Overthinking La Russa’s snub of R.A. Dickey

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I remain firmly in the camp that Tony La Russa made a bad decision in deciding not to go with R.A. Dickey as the All-Star Game starter. The arguments for Dickey over Matt Cain are pretty clear both statistically (Dickey has been the better pitcher) and thematically (Dickey has been the better story), so I won’t rehash them.

But what there has been less-than-satisfying talk about is why La Russa made this decision.  The official line is that there are concerns about Buster Posey catching Dickey’s knuckleball, but that seems less than satisfying for a couple of reasons and is actually inconsistent with La Russa’s own statements.

Specifically, La Russa said that Dickey will still pitch in the first part of the game. Which means either (a) he’s going to have to pitch to Posey anyway; or (b) La Russa is going to pull Posey in the first part of the game and replace him with Carlos Ruiz, thereby leaving the NL with no catchers on the bench for most of the game, as they are only carrying two.  Not very La Russaian of him to be so incautious.

So, the reasoning is still nebulous. But Tony Manfred Business Insider thinks he knows why La Russa chose Matt Cain:

The baseball world sees Dickey and his knuckleball as a gimmick, an odd and fleeting path to effectiveness that automatically disqualifies him from the realm of great pitchers and places him his own separate and inferior category … The basic lesson is this: Greatness in sports is not about objective superiority, it’s about satisfying popular assumptions about what greatness ought to look like.

There’s an inherent bias against players who succeed differently.

So Dickey is being penalized, consciously or otherwise, because he doesn’t adhere to baseball orthodoxy?  That’d be a swell explanation if the man who made the decision was anyone but Tony La Russa, who has been the least orthodox great manager in baseball history.  He fundamentally changed bullpen usage. He batted his pitcher eighth. He never had any problem mixing it up with established figures in the game be they players, other managers or members of the media.  Indeed, La Russa’s m.o, would have him more likely to make some unorthodox move than anyone.

Which probably best explains the choice of Cain over Dickey.  Any old manager can pitch the best, most deserving guy to start the All-Star Game. But it takes a singular, genius-infused maverick like Tony La Russa to go with the less obvious choice.

Robinson Cano hit his 300th home run last night

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Last night Robinson Cano hit a solo homer in the ninth inning of the Mariners’ loss to the Texas Rangers. It was his 22nd on the season. Though it was insignificant to the outcome of that game, it was significant to Cano: it was his 300th career homer.

While we’ve become accustomed to not caring much about home run milestones south of, say, 500, 300 homers for Cano is a big deal, as he’s only the third second baseman to cross that threshold in baseball history. The other two: Jeff Kent, at 377, and Rogers Hornsby at 301.

Cano, who turns 35 next month, has a career line of .305/.354/.495 and 1,179 RBI, 512 doubles and 33 triples to go with those bombs. He’s in his 13th big league season and still has six more years left on his deal with the Mariners. He’s averaged 24 homers a year since coming to the Mariners. While he’ll obviously trail off at some point — and while great second baseman’s have this weird habit of just suddenly falling off a cliff — it’s highly likely that he’ll finish his career as the all-time home run leader among second baseman. If he remains healthy he should also get over 3,000 hits in his career.

Cooperstown, here he comes.

Reds sign catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year deal

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Mark Sheldon of MLB.com reports that the Reds have signed catcher Tucker Barnhart to a four-year contract extension. The terms: $16 million total, with a $7.5 million club option for the 2022 season that has a $500,000 buyout. He also received a $1.75 million signing bonus.

The deal buys out all three of his arbitration years — he was going to be eligible for the first time this offseason — and the first year of his potential free agency. The club option buys a second. Barnhart made $575,000 this season.

Barnhart, 26, is finishing his second season as the Reds primary catcher. This year he’s hitting .272/.349/.399 with six homers and 42 RBI in 113 games. For his career he has a line of .257/.328/.366 in 330 major league games. His real value is defensive, however. He leads the National League in caught stealing percentage and number of base stealers caught (31-for-70, 44%) and leads all players at any position in the league in defensive WAR according to Baseball-Reference.com.