Daily Dose: The Dice-Man Cometh (Back)

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No one seemed to know quite what to expect from Daisuke Matsuzaka’s return to the rotation Tuesday night, but he looked like the effectively wild 2008 version instead of the totally ineffective 2009 version. Starting for the first time since June 19 he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, struck out six, worked primarily in the low-90s, and held the Angels scoreless for six frames for just his second victory of the season.
Matsuzaka was far from perfect, throwing just 52 of 93 pitches for strikes and issuing three walks, but even while going 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA last year control was always an issue. Prior to coming off the disabled list Matsuzaka had a 3.86 ERA and 23/9 K/BB ratio in 21 innings while rehabbing his strained shoulder in the minors, so there is some reason for optimism even beyond Tuesday night’s impressive return.
While the Red Sox give Matsuzaka a three-week audition for October here are some other notes from around baseball …


* After various setbacks and altered timetables Jake Peavy is officially scheduled to make his White Sox debut Saturday against the Royals. Sidelined since June 8 with an ankle injury and then elbow problems, Peavy is finally ready to return now that the White Sox are basically out of the playoff mix. Kansas City is a favorable matchup to return to, but Peavy is expected to be on a limited pitch count initially.
* After three straight rough outings Cliff Lee bounced back in a big way Tuesday with a complete-game shutout against the Nationals, making him 7-2 with a 2.67 ERA in nine starts for Philadelphia. Lee has averaged over seven innings per start since the July 29 trade that sent six players to Cleveland, completing three of his nine outings while posting a 60/9 K/BB ratio in 64 innings.
* Carlos Zambrano struggled Tuesday night amid reports that the Cubs plan to shop him this offseason, giving up five runs over five innings in a no-decision against the Brewers. He had a season-high nine strikeouts, but walked four, uncorked two wild pitches, and coughed up a 4-0 lead. Zambrano is owed $18 million per year through 2012, yet has ERAs of 3.95, 3.91, and now 3.94 during the past three seasons.
* News that the Rangers are skipping Kevin Millwood’s next turn in the rotation would raise lots of eyebrows if not for the fact that he’s 1-3 with a 7.62 ERA in his last five starts and 2-5 with a 6.29 ERA in a dozen outings since July 1. Even still rumors are swirling that MLB has told the financially struggling team to limit future commitments and Millwood is just 4.1 innings away from triggering a $12 million option for 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Victor Martinez left the team Tuesday due to an undisclosed personal issue and Kevin Youkilis was out of the lineup with back spasms… Andy Pettitte has been scratched from Wednesday’s start with a sore shoulder … Detroit will pay $18 million to Magglio Ordonez next year after his plate appearance-based option vested Tuesday … David Ortiz went 2-for-4 with a homer Tuesday, surpassing last season’s long-ball total with 24 … Michael Young (hamstring) rejoined the lineup Tuesday as a designated hitter after being out all month … Jarrod Washburn left Tuesday’s start with knee pain after giving up four runs in the first inning … Brett Tomko will have his next start skipped after complaining of elbow discomfort following his complete-game shutout Monday … Travis Snider homered twice Tuesday, but also struck out for the 38th time in 86 at-bats since returning from Triple-A … Tim Wakefield (back) threw a bullpen session Tuesday, but there’s no timetable yet for his return to the rotation.
NL Quick Hits: Adam Wainwright was denied his 19th victory Tuesday despite seven innings of two-run ball … Chipper Jones (groin) is expected to miss at least two more games and could be sidelined for the entire week … Jose Valverde was unavailable again Tuesday because of a 101-degree fever … Adam LaRoche went 4-for-4 with two homers Tuesday and is batting .351 with 12 homers in 40 games since returning to Atlanta … Aaron Cook (shoulder) threw a simulated game Tuesday and reported “no pain” and “a little rust” … Mike Hampton is expected to miss all of next season and may be forced to retire after undergoing rotator cuff surgery Tuesday … Tommy Hanson tossed seven shutout innings Tuesday, allowing three hits while improving to 10-3 with a 2.65 ERA … Tony La Russa said Tuesday that he’s uncertain when Troy Glaus (oblique) will return … Francisco Rodriguez was unavailable Tuesday after his wife gave birth to twins … Manny Parra (neck) will have an MRI exam Wednesday.

Did Tony La Russa screw Jim Edmonds’ Hall of Fame candidacy?

2011 World Series Game 4 -Texas Rangers v St Louis Cardinals
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Yes, that’s a somewhat provocative question. But it’s still an interesting question, the relevancy of and merits of which we’ll get to in a second. I pose it mostly so I can tell you about some neat research a friend of mine is doing and which should make Hall of Fame discussions and the general discussion of baseball history a lot of fun in the coming years. Bear with me for a moment.

There has long been a war between metrics and narrative. The folks who say that so-and-so was great because of the arc of his story and his career and those who say so-and-so was not so great or whatshisface was way, way better because of the numbers. Those views are often pitted as irreconcilable opposites. But what if they weren’t? What if there was some data which explained why some players become narrative darlings and others don’t? Some explanation for why, say, Jim Rice is in the Hall of Fame while Dwight Evans isn’t despite having better numbers? An explanation, that isn’t about voters being dumb or merely playing favorites all willy-nilly? What if there was some actual quantitative reason why favorites get played in the first place?

