Ned Yost and his flexible thumb

Ned Yost almost broke the Intentional Walk Rage System last night

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All intentional walks are detestable. This is my personal philosophy, not unlike the way “Know Thyself” was the personal philosophy of Socrates. But even as a strict anti-intentional walk fundamentalist, I understand that some intentional walks are more infuriating than others.

So I came up with a point system to determine just how much I will despise an intentional walk. I call it my Intentional Walk Rage System (IWRS).

Question 1: What inning was the walk in?

If it was in the ninth inning or later, it scores one point on the IWRS. And then, for each inning earlier, you add one point. So an intentional walk in the eighth inning scores two points, in the seventh scores three points and so on.

Question 2: Did the walk bring up the opposing pitcher or a particularly weak hitter?

If yes, then it scores zero points. If no, add three points. Remember, the higher the IWRS score, the bigger the rage.

Question 3: Did the walk give your team the platoon advantage or force the opposing manager to go to his bench?

If yes, score it zero points. If no, add three points.

Question 4: Does the extra baserunner matter?

By this I mean, if the extra runner scores, will it have some impact on the game. For instance, bottom of the ninth, score tied, runner on third, if you intentionally walk the next batter, his run does not matter. The runner on third would win the game. If the baserunner does not matter, subtract a point from the total. If he does, add three points. I am not opposed to using a sliding scale (sometimes the intentionally walked runner represents a run that SORT of matters, but not really).

Question 5: Are you setting up the double play to get out of an inning?

If yes, add zero points. If no, add three points.

Question 6: Are you intentionally walking someone SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?

If no, add zero points. If yes, add 4 points. There’s little that ticks me off more than a manager ordering an intentional walk just to avoid a good hitter. It’s bad strategy, it’s anti-competitive, it shows no confidence in your own pitcher and it’s cowardly.

Notice, all of my questions can be asked BEFORE the walk is issued. We are not talking here about whether the walk “works” or “blows up.” In baseball, stupid decisions work often. Great decisions fail often.

OK, so there is a zero point intentional walk (generally, ninth inning or later, less than two outs, winning run on third base, intentionally walking someone to give your team a chance of getting out of the jam). This would be an intentional walk i can tolerate. It’s still detestable. But tolerable.

On the other side of the spectrum, there is the 25-point intentional walk — the highest possible score, the perfect intentional walk — the sort of walk that makes me want to hold tight to my “Weaver on Strategy” book and cry for the downfall of humanity.

Thursday night, while I was watching Johnny Manziel awkwardly drink water as NFL teams kept pretending he wasn’t there, we almost had the 25-point walk. The fact that the walk was ordered by Kansas City Royals manager Ned Yost was just a bonus.

Ned Yost utterly baffles me. He baffles me because, best I can tell, he believes what he believes … today. Tomorrow, yeah, he might believe something else. Those small-ball managers like Gene Mauch or the pitcher-changers like Tony La Russa or the grit-and-heart managers like Ron Gardenhire might be infuriating but you KNOW they deeply believe in a certain way of playing baseball. That matters. Sometimes, conviction trumps all, especially when it comes to sports strategy. The difference between a good and bad lineup in baseball, for instance, is so small that if a manager deeply believes in a non-optimal strategy (like putting a .300 on-base percentage guy in the leadoff spot) there’s a decent chance it will not hurt the team much, especially if that leadoff hitter is widely respected in the clubhouse.

But what drives me nuts is a manager who today believes one thing, tomorrow believes a second thing, the next day goes back to the first thing, the day after that believes something else entirely. In this, you not only lose the strategic edge (which may or may not be trivial) you also leave your players kind of bemused. If you hit the .300 OBP guy everybody likes at leadoff, they might stand behind you. If you hit the .300 OBP guy at leadoff one day, pull him the next because he doesn’t get on base enough, put him back in the leadoff spot because your gut tells you he’s about to get hot, take him out again because he doesn’t get on base … you leave EVERYBODY ticked off.

Ned Yost is like this. He’s a “gut” manager, meaning he not only makes odd decisions because they feel right in the moment but, heck, tomorrow he might do something entirely different because his gut boomed a different rumble.

