Heath Bell Getty

Heath Bell on time with D-Backs: “I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream”


Since leaving the spacious confines of Petco Park as the closer for the Padres, Heath Bell has had a tough time. Going into the 2012 season, Bell signed a three-year, $27 million contract. He struggled all year, eventually getting moved out of the ninth inning by then-manager Ozzie Guillen. Bell finished with a 5.09 ERA in 63 2/3 innings. The Marlins traded him to the Diamondbacks after the season. Bell continued to struggle and was used infrequently in save situations. He finished with a 4.11 ERA in 65 2/3 innings.

Now a Ray, coming over in a three-team trade that also involved the Reds, Bell is happy to contribute to a contender. He won’t close — that job presently belongs to Grant Balfour — but hopes the Rays will let him pitch the way he likes to pitch. Bell reflected on his time in Arizona, saying that he “always felt like [he] was trying to swim upstream”. Via Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com:

“My pitching style is a little different than most pitchers and most closers,” Bell said. “I wanted to go out there and pitch my style. We didn’t really see eye to eye after awhile. I always felt like I was trying to swim upstream. I try to mix up my pitches. Closers usually come in and pound the strike zone with fastballs. I have a good fastball, but not one that I can just blow by anybody.

“I like to go in and out, use both sides of the plate. I felt like they wanted me to go in a lot more. My style was more away, but I was trying to do their style. It was just tough. When the catcher and the pitcher really don’t see eye to eye it’s hard to go out there and have a really good game. They wanted me to pitch in a way I’d never pitched before.”

Bell, 36, can become a free agent after the season if his 2015 option doesn’t vest at $9 million. In order for that to happen, Bell would need to finish 55 games this season, which seems unlikely to happen. This is an important season for him as it may preface his final opportunity to sign a seven-figure contract.

Wild Card, Division series umpires announced

Angel Hernandez
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Major League Baseball just released the umpire assignments for the Wild Card Game and the Division Series. As always, the basis for these assignments is a proprietary, scientific calculation undertaken by Major League Baseball, mixing in (a) skill; (b) seniority; and (c) trolling of baseball bloggers who, unlike 99% of the rest of the world actually know the names and track records of various umpires and who are easily riled.

Which is to say that, while we have no Joe West in the early playoff rounds this year — too obvious, perhaps? — we do get an Angel Hernandez.

Here are the assignments. The asterisks represent the crew chief of each unit. Guys with little up arrows next to their names are regular season crew chiefs in their own right. Print this out and keep it near your television so you know who to yell about before the broadcasters tell you who to yell at:

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Which teams improved and declined the most in 2015?

Joe Maddon

I was curious about which MLB teams changed their fortunes the most this season compared to last year, so I crunched the numbers.

First, here are the biggest win total improvements from 2014 to 2015:

+24 Cubs
+21 Rangers
+16 Astros
+15 Diamondbacks
+13 Twins
+11 Mets
+10 Blue Jays
+10 Cardinals
+10 Pirates

The top five teams on the biggest-improvement list all had managers in their first season on the job, led by Joe Maddon joining the Cubs after tons of success with the Rays. Also worth noting: Of the nine teams with the biggest win total improvement, eight made the playoffs. Only the Twins improved to double-digit games and still failed to make the playoffs.

Now, here are the biggest win total declines from 2014 to 2015:

-20 Athletics
-16 Tigers
-15 Orioles
-14 Brewers
-13 Nationals
-13 Angels
-12 Braves
-12 Reds
-11 Mariners

Not surprisingly, a whole lot of those teams have changed managers, general managers, or both. And a couple more may still do so before the offseason gets underway. Oakland retained manager Bob Melvin despite an MLB-high 20-win dropoff and just promoted Billy Beane from general manager to vice president of baseball operations.