Scenes from Spring Training: Phun with the Phillie Phanatics Part 4

Leave a comment

Remember that thing Tom Verducci wrote back in December about how the Phillies are turning into the Yankees?  I thought that probably overstated things, but there is at least one thing they have in common: Obstructed press box views in their spring training ballparks:

Press Box Clearwater.JPGI was able to position myself to where I could see most of the field and crane my neck to see the parts I missed, but given how the Phillies seemed to get almost every detail right at Bright House Field, I was surprised to see this kind of thing. Of course, the fans don’t have obstructed views, so maybe this was an intentional move designed to screw with reporters a bit. If so, I’ll give Philly credit for either excellent priorities or a nice, if somewhat harsh, sense of humor.

By the way, the dude on the left in that pic is Buster Olney. A minute after that picture was taken, Olney opened the window in front of him and returned to that exact chin-in-hand position. A minute after that a foul ball bounced off the facade of the press box and somehow ricocheted through the window. Olney caught it with his left hand without otherwise budging. It was a pretty swift move. Certainly the coolest thing you’ll ever see Olney do, and certainly swifter than some of the reporting he did regarding the Phillies that day.

By the way: Ruben Amaro called Olney’s Howard-for-Pujols rumor “lies.”  Who knows where Buster came up with that one, but I did see Olney talking to a bunch of Philly reporters earlier that morning. I have no idea what they were saying, but I’d like to think that the Philly guys were peddling that stuff to Olney to see what he’d do with it. I further imagine that when Olney’s report went live yesterday they all called each other to say “Ha! Olney bought it!”

Anyway, there was a game on Saturday:

  • Jamie Moyer wasn’t with the Phillies. Reason: The rain messed with the schedule and to keep him on track they scheduled him to pitch against the Blue Jays’ b-team up in Dunedin today.  For the third time this spring. I’m not big on predictions, but if the Phillies and Jays meet in the World Series, and the plane carrying the Jays’ starters goes down in a cornfield, thus pressing the backups into service, I’m giving the edge to the Phillies. Moyer probably owns them by now. (UPDATE: Or not).

  • As the game began the wind was blowing out to right at approximately 158 m.p.h. Carl Pavano was the Twins’ starter. As such, I predicted 12 Ryan Howard home runs. Sadly he didn’t deliver.

  • Oh, forgot this bit from before the game: The Phillies were taking infield practice when the coach hitting the fungoes yells out “$500 for a perfect infield!”  As soon as he said that, Ryan Howard bobbled an easy one. Then Utley threw one away. Then Polanco bobbled one. By this time they’re all laughing their heads off and can barely field the ball.  During the game: no infield errors for the Phillies.

  • Jimmy Rollins came to the plate to Ice Cube’s “It Was a Good Day.” I have no idea if he was doing that before, but this was the first time I had noticed it. Either way, I like Jimmy Rollins about 123% more now than I did before Saturday.

  • The grounds crew dragged the infield after every two innings, which is way more frequent than you usually see. Bonus: no “YMCA,” “Thank God I’m a County Boy” or “Cotton Eyed Joe.” Grounds crew members are professionals. Maybe some of them like that song and dance stuff, but I bet more of them prefer to simply do their jobs.

  • So much for the wind: both Carl Pavano and J.A. Happ were on point. Pavano threw a perfect three innings. Happ only gave up one hit and struck out three in four innings. The game hummed by.  Way crisper and regular-season feeling than any game I saw last week.

  • Best beer guy of the spring was at Bright House too: “Beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!beer!” He sounded like he could have been a member of the Asylum Street Spankers.

  • Official attendance: 10,501,
    which is largest in Phillies spring training history. This is the second time that has happened at a game I attended last week, the first being at the Twins-Cardinals game. I had no idea I was so popular.

  • Shane Victorino made a two base error that allowed a run to score, but it was nice to see him replace his divot in the OF grass.

