Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles

Defending Ron Washington from my cheap shots

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I made a cheap joke at Ron Washington’s expense in the Power Rankings this morning regarding Neftali Feliz being in the bullpen.

I don’t apologize for it because about 87% of my jokes are cheap, but I can at least admit it was a cheap joke. Most of the comments in my Power Rankings are of the drive-by variety.

Adam Morris at Lone Star Ball has heard a lot of this stuff, however, and wasn’t too pleased with mine.  And then he defended Washington’s handling of Feliz:

How many teams would have taken one of their best relievers, a guy who had been pitching out of the bullpen virtually his entire time in the majors, and put him in the rotation, like the Rangers did with C.J. last season? And then the following year, do the exact same thing with a guy who not only had never made a start in the majors, but who was a converted outfielder who had spent his entire pitching career working as a reliever?

The Rangers have also made it clear the plan is for Feliz to transition to the rotation in 2012.  And yet, people seem to act like Texas not putting the 22 year old Feliz into the rotation and asking for 200 innings from him now is a crime against the hallowed memory of Alexander Cartwright.

See, my thing is that if anyone was going to convert a reliever into a starter it would be the Rangers given their track record with Wilson. A guy who had had more years away from starting that Feliz had when he made the jump and who had been much farther removed from substantial workloads at the time than Feliz is now.  Specifcally, Wilson hadn’t started a game since 2005 when he was converted last year; Feliz started his entire minor league career, switching to the pen in late 2009. Before last year, Wilson hadn’t pitched even 100 innings since 2003, when he pitched 123, whereas Feliz pitched 127 as a starter in 2008.

The upshot: while Feliz is younger and has fewer miles on the odometer than Wilson, he is less removed from starting than Wilson was, and his overall experience as a starter is not significantly less than Wilson’s (and his performance in that capacity was much better).  Rather than giving the Rangers the benefit of the doubt as a result of their previous track record with a reliever-to-starter conversion, I think that they should be scrutinized even more closely for their inconsistency here because unlike so many other clubs they have made the key observation and taken the chance before.  And now they’re not, and no one has ever explained it in terms other than the manager’s desire for a shutdown closer.

Yes, Morris makes the point that maybe the Rangers don’t think Feliz is ready to start games in the big leagues. And that’s a valid point, but I don’t think anyone from the Rangers has made a strong case for it. Feliz did pretty damn well starting in spring training. Washington’s quote the day he moved Feliz back to the pen was “right now, for our organization, he’s better in the bullpen.”  That “for our organization” comment suggests to me a need (i.e. there’s no one else to close) more than an assessment of what role Feliz is best suited for.

None of which is to say that Morris is wrong. He knows the Rangers way better than I do, and no, I have not cataloged everything Washington or Nolan Ryan or Jon Daniels has said about the matter. And it’s not even to say that Washington is wrong because, after all, his job is to do what’s best for the team as a whole, not one player’s development (indeed, I take greater issue with Daniels and Ryan, who are tasked with thinking more long term than Washington is, for Feliz’s handling). And, the above stuff notwithstanding,  I don’t mean to rehash the whole “should Feliz be a starter” argument in its full glory, because that ship has sailed for 2011, it seems.

But I do take issue with Morris’ characterization of those of us who do think that the Rangers are wrong in all of this.  The criticism of the Rangers’ handling of Feliz is not about failing to conform to some sabermetric orthodoxy, nor is about simply laughing and pointing at Ron Washington.  Because even if my joke was a cheap one, there are legitimate arguments in favor of using Feliz as a starter, and they’re not adequately countered by simply deferring to the Rangers’ statements about their plans for 2012 or the credibility they have in the bank because C.J. Wilson turned out OK.

Yordano Ventura represented the best and worst of baseball’s culture

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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It was reported this morning that Royals pitcher Yordano Ventura was killed in a car accident in the Dominican Republic. Former prospect Andy Marte was also killed in a separate car accident. Along with Jose Fernandez and Oscar Taveras, the baseball world has lost a lot of young, exciting talent in a very short amount of time.

Ventura was, like all of us, a complex human being. At his best, he was an exciting, talented, emotive pitcher who featured an electric fastball which sat in the mid-90’s and occasionally touched 100 MPH. At his worst, he was an immature, impressionable kid trying to fit in by exacting revenge against batters he felt had wronged him by slinging those electric fastballs at vulnerable areas of their bodies.

Baseball needed Ventura when he was at his best. It is players like him and Fernandez, not Mike Trout, that bring in new fans to the sport. To baseball die-hards, Angels outfielder Mike Trout is the pinnacle of entertainment because we know he’s an otherworldly talent. But to the average fan, Trout is just another player who hits a couple of homers and doesn’t do anything particularly interesting otherwise. Trout is milquetoast. Ventura was never an All-Star, but fans knew who he was because he made his presence felt every time he made a start. He was fun, if sometimes vengeful.

Ventura’s baseball rap sheet is rather lengthy for someone who only pitched parts of four seasons in the big leagues. Early in the 2015 season, Ventura found himself in a handful of benches-clearing incidents in quick succession. On April 12, he jawed with Trout, apparently misunderstanding the motivation behind Trout yelling, “Let’s go!” Though catcher Salvador Perez intervened, Trout’s teammate Albert Pujols ran in from second base and the benches cleared shortly thereafter. On the 18th, some drama between the Athletics and Royals continued. Ventura fired a 99 MPH fastball at Brett Lawrie, resulting in his immediate ejection from the game. More beanball wars ensued in the series finale the following day. Finally, on the 23rd, Ventura hit White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu with a 99 MPH fastball in the fourth inning. Ventura was not ejected… until after the completion of the seventh inning. Walking back to the dugout, Ventura barked at White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton and — you guessed it — the benches cleared. All told, Ventura was fined for his behavior with the Athletics and suspended seven games for the White Sox incident.

In August 2015, Ventura called Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista a “nobody” and accused him of stealing signs. He apologized shortly thereafter. Two months later, during his start in Game 6 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays, Ventura got into it with Jays first base coach Tim Leiper. Nothing happened beyond that, but apparently it was part of the Jays’ plan to try to put Ventura “on tilt.”

Most recently, in June this past season, Ventura hit Orioles third baseman Manny Machado with a pitch. Machado charged the mound and got in at least one punch before the players spilled out onto the field in a blob of royal blue and orange. Ventura was suspended for eight games.

Ventura was by no means a model of civility, but he was a product of baseball’s intransigent culture forcing players to assimilate or be ostracized. The old culture taught players to never show emotion. Hit a home run? Put your head down and circle the bases in a timely fashion or risk taking a fastball to the ribs. Players like Fernandez and Bautista — typically players from Latin countries — challenged those old cultural norms and are, as a result, the vanguard of the new culture. Ventura displayed aspects of each, the worst of the old culture and the best of the new. He was not a one-dimensional person; he was strikingly complex. At one moment willing to use a fastball as a weapon, the next stopping by some kids’ lemonade stand and giving out fist bumps. Baseball is made more entertaining and more interesting by its personalities and Ventura’s was a behemoth, for better or worse. His absence from the sport will be felt.

MLB remembers Yordano Ventura and Andy Marte

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 28:  Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers in the first inning during a game against the Boston Red Sox on August 28, 2016 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
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Following the tragic passing of 25-year-old Yordano Ventura and 33-year-old Andy Marte, both of whom were killed in separate car crashes on Sunday morning, players and executives from around Major League Baseball expressed an outpouring of grief and support for the players’ families and former teams.

Fans have gathered at Kauffman Stadium in memory of the former pitcher.