Because of this, I have no idea how Yost feels about the intentional walk. Last year, Yost’s Royals allowed the second fewest intentional walks in the American League — only Boston had fewer. The year before that, however, they led the American League in intentional walks. The year before that, they were near the top, his last year in Milwaukee the Brewers were near the bottom.

The guy’s all over the map, and it’s not only with intentional walks. Sometimes he will use a closer in a tie game on the road, sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he will sacrifice bunt in a certain situation, the next time around he will not. It’s maddening. I’m not saying the Yost should act the same way every single time — of course he should adjust to the moment. But in the end, what do you stand for as a manager?

Back to the intentional walk. Yost ordered Danny Duffy to intentionally walk Robinson Cano in Kansas City’s 1-0 loss to Seattle Thursday night. Let’s put it into the IWRS formula.

Question 1: What inning was it in?

It was the third inning. Ugh. What American League situation could POSSIBLY call for an intentional walk in the third inning? So before we even get going, this is already a seven-point intentional walk, meaning it’s already an outrage.

Result: 7 points.

Question 2: Did the walk bring up the opposing pitcher or a particularly weak hitter?

No. It obviously did not bring up a pitcher, since it was an American League game, and it decidedly did not bring up a weak hitter. It brought up Corey Hart, who was the Mariners designated hitter and cleanup hitter, a guy with a career 115 OPS+ and a lifetime .297 batting average and .500 slugging percentage against lefties. The Royals pitcher, Danny Duffy, is a lefty.

Result: 3 points.
Total: 10 points.

Question 3: Did the walk give your team the platoon advantage or force the opposing manager to go to his bench?

No. Duffy walked Cano (a left-handed hitter who hits thirty points lower against lefties) to face Corey Hat (a righty who hits 30 points HIGHER against lefties).

Cano against lefties: .289/.340/.446
Hart against lefties: .297/.369/.518

My system — drawn up when I was a little bit calmer — only allows me to add three points to this decision. If not for that, I would add a million-billion-jillion-shmillion points.

Result: 3 points
Total: 13 points

Question 4: Does the extra baserunner matter?

Yes. The game was scoreless at the time and it was only the third inning. Cano’s run mattered a great deal.

Result: 3 points.
Total: 16 points

Question 5: Are you setting up the double play to get out of an inning?

No. There were two outs when the walk was ordered. Or, to put it another way. there were TWO BLEEPING OUTS WHEN THE INTENTIONAL WALK WAS ORDERED.

Result: 3 points
Total: 19 points

Question 6: Are you intentionally walking someone SOLELY to avoid a great hitter?

Yes. This walk was ordered for one reason and only one reason — to avoid Robinson Cano. In the third inning. With two outs. With a lefty on the mound. This is big one Elizabeth! I’m coming to join you!*

*This is a Sanford and Son reference. I normally do not identify silly pop culture references but I am growing more and more aware that I am well above the median age in America and that’s an old show.

Result: 4 points
Final total: 23 points.

It’s almost the perfect intentional walk, “perfect” meaning “most detestable walk possible.” If Yost had ordered this atrocity in the first inning, it would have been perfect.

This walk was so atrocious that it forced Danny Duffy, a promising young pitcher, to spew nonsense after the game. What’s he going to say? “My manager is a looney bird — i mean walking Cano in the third inning? Really? Am I that bad a pitcher? But, hey, I’m too young and inexperienced to overrule him.”

No, he’s not going to say that. Instead, he’s going to say, “Cano’s a great hitter. You don’t want to let him beat you.” He has to say that. I commend him for saying that. You say what you have to say to back up your manager. But he has to know that those words are entirely nonsensical. If Cano can “beat you” in the third inning of a scoreless game then, basically, you should never pitch to him. Ever.

But, like I say, Duffy basically HAD to say that. Yost, on the other hand, spewed absurdities on his own.

“I think (Cano) is one of the top hitters in the American League. You take your chances with Corey Hart, even though he’s a good hitter too.”

No. You don’t. You absolutely don’t. You absolutely trust your young left-handed pitcher to get Cano out in the stinking third inning. You absolutely don’t put your young left-handed pitcher in a platoon disadvantage with an extra runner on the base in a tie game.

But the craziest thing of all: If this situation came up next week, there’s every chance that Yost WOULD NOT walk Cano. His gut might sing a different song.