That’s the thesis of the work of Brandon Isleib. He has just finished writing a very interesting book. It’s not yet published, but I have had the chance to read it. It sets forth the fascinating proposition that we can quantify narrative. That we can divine actual numerical values which help explain a player’s fame and public profile. Values which aren’t based on some complicated or counterintuitive formula, but which are rooted in the very thing all baseball fans see every day: games. Wins and losses. The daily standings. Values which reveal that, no, Hall of Fame voters who made odd choices in the view of the analytics crowd weren’t necessarily stupid or petty. They were merely reacting to forces and dynamics in the game which pushed them in certain ways and not others.

“But wait!” you interject. “Jim Rice and Dwight Evans played on the same dang team! How does Brandon distinguish that?” I won’t give away all the details of it but it makes sense if you break down how the Red Sox did in certain years and how that corresponded with Rice’s and Evans’ best years. There were competitive narratives in play in 1975, 1978 or 1986 that weren’t in play in 1981 or 1987. From those competitive narratives come player narratives which are pretty understandable. When you weight it all based on how competitive a team was on a day-to-day basis based on how far out of first place they were, etc., a picture starts to come together which explains why “fame” works the way it does.

From this, you start to realize why certain players, no matter how good, never got much Hall of Fame consideration. And why others’ consideration seemed disproportionate compared to their actual performance. All of which, again, is based on numbers, not on the sort of bomb-throwing media criticism in which jerks like me have come to engage.

Like I said, the book won’t be out for a bit — Brandon just finished it — but in the meantime he has a website where he has been and, increasingly will be, talking about his quantification of narrative stuff, writing short articles posing some of the questions his book and his research addresses.

Today’s entry — which is what my headline is based on — isn’t really numbers-based. It’s more talking about the broader phenomenon Brandon’s work gets at in terms of trying to figure out which players are credited for their performance and which are not so credited and why. Specifically, it talks about how Tony La Russa, more than most managers, gets the credit for his success and his players probably get somewhat less than they deserve. In this way La Russa is kind of viewed as a football coach figure and his players are, I dunno, system quarterbacks. It’s something that is unfair, I think, to guys like Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen and will, eventually, likely be unfair to players like Adam Wainwright and Matt Holliday.

It’s fascinating stuff which gets to the heart of player reputation and how history comes together. It reminds us that, in the end, the reporters and the analysts who argue about all of these things are secondary players, even if we make the most noise. It’s the figures in the game — the players and the managers — who shape it all. The rest of us are just observers and scribes.

Corey Seager tops Keith Law’s top-100 prospect list

Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager warms up before Game 1 of baseball's National League Division Series against the New York Mets, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
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Yesterday it was the top farm systems, today it’s the top-100 prospects from ESPN’s Keith Law.

As Law notes, there’s a HUGE amount of turnover on the list from last year, given how many top prospects were promoted to the bigs in 2015. Kris Bryant seems like a grizzled old veteran now. Carlos Correa too. Eleven of the top 20 from last year’s list have graduated into the bigs. Are we sure it’s only been a year?

So, obviously, there’s a new number one. It’s Corey Seager, the Dodgers’ infielder. Not that everything has changed. Byron Buxton is still number two. This will obviously be his last year on the list. If you want to see and read about the other 98, go check out Keith’s excellent work.

And yes, like yesterday’s farm system rankings, it’s Insider subscription only. There were comments about how much you all hate that and I am sure there will be many more of them today. I get that. No one likes to pay for content. I was somewhat amused, however, by comments that said things like “hey, maybe if we don’t click it, they’ll have to give it to us for free!” Maybe! Or, more likely, the content simply will cease to exist!

It’s good stuff, folks. There aren’t many paid sites I say that about.

Ozzie Guillen to manage again. In Venezuela

Ozzie Guillen Getty
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With Dusty Baker getting back into action with the Nationals and with there being at least some moderate sense that, maybe, inexperienced dudes might not be the best choice to manage big league clubs, I sorta hoped that someone would give Ozzie Guillen another look. Nah. Not happening.

Not that I’m shocked or anything. I can imagine that, under the best of circumstances, a guy like Guillen is hard to have around. He tends to find controversy pretty easily and, unlike some other old hands, Guillen never claimed to be any kind of master tactician. He famously said that he was bored during games until the sixth or seventh inning when he had to start thinking about pitching changes. Refreshing honesty, yes, but maybe not the sort of dude you bring on to, say, be a bench coach or to mentor your younger coaches or to show your hand-picked manager the ropes. Nope, it seemed like Guillen was destined to stay in broadcasting with ESPN Deportes or someone and that his days in uniform were over.

But they’re not over! Guillen was hired yesterday to manage the La Guaira Sharks of the Venezuelan Winter League next offseason. It’s not the bigs, but it is is first on-field gig since he was canned by the Marlins in 2012.

 

Guillen managed the White Sox from 2004-11 and was voted AL Manager of the Year in 2005, when Chicago won the World Series. He may be a bit of a throwback now, but he knows what he’s doing. While I can’t really say that a major league team would be wise to hire the guy — I get it, I really do — a selfish part of me really wants him back in the bigs. He was fun.

Angels ink Javy Guerra to minor league deal

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Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times reports that the Angels have agreed to terms on a minor league contract with right-handed reliever Javy Guerra. The deal includes an invitation to major league spring training.

Guerra was suspended 50 games by Major League Baseball last July after testing positive for a drug of abuse. That suspension is now over, though Guerra is probably ticketed for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate to begin the 2016 season.

The 30-year-old made just three major league appearances in 2015 for the White Sox before getting outrighted off Chicago’s 40-man roster. He does own a 2.87 ERA in 150 1/3 career innings, but it has come with bouts of inconsistency and unreliability.

Maybe he can get everything going in the right direction with Anaheim.