baseball gods productions

Thoughts about baseball, from the perspective of sports psychology and the role of sports in society. It includes team and player analysis, predictions, and what I think needs to be changed in Major League Baseball. Brought to you from the heart of baseball, Brooklyn, by baseball gods productions.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

State of Baseball Address

Yes, Joe Magrane did this on the MLB network, but everyone's entitled to an opinion of the great game of baseball. So here's my assessment of the game, including what's working, what needs improvement, and some suggestions for the future.

First of all, the game is still vibrant. The fan base is passionate, the debates are inspired, and the game as a whole has not fallen off the national past-time landscape as many people feared over the past few decades. The MLB network IS the greatest thing since sliced bread, and maybe better.

My favorite TV show right now is the Hot Stove Live, except when they get a little too cute with the staged pieces. It's totally unnecessary, since the show is exactly what fans and people in the game need during the long, cold offseason. The best thing about Hot Stove Live, and the network as a whole, is the noticeable lack of loud, screaming, insulting analysts like you find on most TV and radio sports talk shows.

The one show I can live without is Front Burner. I feel terrible for Tom Verducci (MLB insider and Sports Illustrated Magazine's Senior Writer). He's one of the most engaging and insightful baseball analysts around, and on this show he has to act like a game show host. Sad, and again, unnecessary. I know it sounds strange coming from a "fan" rather than "real" baseball writer, but I don't need to hear what the fans think. That's what blogs and talk radio are for. I want expert analysis and access to the people playing and managing the game.

I appreciate the effort to integrate women into the network, but I have to say it won't be real to me until an unattractive, middle-aged woman is on the show, providing expert analysis and top-notch reporting, and not just showing cleavage and asking canned questions to the various insiders. That will come in time, and is not a problem specific to MLB network, so I am willing to put it on a back burner, if you will.

Back to the game itself, I've hated the DH since its inception and my opinion hasn't changed. However, I am beginning to wonder if the different rules for different leagues serves a useful purpose after all. The ongoing debate about which league is better, and which rule is better, keeps people passionately debating, which is good for the game. So while I would ideally love to see the DH banished to the same place as flat catcher's gloves and umpire's outside chest protectors, I am willing to keep it for the time being.

Video replay for home runs is very interesting, and the idea of replay for fair and foul calls makes sense. Any of the judgment calls like plays at bases and balls and strikes I would not like to see. I can't remember who suggested it, but it would be great to have a video replay umpire as an extra person on the umpiring crew, to avoid all the time wasting of the current system. Just please don't let the managers throw out red challenge flags. You can put an eye out with one of those.

I agree with Joe Magrane about bringing back bullpen carts. I always get nervous when I see a 300 pound setup guy sprinting in from the outfield. This is a heart attack waiting to happen, folks, and besides, the carts were fun, especially the baseball-shaped ones. It's also a great promotional opportunity, like NASCAR sponsor ads all over race cars.

Many people have addressed the slow play issue, and I have long thought that the use of relief pitchers has turned the last three innings of baseball games into the last two minutes of college basketball games, where constant play stoppages from intentional fouls bring the suspense to a grinding halt. My solution is that there should be a set number of warmup pitches each team can use each inning. Once that number is reached, any subsequent pitchers have to come in and pitch without warming up (other than in the bullpen, of course).

On a related note, the best idea I've seen from other baseball writers is that player visits need to be counted the same as bench visits to the mound. The second visit means the pitcher has to be removed. Those two rule changes would speed the game up and with any luck shorten the parade of relief pitchers at the end of games.

My favorite baseball person right now is not a current player, but rather Nolan Ryan. His effort to restore the dignity and effectiveness of starting pitchers by stretching them out to pitch more innings is the greatest thing since the MLB network. It has to be an organizational philosophy that starts the second a young player shows up in the minor leagues, and in Texas that is what they are doing. The baseball gods love this idea, and I know they are up there smiling at the Rangers and will nudge them into the playoffs before long.

The key idea here is that managers like Tony LaRussa, as brilliant as he is, have changed the mindset of pitchers to make them into these fragile pawns, rather than the powerful initiators of action and masters of their teams' fortunes that they used to be. With all the improvements in sports medicine, and the increase in size and strength of players over the past few decades, pitchers should be pitching more than they used to, not less. Pitchers should pitch fewer innings as they age, not more, the whole system has been backwards for too long.