By the way, in the ninth inning of this same game, Yost ordered a horrendous sacrifice bunt attempt with a man on first and the Royals down a run. There’s an age-old axiom in baseball that you play for the tie at home, play for the win on the road. I’m not sure that axiom makes a lot of sense either, but it goes without saying that Yost decided to play for the tie on the road because that’s how Ned Yost rolls. Today, anyway.

Tim Lincecum is working out in an “secret location”

Tim Lincecum
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A free agent pitcher on the decline coming off of major surgery and still looking for work on February 12 isn’t exactly the definition of Big News. But as newspaper men have known for ages, if you make a bit of information sound cool enough, it becomes news.

Or, in some cases, you can make a lack of information sound cool. If you hear about a trade rumor but aren’t able to actually find out the identity of one of the teams, call it a “mystery team.” Oooh, isn’t that dramatic? Aren’t you privy to all kinds of intrigue! Or, how about this: that free agent on the decline is doing what scores of other ballplayers looking for work are doing and is working out in the Phoenix area, trying to catch on someplace. That’s kind of boring. And you don’t even know who he’s auditioning for or where to boot. Man, that’s not the sort of information that’s gonna be fun or interesting to report.

Wait!

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There. “Secret location.” THAT sounds exciting. THAT separates this bit of news from the dog-bites-man “baseball player playing baseball” non-story. *reporter cracks knuckles* “Now to sit back and wait for the plaudits for my amazing reporting skills to come rolling in.”

CC Sabathia: getting in shape and ready for baseball

sabathia getty
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CC Sabatha made headlines in October when he abruptly left the Yankees to go into alcohol rehab. After a month there he came back and gave interviews about his decision and his battle with the bottle and then disappeared into the offseason the way most players do.

He emerged the other day and spoke with the New York Daily News’ Mark Feinsand and says that he’s ready for baseball once again. Indeed, in some ways he’s more ready now than he usually is by mid February. He’s been throwing bullpen sessions for the past three weeks — he normally waits until he gets to Tamps — and he says his troublesome knee is feeling good.

 

Sabathia will turn 36 during the season. In 2015 he was 6-10 with a 4.73 ERA in 29 starts and posted his lowest strikeout rate in a decade. Late in the season, however, with the help of a knee brace, he was at his most effective in some time. He won’t need to return to 2008 form in order to help the Yankees this season, but he will need to look more like he did in September if he is to help the Yankees to the playoffs.

Jacob deGrom open to extension with Mets

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom talks during media day for the Major League Baseball World Series against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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The Mets are currently enjoying the spoils of the best young rotation in the game, but the big question is whether this is just a brief window or the start of sustained success. Given the huge prices on the free agent market, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep the band together, but at least one member of the rotation is open to sticking around for the long-term.

While there haven’t been any talks yet, All-Star right-hander Jacob deGrom told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he could see himself discussing an extension with the Mets.

“I’m a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that,’’ deGrom told The Post at Mets pre-camp. “You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It’s something I’d have to look into and make sure I agree with it.’’

It makes sense from deGrom’s perspective. He broke into the majors later than most prospects, so he’ll be 28 this June. Depending on whether he qualifies as a Super Two, he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after either 2016 or 2017. Either way, he’s under team control through 2020, which means that he’s currently on track to hit free agency after his age-32 season. The market might not be kind to him even if he manages to stay healthy, so it could behoove him to get as much guaranteed money as possible right now. The Mets could always decide to play things year-to-year, but perhaps deGrom would be willing to settle for a discount in order to get them to buy out a free agent year or two. It’s a really interesting situation to think about, but odds are the two sides will wait on contract talks until he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time.

DeGrom owns a 2.61 ERA in 52 starts over his first two seasons in the majors. Among starters, only Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA since the start of 2014.

Royals, Mike Moustakas avoid arbitration with two-year deal

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Seriesagainst the Toronto Blue Jays  on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Royals and third baseman Mike Moustakas have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $14.3 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The deal, which was initially discussed last month, buys out Moustakas’ final two years of arbitration. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that it’s believed he’ll make $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017.

The 27-year-old Moustakas posted an underwhelming .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, but he enjoyed a big postseason in 2014 before breaking out last season by batting .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI.