Daily Dose: Nolasco goes out with a bang

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Ricky Nolasco put on a show Wednesday, setting a Marlins record with 16 strikeouts and nearly made history with nine punchouts in a row. Tom Seaver holds the all-time record with 10 straight strikeouts, but Adam LaRoche snapped Nolasco’s streak with a double. Jake Peavy in 2007 and Mickey Welch in 1884 are the only other pitchers in baseball history to get nine straight strikeouts. And yes, that says 1884.
Nolasco followed up his breakout 2008 by getting off to a brutal start this year, going 2-5 with a 9.07 ERA in nine outings to earn a demotion to Triple-A. Since returning in early June he’s been fantastic, going 11-4 with a 3.82 ERA and 158/31 K/BB ratio in 141.1 innings. Not only are his 16 strikeouts Wednesday the most of any pitcher this year, Nolasco now has 381 strikeouts in 397 innings since the beginning of 2008.
While his 5.09 ERA makes it likely that Nolasco will be tremendously undervalued for 2010, here are some other notes from around baseball …


* Boston trotted out the junior-varsity lineup Wednesday after clinching the Wild Card and Roy Halladay predictably tossed a complete-game, three-hit shutout. He finished nine of 32 starts this year to lead baseball, going 17-10 with a 2.79 ERA and AL-high 239 innings. If the Blue Jays shop him again this winter and decide on a reasonable asking price this time Halladay will have at least ended his Toronto career fittingly.
* Justin Masterson suffered his sixth straight loss Wednesday as Mark Buehrle and a couple relievers combined to shut out the Indians, but finished his disappointing year by allowing one run and racking up a career-high 12 strikeouts in a complete game. He may still eventually end up in the bullpen, but Masterson has a 4.32 ERA and 115 strikeouts in 144 innings spread over 25 career starts.
* Earlier this week John Russell confused a lot of people by yanking Zach Duke from a blowout when he was one out short of a complete game. Duke had thrown just 103 pitches, which is why it was amusing to see the Pirates’ skipper leave Charlie Morton in for a 119-pitch complete game Wednesday. Morton blanked the Cubs after giving up 10 runs in his previous start against them, finishing with a 4.55 ERA in 18 starts.
* Not that he would’ve had much of a role anyway, but Jamie Moyer is officially out of the Phillies’ playoffs plans after being diagnosed with three torn muscles in his groin and abdomen. Moyer suffered the injury while pitching in relief Tuesday and finishes the year at 12-10 with a 4.94 ERA in 162 innings. He turns 47 years old next month, but the Phillies are on the hook to Moyer for $8 million in 2010.
AL Quick Hits: Carl Pavano had been 4-0 with a 1.69 ERA against Detroit this year, but the Tigers roughed him up Wednesday while all but clinching the division … Joba Chamberlain needed 91 pitches to record 11 outs Wednesday, failing to make it out of the fourth inning to finish 9-6 with a 4.78 ERA … Cleveland fired Eric Wedge and his entire coaching staff Wednesday after seven seasons on the job … John Buck hit his fourth triple of the year Wednesday after managing a grand total of three through his first 525 games … Tim Wakefield allowed five runs in three innings Wednesday, making him a question mark for the playoffs … Randy Ruiz continued his impressive audition for 2010 by going 4-for-6 with two bombs Wednesday … Carl Crawford said Wednesday that he hopes to work out a long-term deal with the Rays … A day after hitting three homers, Adam Lind was out of Wednesday’s lineup due to a Jonathan Papelbon pitch to the elbow … Josh Beckett (back) threw a 62-pitch bullpen session Wednesday in preparation for Saturday’s start.
NL Quick Hits: Raul Ibanez smacked his seventh homer of the month Wednesday as the Phillies clinched their third straight division title … Jose Reyes tore his hamstring while running the bases earlier this week and may need surgery … Bronson Arroyo tossed 8.1 innings of one-run ball Wednesday, finishing the season with 13 straight Quality Starts … Hiroki Kuroda has been scratched from Saturday’s start with a sore neck, so Clayton Kershaw will take his place … John Smoltz allowed six runs and a season-high five walks in four innings Wednesday, putting his playoff rotation spot in doubt … Freddy Sanchez underwent season-ending knee surgery Wednesday and aims to be ready for spring training whether or not the Giants pick up his $8.1 million option … Corey Hart may be done for the season after X-rays revealed two fractured fingers … Pedro Martinez rejoined the rotation Wednesday by giving up three runs in four innings, including a pair of J.R. Towles blasts … Justin Maxwell’s walk-off grand slam Wednesday handed Francisco Rodriguez his seventh blown save.

Video: Minor leaguer dives over the wall to rob a home run

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Meanwhile, in Tulsa, Zach Welz of the visiting Arkansas Travelers made a spectacular catch. It was the catch Torii Hunter tried to make on that famous David Ortiz homer in the playoffs a few years back except Welz made it.