The Verducci effect has been used to justify severe pitch counts and innings limitations, but if you look at what he says, it's the rapid increase in innings from year to year that hurts young pitchers, not the totals themselves. This does not contradict the Ryan experiment at all, just start them at a higher innings limit in the beginning and gradually increase it until it gives pitchers the strength and more importantly the confidence to pitch nine innings whenever necessary.

One of the best ideas related to rosters that I've seen (again, I wish I remembered whose idea this is) is to let teams use larger rosters (I would say 30 players for every team) in April instead of up to 40 in September. Many people have pointed out how stupid it is to have extra players possibly decide division and wild card races, especially when some teams bring up 10 players and some 3, causing all kinds of roster size inequities.

Just push the minor league season back a few weeks and let some competition spill into the early regular season. In September, the minor league teams would still be playing, but top prospects can always be called up as part of the 25 man roster. The loopholes about postseason eligibility need to be eliminated, too. None of this DL manipulations that allow players that were not on the major league roster on August 31 to be able to play in the playoffs.

There is debate about roster size during the season as well. Some advocate raising it from 25 to 26, to recognize the reliance on added pitchers over the years. Some even say it should be 24, to force managers to use pitchers more economically. To me, 25 is fine, as long as my other suggested rules changes and philosophical changes are put into effect. I miss the a deeper bench, including a third catcher, which allows other catchers to pinch hit, and allow for more pinch runners for catchers and others late in a close game. In other words, more strategy decisions.

If I had to choose 24 or 26, I'd go for 24. One thing we don't have enough of is the two-way player a la Brooks Kieschnick. A 24 man roster would encourage teams to find these guys to use as mop-up pitchers and pinch hitters, or even better, a useful two-way player like Micah Owings, who is a legitimate major league pitcher and position player.

I support a world-wide draft with bonuses based simply on round picked, so that less successful small market teams don't have to consistently pay more than more successful large market teams for their new prospects.

I would restrict the Rule 5 Draft to let only bottom half of the league teams add players, and only top half of the league teams lose players. The intent is to prevent stockpiling of talent by the winning teams like the Yankees. The way it is right now, teams like the Pirates actually get punished for stockpiling prospects, which makes no sense.

The whole 40 man roster structure needs to be reexamined. It is a throwback to an older day and age, and might not make sense anymore. It causes minor league players to get released simply because the team acquires a new major league player. Who does that help? Let minor league free agency take care of this kind of thing after the season.

Okay, I could go on, but this is enough for this year. Even Obama can't address everything all at once. The point here is that baseball is the greatest game, but it can always be improved here and there to keep the passionate debates and the hot stove fueled for years to come.

Caroms Off The Wall

RIP Jane Jarvis, first organist for the New York Mets. She's been missed since she stopped playing for the Mets and now she will be missed as the icon she was. The Mets should pay tribute to her by bringing back the organ and trashing that horrible canned rock music that is several decibels too loud and totally out of sync with the action of the field.

If you look up replacement level pitcher in the baseball statistics glossary, there's a picture of Josh Fogg.

Domo arigato, Mr. Delgado. (Thank you, Mr. Delgado, in Japanese, which the Mets used to flash on the big screen when Carlos Delgado hit a home run.)

© Judy Kamilhor 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Forgot about the Cuban defectors

There are some more free agents out there that haven't turned down the Mets yet, as far as we know. Yuniesky Maya and Leslie Anderson, both Cuban defectors, could be worth a shot. Maya is a 27 year old pitcher, and Anderson is a 26 year old OF/1B, and both sound like they could help the Mets this year after a short time in the minors to adjust, perhaps.

I don't know what kind of money these guys are looking for, but at this point it's the kind of risk a team like the Mets should be willing to take. There is no draft pick compensation, no prospects to give in return, just cash, which the Mets keep saying they have.

As the guy says in the disturbingly humorous Cole Hamels ad, "Come on, Omar!"

© Judy Kamilhor 2010

Can't Believe the Mets Missed Out on Timo Perez

Am I the only one who thinks Nick Evans would be a better platoon partner with Daniel Murphy at first base than Fernando Tatis? Nothing against (Little Buddha) Tatis; I love him, and if I had a daughter, I'd let her marry him, but he's not the answer. First things first at first, I don't really think Murphy has had enough time to show what he can do against lefties anyway. I'd like to see what he can do as the full-time first baseman before making any moves, but it's too late early around here.

Every day, I am more convinced that Omar Minaya is a bad general manager. And I am totally convinced that the Mets' management structure is broken and needs to be completely revamped. The good news is that a bad start will likely lead to the firing of Omar Minaya. The bad news is that short of a team sale, Jeff Wilpon is not going anywhere.

