Here's what the Cardinals shouldn't do

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burrell.jpgThe Cardinals are in a sort of hot stove limbo, waiting on Matt Holliday to accept or reject their rumored five-year, $80 million offer and at the same time working on a proverbial Plan B if he lands elsewhere.

What “Plan B” involves isn’t exactly clear.  We know the Cards have been keeping tabs on Mark DeRosa, but he’s just moments away from officially signing with the Giants.  The Cardinals have also been linked loosely to Xavier Nady this winter, but it’s quite possible no actual negotiations have taken place.  Pursuing Adrian Beltre would make some sense, and perhaps they’ll even take a look at Jason Bay.

We can dabble in our own set of hypotheticals all night, but what we do know is the Cardinals have a hole in left field and are seeking some offensive protection for Albert Pujols.

Rob Rains of the newly resuscitated St. Louis Globe-Democrat has an idea.  A hypothetical, if you will.  The problem?  It’s not a very good one.

Considering the lack of in-house candidates available,” writes Rains, “…there might be an increasing possibility that the Cardinals
will have to pursue a trade to acquire a left fielder, should the
Holliday stalemate finally reach the breaking point
.”

If, or when, the Cardinals do reach that point, here is a name they
should consider: Pat Burrell
.”

This is not FireJoeMorgan,
and I’m not Ken Tremendous, or dak, or Junior,
but it’s pretty easy to see where Rains’ Globe-Democrat piece goes wrong.  The Cardinals should pursue Pat Burrell?  I’ll agree to disagree.  Actually, I’ll just disagree.

Burrell, 33, finished the 2009 season with an ugly .221/.315/.367 batting line, only 14 home runs and 109 strikeouts in 412 at-bats.  He was unable to stay healthy despite manning designated hitting duties for the Rays and would do little to protect the great Pujols in St. Louis.  Yet, today we read this:

RAINS: “Burrell would fit right into the middle of the lineup as the protector
of Albert Pujols. 
Even though he hits righthanded, much of his power has
come against righthanded pitchers – 164 of his career home runs, as
opposed to only 71 career homers against lefthanders.

Burrell has more home runs against right-handers than he does against lefties.  That’s quite an observation.  Maybe that’s because he has faced 4,331 right-handed pitchers in his career as opposed to just 1,533 southpaws.  In fact, just about every major league hitter with legitimate service time has batted more often against right-handers.

Manny Ramirez, one of the most feared right-handed hitters of all time, has 406 career home runs against right-handed pitchers and just 140 against lefties.  Does that mean he’s a better hitter when facing right-handed competition?  Of course not.  And neither is Burrell.

Burrell vs. RHP:  .249/.348/.463
Burrell vs. LHP:  .269/.403/.513

Ramirez vs. RHP:  .305/.400/.579
Ramirez vs. LHP:  .337/.444/.624

RAINS: “Burrell also is a classic cleanup hitter, which is a status none of the
other potential left-field candidates can claim.

And what, exactly, defines a “classic cleanup hitter?”  Bengie Molina hit cleanup the last two years in San Francisco.  He also finished this season with a lousy .265/.285/.442 batting line and has only reached the 20-homer plateau once in his career.  Is he “classic?”  Mark Teixeira posted a .948 OPS and blasted 39 home runs this season for the Yankees but batted third during 605 of his 609 at-bats.  What’s his status?

RAINS: “Burrell also is not a terrible left fielder. He has played more than
1,100 career games in the majors in left field, averaging about seven
errors a season.

Sure, if you want to ignore all of the progress that has been made in the last 15 years with fielding metrics.  Burrell had a -7.1 UZR/150 (Ultimate Zone Rating per 150 games) as a left fielder for the Phillies in 2008.  His UZR/150 was -25.2 in 2007 and -13.5 in 2006.   So, yes, Mr. Rains, Burrell is a terrible outfielder.  And your hypothetical Plan B article probably wasn’t worth printing.

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.