Gatorade All-Star Workout Day

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.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.