There are fewer and fewer free agents available every day, and yes, they're probably cheap, but since when are the Mets are a small-market team? Really, the only two advantages that the Mets have over other teams is the large-market promotional opportunities and money, money, money.

Now that they have to compete with teams like San Diego, Washington, and Kansas City for the dregs of the free agent season, the only reason a player would come to the Mets is for more money and more attention. And yet, no one is signing with the Mets, except for Omar's old friends, and oddly, Japanese guys that are totally unforecastable.

The only question is: what do the Mets do now?

If I were in charge, I'd try to trade for Bronson Arroyo without giving up top prospects, by paying his entire salary. If Cincinnati doesn't bite, I'd sign Chien-Ming Wang to a two-year, incentive-laden contract and let him work himself back into major league shape for the second half of the season. He is not going to be as good as was in his Yankee prime, but he is a bull-dog, and has proven to be able to handle New York, unlike Erik Bedard, Jarrod Washburn, and some of the others.

The only other pitcher of interest is actually Braden Looper. Met fans probably still hate him for being an ineffective (and injured) closer, but now he is a reliable and durable starter, along the lines of Jon Garland.

I'd also sign John Smoltz to be a reliever/part-time pitching coach. He is one of the best pitchers I've ever seen, and I think he has a few good innings left, and more importantly, pitching wisdom. Between him and Johan Santana, the Mets would at least have Hall-of-Fame caliber mentors for the holy unpredictable triumvirate of Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, and Oliver Perez.

I'd sign Orlando Hudson to a one year deal, and release Luis Castillo if I can't get any kind of prospect for him (and of course, pay 90-95% of his salary to give the other team a real reason to get him).

The team could use a couple of lefty relievers to add to the competitive mix in Spring Training. They need a real LOOGY so Pedro Feliciano can be used in a more extensive role as a set-up guy who can pitch more than one inning. I know Jerry Manuel prefers to use him more often for shorter stints, but I'm entitled to disagree with him, and I do about this. I've said for years that Feliciano is usually the best or second best reliever on the team, and has only recently gotten the love from the media. Maybe try to sign a failed lefty starter and see what he can do in the pen. Rich Hill would have been interesting in that role, but it's too late for him, too.

Signing Johnny Gomes as a competitor for the final bench spot would make sense, too. I'd rather have him than Gary Matthews, Jr. because at least he is good at something, hitting for power. Something the Mets certainly need more of. But then again, I'd rather have Gary Matthews, Sr. or Garry Maddox than GM Jr.

My last move would be to hire a guy like Will Carroll to consult about the injury problem, and maybe a brilliant sports psychologist/mental skills coach. If he or she (yes, I'm available) doesn't help the players, maybe the front office can pick up some IQ points. The Mets need to make some changes in how they deal with health, focus, and lacks thereof. Carroll is a genius when it comes to pitching injuries, and the Mets need more geniuses as much as they need more power.

Let's Go Mets! I'm trying hard to keep an open mind as I wait for pitchers and catchers.

Caroms Off the Wall

Domo arigato, Mr. Delgado.

© Judy Kamilhor 2010

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Another Crazy Idea

Okay, so maybe being off work is causing some kind of hallucinogenic effect, but here's another idea to consider for the Mets. How about trying Josh Thole at second base for the Buffalo Bisons. He can still catch a few times a week, but how about giving him a crash course in infield play? His hitting profiles better as a second baseman than as a catcher or corner IF or OF, and his strong arm can make up for some range limitations.

The fact is that Luis Castillo has very little range, and isn't as good a hitter as Thole right now. I've wondered what Daniel Murphy would be able to do at 2B as well. I know they tried him there briefly in the minors, but again, he can't be much worse than Castillo.

Signing someone like Russell Branyan, and eventually moving Thole and/or Murphy to 2B would be a radical move, but instantly improve the power and offense, without hurting the defense all that much (we'll see). This would require Murphy being sent down, which he probably would be anyway if the Mets sign another first baseman.

The point, as always, is that Mets need to be much more creative and intelligent with their resources than they are right now.

Random Caroms Off the Wall

It's great to hear about and see Santana and Perez throwing in Port St. Lucie. Makes me want to pick something up and throw it. Where's that Nerf ball?

© Judy Kamilhor 2010


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Crazy Idea

To add onto my last post, the other option for the Mets is to make a trade instead of, or in addition to, signing some more free agents. Two guys that I have wanted for the Mets for a long time both conveniently play for the same team.

