookie of the Year

  1. Tommy Hanson, Braves

  2. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

  3. Randy Wells, Cubs

I slurped Tommy Hanson less than a month ago and I'm completely in the tank for the big Ginger starter, so this should come as no surprise. He threw fewer innings than other NL starters but is the only one with a legit shot at becoming a great not good starter. Big frame, big arm, big whiffs, big results. Excellent breaking pitches, good control and a tiny little WHIP of 1.18. That's plenty of rationale. As an added bonus, if you turn SafeSearch Off and google Tommy Hanson you can have the rest of the afternoon off work because you've been fired.

Andrew McCutchen is really, really good and a lot of fun to watch. He is the anchor of the Official Bad Team Walkoff Walk Is Unabashedly Trying Ground Floor, playing strong centerfield while patiently hitting with power and stealing bases. In other words, he's awesome. Just like the Pirates will be in 8 short years!

Randy Wells pitched well enough in 2009 to force his way into this conversation. He doesn't strike out too many but he won't walk you either. Wells turned himself into a solid mid-rotation guy this year but I think that's about where he'll stay.

Tough cookies to complier of wins and player for excellent team J.A. Happ. He's lucky I only penalized him for his slightly fortunate season and not the goofy pronunciation of his "name." Good seasons from Dexter Fowler and Chris Coghlan fell by the wayside because neither of them could catch a cold. Casey McGehee supplied decent power and a willingness to wear whichever glove fits over his sweaty mitt but that is about it. Also, grown men named Casey are strange and disturbing. If you're in the market for a new one, I recommend Dexter, girls might think you're Jamaican and that always gets results.

(coming up next, the Cy Young Awards)

zackattack.jpgZack Greinke will, barring a miracle of clusterfucktastic proportions, win the Cy Young award for the American League in 2009. He's been outstanding from Opening Day right up until today, the day of his final start. He will not win 20 games, but God willing, that won't keep him from winning the trophy.

Grienke's Royals are a bad, bad baseball team. Losers of 94 games, many years have passed since they played a Meaningful baseball game. Until today. Today, Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, and the 23 living embodiments of replacement level face the Twins in a game that could decide the Twinkies season. The Royals get to play the spoilers, and spoil they well. Because Zack Greinke is amazing and the Twins, well, stink.

Watching the Tigers and Twins do battle this week I was amazed at how bad a team the Twins really are. The Tigers are far from perfect, but the Twins don't strike me a playoff-caliber team. The certainly miss Justin Morneau from the middle of their lineup as any team would. But aside from Joe Mauer, the Twins inspire little in the way of fear. As always, the Twins inspire shrugged shoulders and questions of "how they hell did they win so many games?"

Despite my derision, the bats generate a decent amount of offense. Jason Kubel and Michael Cuddyer hit home runs while Denard Span picks up singles like your kid sister at the end of "Love in an Elevator." They love giving their precious outs away &mdash for free!&mdash via the sacrifice bunt. They also ground into the second most double plays in baseball! Their pitching and defense are pretty abysmal.

What does all this mean for The Zombie? Sadly, many writers will end up using this high(ish) profile game as a measuring stick for Greinke's Cy Young worth. "He can't win the big game" I'm sure they'll say, noting his less than impressive supporting cast of clowns won/loss record. If Zack shuts the Twins down, crushing their playoff hopes with the zeal of Dayton Moore administering Yuniesky Water Torture on Joe Posnanski, he will hopefully make believers of the scores of writers yet to see him pitch this year (read: the New York media horde.) Here's hoping he converts the few remaining non-believers. He's earned it.

fish_011.gifAs reported by everyone on Twitter (it's a trending topic) the Toronto Blue Jays have parted ways with J.P. Ricciardi effective immediately. From Bluejays.com:

The Blue Jays announced on Saturday that they have dismissed their general manager -- effective immediately -- and that Alexander Anthopoulos, the vice president of baseball operations and assistant general manager, will fill the role.