  • Antonio Bastardo came into the game and quickly blew up, allowing four runs on five hits in a single inning of work. You may be surprised to hear that some fans began doing a clever little play on words with his last name. Bet he’s never heard that before.

  • Jacque Jones came into the game to play right field. According to the little media notes they handed out, Jones is 10th all time in homers for the Twins. I never would have guessed that in 100 years.

  • Matt Tolbert had a hell of a day after coming in to spell Orlando Hudson at second. In a single inning:  average-speed grounder hit to him and he pulls a Roger Dorn Ole job on it to put a runner on first. Next up: infield popup. The infield fly rule is in effect so it doesn’t matter if Tolbert catches it or not, but it is an easy fly and he drops it. Couple plays later, no runner on first this time, popup to second. Alexi Casilla runs over from short, ignores Tolbert’s “I got it” and catches the ball himself, saying more or less everything that needed to be said about Tolbert’s defense. Orlando Hudson: you are in no danger of losing your starting job late this season.

  • Cody Ransom comes in for the Phillies and hits a home run. Between the homer and the fact that he doesn’t have to talk to the feds about Dr. Galea, the New York tabloids dust off last year’s stories and begin their “Ransom should start at third instead of Planco” campaign.

  • Jose Contreras
    came in to pitch. Between him, Thome and Raul Ibanez, there were three guys in the game older
    than me. That doesn’t happen too much these days.

  • Pat Neshek came in to pitch for the Twins. His windup and delivery is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
  • I decided that I had had enough of catered press lunches, so I went out onto the concourse during the game to grab something to eat:

Horsemeat and Velveeta.JPGThat, my friends, is a horsemeat and Velveeta sandwich from Delco’s. Old Gator can pretend he doesn’t like them, but I think he’s just trying to start arguments. Either that or he’s crazy. Best ballpark food I had all week.  Oh, and the stuff in the cup? Um, something must be wrong with the color on my camera because I was drinking soda. Yeah, that’s it, soda. Any resemblance to Yuengling is completely coincidental. I was working after all, and you certainly can’t drink a tasty, tasty beer while working on a sunny Saturday afternoon when there’s a baseball game happening. No siree. That would be wrong.

Game ended with the Phillies beating the Twins 5-4. It was over in a cool 2:28 (would have been 1:57 if it weren’t for Bastardo and Tolbert). Between the size and modernity of the park and the overall quality of play in the game, I left feeling jazzed, stoked and otherwise hyped for the regular season to start. Spring training is wonderful, but bring on the games that count.

The Rays are considering reliever Tyler Clippard

New York Mets pitcher Tyler Clippard throws during the eighth inning of Game 4 of the National League baseball championship series against the Chicago Cubs Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
Leave a comment

On Thursday, we learned that the Diamondbacks were still considering free agent reliever Tyler Clippard. You can add the Rays to the list as well, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times.

The Rays traded lefty reliever Jake McGee to the Rockies in exchange for outfielder Corey Dickerson in late January, so Clippard would be able to slot right in behind closer Brad Boxberger. Clippard, 30, compiled a 2.92 ERA with 64 strikeouts and 31 walks over 71 innings in a season split between the Athletics and Mets. The strikeout rate was at its lowest since the right-hander become a full-time reliever in 2009, and his walk rate was at its highest since 2010, which may be a factor in his still being a free agent in February.

Report: Juan Uribe is too expensive for the Giants

New York Mets' Juan Uribe follows the flight of his solo home run off Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chris Rusin in the third inning of a baseball game Saturday, Aug. 22, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
1 Comment

ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that, while the Giants are interested in free agent Juan Uribe, the utilityman’s asking price is too high for the club. Despite having a capable starter at every position, the Giants are a bit thin on depth and Uribe would be a nice fit given his versatility.

Uribe, 36, spent last season with the Dodgers, Braves, and Mets. He hit a combined .253/.320/.417 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI over 397 plate appearances. In his only postseason plate appearance for the Mets, he hit an RBI single in Game 3 of the World Series against the Royals.

