Pettitte looks in

Is Andy Pettitte a Hall of Famer?

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Ben Shpigel of the New York Times asked a handful of baseball writers that question. There is some support there. Not a lot, though: Shpigel asked nine writers if they’d vote for Pettitte.  two said yes, four said no and three were undecided. I found the most interesting response to be Pete Abraham’s:

“I’d first want to walk up to Andy, tell him I have a vote and ask him whether his P.E.D. use helped him any games. His answer would help me decide what comes next.”

Interesting. Also interesting: Abraham’s explanation of his votes on this year’s ballot just this past Tuesday:

Sorry, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Juan Gonzalez. Your ties to drug use exclude you. Baseball banned non-prescription drugs in the early 1970s, period. That steroids weren’t specifically banned is meaningless. Players broke laws to obtain these drugs and that’s cheating. That many players did it doesn’t make it right.

Did McGwire, Palmiero and Gonzalez get the same opportunity to explain whether PEDs helped them before Abraham voted no on them?  If not, why not?  And you can’t say that it’s because Pettitte was more forthcoming about his PED use, because he didn’t say anything about it until he was outed in the Mitchell Report. And if the issue is “cheating” and “your ties to drug use,” how forthcoming one was about it shouldn’t matter anyway. Pettite used them.

I’m not trying to pick on Abraham here. I think there are tons of people who have given Andy Pettitte way more of a pass on his PED use than any other big star has been given. I suspect it’s a function of him being a pitcher and, unlike Roger Clemens, not making himself look ridiculous in the wake of being outed as a PED-user. I suppose that his deportment can legitimately color how we feel about the guy personally, but it really shouldn’t enter into his Hall of Fame case if you’re the type of voter who says things like “your ties to drug use exclude you.”

As for Pettitte’s Hall of Fame case: I’m not seeing it. Pettitte has been good — at times very good — but never great.  His postseason performance helps him, but it’s easy to overstate that too. Pettitte’s regular season winning percentage, ERA and K/BB ratio is .635/3.88./2.34.  Postseason? It’s .655/3.83./2.40.  He’s had some big performances, but over a little more than a full regular season’s worth of playoff starts, he’s around the same pitcher he’s always been. Give him a bump because of the stronger competition in October, but it’s not like he’s been transcendent.

One thing a lot of people will say about Pettitte is that he was never even the best pitcher on his team.  That’s an overstatement I think. He was the best starter on the 1996 championship team (David Cone pitched better, but he was only there for 11 starts).  He was pretty close to the best in 1997 when the Yankees won 96 games (Cone was probably better, but again, he pitched 45 fewer innings than Pettitte). After that there were always one or two better Yankees starters in any given year, be it Roger Clemens, Mike Mussina, CC Sabathia, Orlando Hernandez or even Chien-Ming Wang. My sense: if you’re going to go to the mat for any Yankees pitcher of that era, you should probably go to the mat for Mike Mussina, who was far superior to Pettitte over the course of his career. But let’s leave that for another day.

I think Pettitte will get a lot of support. Most of it will be based on the “fame” part of Hall of Fame. But if there was anyone for whom the Hall of Very Good should be created, it’s Andy Pettitte.

Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams today

Kyle Lohse
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu
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Free agent starter Kyle Lohse is throwing for interested teams at the University of California, Irvine, MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reports.

Lohse, 37, remains unsigned into baseball’s second month on the heels of last season’s 5.85 ERA and 108/43 K/BB ratio over 152 1/3 innings. Although Lohse was quite good in the four seasons prior, teams are understandably reluctant to bank on pitchers in their late-30’s.

The Orioles, Tigers, and Reds have had reported interest in Lohse in recent months.

Majestic Athletic employees will protest at Coca-Cola Park on Friday

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 10: Kris Bryant (L) of the Chicago Cubs and Anthony Rizzo #44 pose for a photo with their All Star jersey's before the game against the Chicago White Sox on July 10, 2015 at  Wrigley Field in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
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Anthony Salamone of the Morning Call reports that Majestic Athletic employees plan to protest at Coca-Cola Park in Allentown, PA on Friday night. The employees are protesting Majestic’s owner VF Corporation’s attempt to undercut wages and medical benefits. VF Corporation acquired Majestic in February 2007.

Coca-Cola Park is home to the Lehigh Valley IronPigs, the Phillies’ Triple-A affiliate. Majestic has manufacturing facilities in Easton, PA, which is less than a half-hour from Coca-Cola Park. The IronPigs, as well as all 30 Major League Baseball teams, wear uniforms manufactured by Majestic.

Corporations affiliated with Major League Baseball taking advantage of employees isn’t anything new. Last year, when protests over police violence disrupted the Orioles’ schedule, some employees with the Orioles and Aramark almost lost out on multiple days of pay.

