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.

Marcus Stroman named World Baseball Classic MVP

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United States starter Marcus Stroman was named Most Valuable Player of the World Baseball Classic after helping lead the U.S. to its first ever WBC title on Wednesday night in an 8-0 victory over Puerto Rico. Stroman flirted with a no-hitter through six innings, but gave up a double to lead off the seventh before being relieved by Sam Dyson.

Stroman also pitched 4 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dominican Republic in Pool C play on March 11. He struggled in Pool F play against Puerto Rico last Friday, surrendering four runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The WBC MVP award understandably goes to a player of the winning team. However, Wladimir Balentien of the Netherlands deserves special mention. In 26 at-bats during the WBC, he hit a double and had a WBC-high four home runs, 12 RBI, and 12 runs scored while putting up a .615/.677/.1.115 batting line. That’s MVP-esque as far as this tournament is concerned.

U.S. blanks Puerto Rico 8-0 to win first World Baseball Classic title

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The United States handed Puerto Rico its first loss in the World Baseball Classic, winning 8-0 for its first title in the fourth iteration of the tournament.

Puerto Rico starter Seth Lugo was matching Marcus Stroman zero-for-zero through the first two innings, but the U.S. broke out for a pair of runs when Ian Kinsler deposited a two-run home run just beyond the fence in left-center at Dodger Stadium. The U.S. tacked on two more in the fifth on RBI singles from Christian Yelich and Andrew McCutchen, pushing the lead to 4-0.

Meanwhile, Stroman was dealing. The right-hander, normally seen in a Blue Jays uniform, held Puerto Rico hitless through his first six innings, giving up just a lone walk. The U.S. put together a long rally in the top of the seventh, scoring three runs on three hits, two walks, and a hit batter. Stroman came back out for the seventh but immediately served up a double down the left field line to Angel Pagan. U.S. manager Jim Leyland immediately lifted Stroman from the game, bringing in Sam Dyson who escaped the inning without any further damage.

Pat Neshek allowed a leadoff single to Yadier Molina to begin the eighth, but induced a double-play, then worked around a two-out walk by striking out Kenny Vargas to end the frame.

In the ninth, David Robertson took over. He induced an infield pop-up from Enrique Hernandez. After Pagan singled up the middle, Francisco Lindor sharply grounded out to Eric Hosmer at first base for the second out. Finally, Robertson closed it out, inducing Carlos Correa to ground out to third base, making the U.S. 8-0 victors over Puerto Rico to win the World Baseball Classic.

Puerto Rico had an admirable run, defeating Venezuela, Mexico, and Italy to get out of Pool D undefeated. Then, in Pool F, it beat Venezuela again as well as the U.S. and the Dominican Republic to move to the semifinals. It narrowly edged Netherlands 4-3 in the semifinals to get into the finals.

The U.S. lost to the D.R. but beat Canada and Colombia to get out of Pool C. In Pool F, the U.S. lost to Puerto Rico and defeated the D.R again as well as Venezuela. The U.S. took down Japan in the semifinals to advance to the finals to play Puerto Rico.

The U.S. joins Japan (twice, 2006 and ’09) and the Dominican Republic (2013) as countries to win the World Baseball Classic. The 2017 tournament was a rousing success, setting attendance records, drawing over one million fans to ballparks to take in the games. It will hopefully encourage commissioner Rob Manfred and others to make a concerted effort to make the 2021 tournament bigger and better.