Young Canadian upstart Alex Anthopoulous has the pleasure of taking over the most futile job in sports. I'l try to have more to say about this tomorrow. Until then I'll be too busy staring into the abyss and wondering if it just blinked.

ichiro1.jpgIt is safe to say Ichiro isn't like most professional baseball players. While his overt weirdness on the field and his cryptic strangeness during the press scrum set him apart from his straight-laced teammates, his choice of video games is weird enough that even Dmac has no clue what he's talking about.

In a Japanese interview he gave (cribbed by Kotaku) Ichiro expressed a great debt to insanely popular and so-Japanese-it's-scary video game Dragon Quest. Ichiro claims to do nothing but play Dragon Quest when healing from injuries. Which is a shame, as I would totally pwn him at Halo 3.

This isn't the first time Ichiro referenced the Japanese role playing game. During the most-recent edition of the World Baseball Classic, Ichiro drew parallels between the tension and pressure of a team progressing through an elimination tournament and his character growing stronger with every equivalent spin of the virtual twelve-sided die in Dragon Quest.

Want more proof Ichiro won't surrendering his Playstation Network username for Mike Carp's Madden '10 league any time soon? Check out his shirt from the Japanse video linked above:

sharpdressedman.JPG

It takes a certain type of man to wear a button down, collared shirt that doubles as a hoody! I'm going to go out on a limb and assume the average "Interests: hunting, fishing," baseball player doesn't have one of those in his clubhouse locker. Jeez. Can't Ryan Braun spraypaint a cow's skull or a naked manbearpig or something else wacky onto that shirt to make it more MLBPA friendly?

oktoberfest.jpg

The original Oktoberfest in 1810 celebrated the marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen and featured a big horse race. This year, baseball's Oktoberfest celebrates the eight teams that were skilled enough to keep playing deep into October and, if they're lucky, finish the year with a trophy, a platter of sausages, and an imperial pint of Hofbräu. Next up, the Colorado Rockies, as penned by Drew "There's a National League Now?" Fairservice.

Can you believe it??? It is Rocktober all over again! Or, if you've spent a lifetime ingesting oxygen-deprived Rocky Mountain air, Rock-Two-Ber. "How on Earth did this happen?", you might ask. The answer: just as it did in 2007. The Rocks stumbled out of the gate in 2009 only to make a delirious* run to postseason with a crazy second half.

For the most part the cast of characters is the same. Minus the manager, of course! The Rox cut that dead weight lose early on, allowing bench coach Jim Tracy to take over and Woody Paige to make this ridiculous pun:

And Jim Tracy should be recognized as the manager of the year for what he did getting the Rox past this first hurdle. (Whoops.)

Whoops indeed Woody. The Rockies decision to trade franchise cornerstone Matt Holliday "paid off" in that the team was still successful despite giving up a fantastic and productive player in exchange for a fly-catching pinch runner and new-found closer Huston Street, who did provide an excellent campaign.

The Rockies are in fine shape for the post season thanks to their strong rotation full of worm-burning machines and plethora of talented outfielders. They have a deep bench with veteran leadership and a patient, balanced offense. They draw more walks than anyone in the NL and knock the ball out of the park with frequency.

They also feature one of the games true stars: Troy Tulowitzki. I have very mixed emotions about Tulo. On one hand, he's a dynamic player on the diamond, coupling excellent defense at a crucial position with tons of power, patience and even a bit of speed. On the other hand, there's an excellent chance he's a detestable douchebag. I can't say for sure, but he puts out way too much white hat vibe for me to give him a free pass. Tulowitzki's overwhelming talent on the field will win out and you will find yourself cheering him on in spite of yourself in no time.

In the end, the Rockies are a scary team if you're anyone else in the National League. They have a legit ace, they can score, and they have the distinct advantage of staging their home games on Hoth. They're already battle tested after playing 3 huge series against the Giants in September. In a word; they're good. If the Rockies again reach the World Series, their American League opposition shouldn't expect a walk over like the Red Sox had in 2007.**

* - delirium is actively discouraged in the Rockies dressing room. "Spin around in a circle until you fall down" is not an acceptable answer to "WWJD?"

** - Just kidding! They'll get killed all the same.