Eddie Perez likely to be Braves’ interim manager if Fredi Gonzalez is fired

Atlanta Braves bullpen coach Eddie Perez, left, stands with manager Fredi Gonzalez during a spring training baseball workout, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, in Kissimmee, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
AP Photo/Alex Brandon
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There’s been a lot of rumbling that Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez will soon get the pink slip. His team is 7-20 entering Thursday’s action. Historically, front offices — particularly those of rebuilding/restructuring teams — respond to that by making coaching and/or managerial changes.

Per MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, bullpen coach Eddie Perez is likely to fill in as the Braves’ manager on an interim basis if and when Gonzalez is fired. Perez has been with the Braves as a coach since 2007. He played for the Braves in 10 out of his 11 seasons from 1995-2005. Perez wasn’t known for his bat, but was respected for the way he called games and handled the Braves’ then-elite pitching staff.

Bowman notes that Gonzalez isn’t expected to be fired over the weekend. If the team plays well, that could extend Gonzalez’s leash, so to speak.

First baseman Freddie Freeman issued a vote of confidence for his skipper, saying, “I think everything is getting magnified since we’re off to this start. I don’t know if it’s fair to put it all on [Gonzalez] because he’s not a player. We’re the 25 guys [who have to] go out there and play every day. We’re obviously not playing to our capabilities. To say that’s Fredi’s fault is unfair in my opinion.”

What’s on Tap: Previewing Thursday’s action

Chicago Cubs' Anthony Rizzo, left, and Kris Bryant celebrate a 7-1 win over the Pittsburgh Pirates in a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, May 3, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
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The Phillies and Cardinals got started a little early, finishing up their four-game series on Thursday afternoon. In the evening, we have 10 games on our slate, including Cubs-Nationals.

The Cubs have jumped out to a 20-6 start, looking like baseball’s best — and scariest — team. Entering Thursday’s action, the Cubs have a +93 run differential (runs scored minus runs allowed). That’s by far the best in baseball. The next best are the Nationals at +50, the Mets at +44, and the Cardinals at +41. In fact, the Cubs’ run differential is so good that they have under-performed relative to their expected won-lost record of 22-4.

This is without Kyle Schwarber. This is with Jason Heyward hitting a miserable .211/.317/.256, Jorge Soler hitting .185/.276/.292, and Addison Russell hitting .224/.356/.329. It’s with John Lackey pitching to a 4.32 ERA.

What makes the Cubs so good? They’re on-base machines. The club’s aggregate .364 on-base percentage is second best in the majors behind the Pirates. Dexter Fowler has an outstanding .470 OBP and Anthony Rizzo is at an elite .403. In fact, of their regulars with 100-plus plate appearances, Heyward is the only one with a sub-.350 OBP. The league average is .319. The Cubs steal bases, too, as they’re 17-for-24 (~71 percent) in that department.

The Cubs have baseball’s best pitching staff, which has yielded a major league-best 2.54 runs per game. Only four teams are below 3.00 runs allowed per game. Of course, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta is the big contributor to that with a sterling 0.84 ERA, but Jon Lester has put up a 1.58 mark and Jason Hammel 1.24. Closer Hector Rondon has found himself in only four save situations but has converted each of them with an even 1.00 ERA and a 15/0 K/BB ratio in nine innings. The Cubs’ aggregate bullpen ERA of 2.66 is fifth-best in the majors.

It’s too early to use defensive statistics with any degree of certainty, but even the eye test shows the Cubs to be elite defenders at the important positions, particularly shortstop (Russell), right field (Heyward), and third base (Kris Bryant).

The Cubs’ success isn’t exactly surprising. The club rode five consecutive fifth-place finishes into some high draft picks and that talent is starting to establish itself in the majors. Whether it was fans, writers, or Vegas oddsmakers, the Cubs were preseason darlings.

Kyle Hendricks starts for the Cubs opposite the Nationals’ Joe Ross at Wrigley Field tonight at 8:05 PM EDT.

The rest of Thursday’s action…

Detroit Tigers (Michael Fulmer) @ Cleveland Indians (Trevor Bauer), 6:10 PM EDT

New York Yankees (Masahiro Tanaka) @ Baltimore Orioles (Kevin Gausman), 7:05 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Derek Holland) @ Toronto Blue Jays (J.A. Happ), 7:07 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Robbie Ray) @ Miami Marlins (Adam Conley), 7:10 PM EDT

Milwaukee Brewers (Chase Anderson) @ Cincinnati Reds (Alfredo Simon), 7:10 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Henry Owens) @ Chicago White Sox (Erik Johnson), 8:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Wade Miley) @ Houston Astros (Chris Devenski), 8:10 PM EDT

New York Mets (Jacob deGrom) @ San Diego Padres (Colin Rea), 10:10 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Chris Rusin) @ San Francisco Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 PM EDT