Bronson Arroyo and Micah Owings are two pitchers that could help the Mets, in very different ways. Arroyo, obviously, would improve the rotation, giving the team a tough-minded veteran that thrives in pressure situations, at least judging by his performances with the Red Sox a few years ago.

Owings is the crazy part. I would love to see him become a two-way player ala Brooks Kieschnick, part-time at first base and part-time relief pitcher. Owings' career major league batting stats:

G     PA     AB    R   H   2B  3B  HR  RBI   BB  K   AVE   OB   SLG   OPS



He would be perfect as a platoon partner with Murphy at 1B, a pinch hitter, and a multipurpose reliever. He played 1B in college as well as DH, so he's no stranger to the position, and he is the real deal with a bat in his hand.

How about Mike Pelfrey for Arroyo and Owings?

© Judy Kamilhor 2010

Now What?

The Mets have gotten one guy they really wanted in Jason Bay, and that's about it. What remains to be done is to significantly upgrade the rotation, replace Luis Castillo, provide competition for Daniel Murphy, and maybe add a veteran catcher.

When I heard that the Mets got Gary Matthews, Jr. I thought that just maybe, they had traded Luis Castillo for him, and were about to sign Orlando Hudson (or the other Orlando, Cabrera). No such luck. So now what?

What I'd love to see is for the Mets to sign at least two more pitchers, even three. Sheets, Smoltz, and Garland are my top choices, followed by Chien Ming Wang. I'm not sure about Washburn and Bedard being able to handle the pressure of NY fans and media. None of these guys have to get a huge contract at this point, so incentive-laden deals are the way to go. The Mets need a real competition for the starting rotation, unlike the past few years where everyone (that means you, Oliver Perez) was pretty much guaranteed a spot.

I would love to see Jon Niese step up and grab a spot in the rotation, but the Mets need more quality and depth, period.

As for the position players, upgrading second base is the only priority in my mind. Either Orlando Hudson or Orlando Cabrera is a significant enough upgrade to make it worthwhile to eat Castillo's contract and release him. Players making a whole lot more have been released (Sheffield, Byrnes), so what's the problem? It's not like they will have to pay all that much to the ODog and OCab. I read that the Mariners are considering trading Jose Lopez. He would be worth considering, as an immediate power upgrade, without hurting the defense and maybe improving it slightly.

If the Mets sign Sheets and Garland, or Sheets and Smoltz, I might be willing to trade Mike Pelfrey or John Maine for Lopez.

The bottom line is that the Mets still have options that will improve their chances in 2010, but they need to act boldly and intelligently, which is probably too much to ask.

© Judy Kamilhor 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What if Mark Messier ran the Mets?

Joel Sherman's Hardball blog entry for January 14, 2010 was headlined Beltran Issue Gets Messier for Mets. And for one brief, shining moment I actually thought the Mets had somehow hired Mark Messier to fix their management problem.

No such luck. Omar Minaya and Jeff Wilpon are still running the team. The only thing that has changed since the end of last season is the calendar. No one is healthier, communication challenges still abound, and we are once again looking at Angel Pagan to open the season in the outfield.

My little misreading of Sherman's headline prompted me to think about the baseball equivalent of Mark Messier. Great leader, fearless player, single-minded determination to win, willing to put his team on his back. Two names that came to me are Derek Jeter and Keith Hernandez. Neither is quite up to the level of Messier, though, because Jeter often shies away from the media responsibilities of leading his team. Hernandez doesn't cut it for giving up on the Mets in game six of the 1986 World Series.

For pure leadership ability, the best in baseball that I know of was Gil Hodges. He wasn't brash and willing to put himself on the line the way Messier did in guaranteeing the Rangers would win in 1994, but he would sure look good in the dugout right now. If the team can't fix its top management, having a great field manager like Hodges would certainly help a lot.

So if it's not Jeter, Hernandez, or Hodges, I'm stuck. Maybe baseball has never had someone with Messier's qualities, and maybe baseball is a different enough game from hockey that there will never be someone quite like him. All I am saying is that the Mets need to rebuild their management from the top down, hiring a team president that will change the way things are done around here.

I am willing to give the team one more year, and then starting from the top, rebuild with the best baseball minds there are. Actually, I just thought of the perfect guy, but he's already doing this exact thing for the Rangers. The Texas Rangers. His name is Nolan Ryan. And the Mets traded him away.

© Judy Kamilhor 2010