Craig Calcaterra

tommy john surgery

The Giants haven’t had many Tommy John cases. Why?

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Bruce Jenkins of the San Francisco Chronicle spoke with Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti about the health of Giants pitchers. Specifically, why only one Giants pitcher in recent memory — Brian Wilson — has required Tommy John surgery while so many on other clubs have gone under the knife.

It’s an interesting question and both Jenkins and Righetti lead with luck as a good explanation. But Righetti speculates that the lack of many Giants pitchers who do serious weight training could be a factor, noting what weight training can do to guys whose arms have tendinitis or what have you. He also notes that the weight training may be a cultural thing:

“Back then, we didn’t have to worry about it. Walk into a team locker room, and there was no peer pressure about how you looked. You think guys like Luis Tiant, Rick Reuschel, Phil Niekro or Wilbur Wood cared about that? And they pitched forever. But guys would be all over ’em today, because there’s such a vanity element. They’ve gotta keep up with each other.

“It’s interesting, too: The Latin guys don’t come from a culture of weight training, and they don’t seem to get injured nearly as often. Not until they become more Americanized.”

Maybe there’s something there. Dr. James Andrews thinks it’s too many pitches when players are kids, but I’m sure, like with most things, there are multiple factors at play.

The only thing that bugs me a bit here is the citation back to guys who used to throw 300 innings all the time. You see it so often, but the hidden data problem is always ignored here. What is never mentioned are the tons of pitchers who flamed out in the minors or early in their careers because they simply couldn’t handle that kind of load and because Tommy John surgery was not available. Great, Luis Tiant and Mickey Lolich and some others pitched every four days for nine innings. But the guys who tried it and then couldn’t break 80 on the gun after their ligaments snapped are lost to history.

Still, a good article on a topic that is among the most critical in the game.

Theo Epstein and Curt Schilling had a pretty interesting exchange about Kris Bryant

Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 7.43.35 AM
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Cubs president Theo Epstein was in the ESPN booth for a Cubs spring training game yesterday when Curt Schilling — back on broadcast duties this year, it’s good to note — challenged him regarding Kris Bryant’s presumably imminent demotion to the minor leagues.

You know and I know that, in all likelihood, this is a service time play. Curt Schilling knows it too. So when he asked his questions, he put himself in the role of a player who has seen this stuff before. Specifically, he asked Epstein if can honestly tell the players in the clubhouse that, without Bryant, the 25 best Chicago Cubs players are heading north with the team.

Epstein, however, had a pretty good baseball answer. At the very least one that, should Scott Boras or the union do what some have suggested they do and file a grievance over Bryant not breaking camp with the Cubs, will absolutely end their case before it begins. You don’t have to buy it, but you can bet all of your worldly possessions that an arbitrator would.

The answer: a long, long list of Red Sox players who, while clearly among the most 25-talented players in the organization at the time, did not begin the season with the Sox because Epstein likes to give such players extra seasoning in the minors and prefers to give promising young players their debut after the season has began.

Hanley Ramirez and Clay Buchholz, each of whom Epstein says tore it up during spring training, yet still went back down to Pawtucket. Dustin Pedroia. Jacoby Ellsbury were also name-checked. Epstein says that he can’t recall ever starting a rookie in the bigs on Opening Day. In a world where precedent is everything, that precedent would get the union laughed out of the room.

But, much to Curt Schilling’s credit, he didn’t just accept that answer. He poked straight to the heart of it with the equivalent of a “c’mon, the real explanation here is that it’s a business decision, right?” It was a followup Epstein dodged — not a bad dodge, but a dodge all the same — but one that I liked to see from Schilling and which you rarely, rarely see from broadcasters who have a guest in the booth with them. Especially a big time one like Theo Epstein. It’s normally softball city with no attempt to challenge anyone on their answers.

Watch the whole exchange:

To sum up: for all of the sturm und drang about Kris Bryant, there is literally no way whatsoever anyone gets any traction with a grievance here. Indeed, there’s no way anyone can make a case that this is even unusual. Espstein just nailed that to the wall.