Watch as he topples over the wall to come up with the would-be dinger off the bat of Tulsa Drillers first baseman Cody Bellinger:

MLB, MLBPA move to help baseball in Puerto Rico. After hurting baseball in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - JUNE 30:  A Puerto Rican flag flies from a building a day after the speech Puerto Rican Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla gave regarding the government's $72 billion debt on June 30, 2015 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  The Governor said in his speech that the people will have to sacrifice and share in the responsibilities for pulling the island out of debt.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
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Yesterday Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Union announced that they will play games in Puerto Rico as part of a plan to develop and support baseball on the island. They likewise pledged $5 million for the creation of development programs in Puerto Rico and plan to stage special events there.

The press release about this made mention of Puerto Rico’s undeniably outstanding baseball tradition. What it did not mention is that, in the view of many, Major League Baseball itself harmed that tradition significantly when it decided to subject Puerto Rican players to the draft in 1990. A move that the MLBPA signed off on too, of course. Indeed, there’s a pretty strong argument that, if it were not for MLB and the MLBPA’s own acts, there would be no need to “develop and support” baseball in Puerto Rico like this at all.

An exploration of this can be read in this 2012 article from The New York Times. The article (and many, many others like it which have been written over the years) notes the sharp decline of Puerto Rico’s professional and amateur baseball leagues and observes that the once steady flow of players making their way from the island to the major leagues being reduced to a trickle.* (see update below) Why?

No one here disputes the diminished stature of baseball in Puerto Rico, and most agree on the culprit: Major League Baseball’s decision, in 1990, to include Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, in its first-year player draft. This means Puerto Rican players must wait until they have completed high school to sign a professional contract, and then they are going up against players from the United States and Canada in the draft.

Perhaps more important, major league teams have less incentive to cultivate talent in Puerto Rico because those players may end up with another team through the draft.

Sandy Alderson is quoted in that article dismissing the notion that the draft was to blame, but even his dodge is couched in basic economic incentives. He claims that, hey, there is stuff that is more financially lucrative for people to do in Puerto Rico than play baseball now. Well, sure. I’d just like him to explain how radically reducing the amount of money a kid can get from playing baseball due to taking away his right to sign with the highest bidder and by utterly killing the incentives for clubs to invest in developing players doesn’t enter into that calculus. Alderson doesn’t explain that one.

No matter what Major League Baseball might say on the record about all of this now, the fact remains that no one spent the past 26 years building academies in Puerto Rico like they have in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic. No one has an incentive to turn a 12-year-old with promise into a 16-year-old prospect like they do in those countries because there is no longer any way for a teenager to sign for life-changing money like they can elsewhere. The draft has saved Major League Baseball hundreds of millions of dollars in bonuses to Puerto Rican players over the past 26 years and it has reduced the number of prospects who may push high-salaried MLBPA members out of work, but has done tremendous damage to the baseball tradition to which Major League Baseball and the MLBPA now pay lip service.

I’m glad that MLB and the MLBPA are doing something about baseball in Puerto Rico. But $5 million over the course of four or five years, which is what this plan involves, a couple of games (if they’re even played), doesn’t even represent a fraction of the damage that the league and the union inflicted when they imposed the draft.

UPDATE: A couple of people who know a hell of a lot about this stuff have pushed back against my post on Twitter:

Marcano has written a book about the excesses and abuses involved in the development of baseball talent in Latin America. He is 100% right about this and, to the extent my writing above made it sound like I was endorsing the model in place in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic on its own terms, I want to be clear that I am not. There is a lot of bad stuff that goes on there and for every kids signing a million dollar bonus, there are hundreds who find themselves at a professional dead end or far, far worse.

That said: Major League Baseball has no problem exploiting that system in those countries and its move to impose the draft in Puerto Rico was not born of some principled stand against those excesses. It was to be a foothold for an international draft which is primarily about cost savings. It would be quite possible to have a system in place that both (a) protects kids from abuses; but (b) provides the sorts of financial incentives to make baseball a worthwhile pursuit for those with the talent to play it.

Also:

Cooper, the managing editor of Baseball America, so he knows of what he speaks, notes that from 1987-1990, before the draft was imposed, 19 Puerto Ricans made their Major League debut. From 2000-03, 23 made their debuts. From 2013-16, 22 made their debuts.

That certainly blows my above comment about “reducing the flow of players to the majors to a trickle” out of the water. That said, Major League Baseball’s move yesterday was not just about the pipeline to the majors. It’s about baseball overall in Puerto Rico. Those numbers reflecting that the top eschelon of talent is still making it to the majors are undeniable, but the Times article from 2012 talks about the erosion of amateur leagues, Puerto Rico’s diminished standing in international tournaments and the reduction in size of the Puerto Rican winter league.

So, OK, I’ll walk back my comments about just how much the imposition of the draft in 1990 damaged baseball in Puerto Rico, but I maintain that it’s hard to argue that it did not do some damage.