Uribe has mostly played third base in recent seasons, but also has plenty of experience at second base and shortstop.

A study showed “grit” isn’t always a great attribute

Washington Nationals left fielder Bryce Harper slides into third with a three RBI triple during the third inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, April 25, 2014, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
AP Photo/Nick Wass
10 Comments

This popped up in my Twitter feed and I felt it had some applicability to baseball. This past October, Olga Khazan of The Atlantic highlighted a study in which researchers from the University of Southern California and Northeastern University performed three separate but related experiments to determine how “gritty” their subjects were.

One experiment had them solve anagrams. The second, a computer game. Finally, the third test had them solve math problems. Those who were deemed “grittier” attempted to solve fewer anagrams, which means they were sticking too long with difficult words rather than skipping and moving onto easier ones. The “grittier” crowd worked harder when losing at the computer game, but worked only as hard as the less-gritty when winning. With the math problems, the subjects when stuck were given a choice to take $1 and quit or keep going for a potential reward of $2 but $0 if they failed. The study showed that the “grittier” people weren’t any more productive but were more willing to risk the $1 for the doubled prize.

“Grit” is also a common colloquialism in baseball circles, used to refer to players who always run out a routine ground ball or pop-up. Other common characteristics include a willingness to dive for fly balls, slide into players to break up double plays, and to stick up for their teammates when there’s a disagreement between members of two teams. Often, those deemed “gritty” are in many other ways subpar players, but their perceived “grit” gives them value.

Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is a rare superstar player who has earned the “grit” descriptor. There are many examples showing why he has earned it, but the most famous incident occurred on May 13, 2013 at Dodger Stadium. Harper turned his back to the field to chase an A.J. Ellis fly ball but went face-first into the wall, suffering abrasions on his face and a jammed left shoulder. This was during a game the Nationals were comfortably winning 6-0 in the sixth inning. At the time, the Nationals were 95 percent favorites to win the game, according to FanGraphs. Is the risk of suffering an injury — which could keep Harper out only a game or two, or cause him to miss the rest of the season — worth potentially turning a double or triple into an out?

Famously, Philadelphia fans and talking heads got on outfielder Bobby Abreu’s case in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s because he appeared gun-shy when approaching the outfield fence on fly balls. He was under a lot of pressure to sacrifice his body for the supposed good of the team, and developed a reputation as “soft”. As a more recent example, former Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins caught flack from fans when he didn’t run out a routine pop-up against the Mets on August 30, 2012. Then-manager Charlie Manuel benched the veteran. At the time, the Phillies were 62-69 and 17.5 games back of first place in the NL East and 8.5 games behind the second Wild Card. Freak injuries can happen, as Rollins’ teammate Ryan Howard showed when making the final out of the 2011 NLDS against the Cardinals. Is that non-zero injury risk worth the tiny chance that the infielder drops the pop-up and Rollins gets a single (or, in rarer cases, a double) in a game that is essentially meaningless?

The aforementioned study shows that maybe Abreu and Rollins had it right after all. Statistically, a freak injury that occurs on a “hustle” play is bound to happen. Maybe that’s what it will take to stop expecting athletes to put their bodies on the line for no realistic gain.

Zach Britton settles with the Orioles for $6.75 million

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Zach Britton delivers a pitch against the Boston Red Sox in the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Tuesday, June 23, 2015, in Boston. The Orioles won 6-4. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
AP Photo/Steven Senne
Leave a comment

The Orioles and closer Zach Britton avoided an arbitration hearing, agreeing to a $6.75 million salary for the 2016 season, Jon Heyman reports. The club has now handled all of its remaining arbitration cases and won’t have to go to a hearing with any players.

Britton, in his second of four years of arbitration eligibility, filed for $7.9 million while the Orioles countered at $5.6 million. $6.75 million is exactly the midpoint between the two submitted figures.

The 28-year-old lefty saved 36 games in 40 chances last season for the O’s while putting up a 1.92 ERA with a 79/14 K/BB ratio over 65 2/3 innings.