Still, good to see Schilling with the “I-don’t-give-a-crap, be honest with me” follow up here. It makes pretty good use of his strengths — his former ballplayer status allowed him to ask this in a way most reporters can’t and his outspoken nature allowed him to cut to the chase — even if those strengths sometimes can be insufferable in other settings. And suggests that maybe — just maybe — ESPN broadcasts with him in the booth could have less fluff and a little bit more bite than they’ve had in the past.

Scott Boras is on FIRE

Scott Boras AP
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Scott Boras, still trying to convince the Cubs to keep Kris Bryant up with the big club, thereby ensuring that he hits free agency one year sooner, spoke with Jon Heyman today. And, while he has no actual power to keep the Cubs from demoting his client, he still has his precious and often amazing rhetoric:

“The opiate of player control cannot supersede the greater importance of MLB’s integrity and brand, which says that this is where the best players play. You can’t have that . . . Clearly, there’s an obligation to put the best players in the big leagues.”

That’s the first time the word “opiate” has been used in a non-drug context or a non-riffing-on-Karl Marx context in a good 85 years. Maybe more.

But he’s not just being high-falutin’ here. He’s going for zingers too!

“They haven’t won for 100 years, and they should start trying to win today,” Boras said. “Cubs fans are paying the third-highest ticket prices. They are paying for the team to win today. They don’t pay to see the club do business.”

I’d say that Cubs fans have, actually, bought pretty fully into the idea of rebuilding a team for long-term contention, not just to “win today.” And having one more year of a potential superstar Kris Bryant at age 29 than two extra weeks of zero major league experience Kris Bryant to start off this season is a tradeoff most of them are quite happy with. Or does Boras not realize that, generally speaking, fans do not much care for free agency and really, really hate it when superstars leave town?

Whatever. Boras is gonna Boras. And he’ll be on this “help the Cubs win, keep Bryant up!” stuff unless and until Bryant struggles to adjust to big league life and is actually harming the Cubs. In which case I’m sure his focus will then turn to making sure Bryant stays up in the bigs, even if he’s hurting the Cubs because, hey, you can’t harm a kids’ psyche like that.

Legal filing shows that the Mets cut back security at Citi Field over the past five years

Apple Citi Field
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As we enter the 2015 season, every ballpark is expected to have metal detectors at every gate and our collective obsession with security and safety only increases over time. Such is life in 21st century America.

There is one place, however, where security has been relaxed to some degree. Or, at the very least, where the idea of cutting a security budget is not seen as a non-starter. That place is Citi Field:

The New York Mets dramatically cut security staff at Citi Field in recent years despite concerns the moves would lead to increased response times for emergencies and fights as well as longer wait times at ticket gates, internal documents show.

Budget cuts between 2009 and 2013 led management to pare down the number of security guards, security supervisors and NYPD officers during home games by roughly 29 percent, according to the documents.

Those documents now come to light by virtue of a lawsuit filed by dismissed Mets security personnel. And, in light of that, there are a couple of thoughts here worth keeping in mind:

1. There is likely a tactical reason why these documents are seeing the light of day right now. When security people get fired for whatever reason, they will claim that security has been compromised as a result of their firing. This is the case whether security has actually been compromised or not. It’s the ultimate card to play in that situation, in fact.

2. Just because there is a tactical reason for this information to come to light doesn’t make it false, so simply saying “the fired security guards have released self-serving documents” doesn’t get you anywhere if you’re defending the Mets. Everything alleged in a lawsuit has a tactical purpose. A lot of the stuff alleged, however, is true!

3. The Mets could very well have cut security here, but that in and of itself doesn’t mean that Citi Field has gotten more dangerous. Maybe security was bloated and inefficient before! Maybe savings on security personnel have been plowed into security technology! While the public mood in our post-9/11 world leads people to assume that less money for security or defense or what have you means less safety and vulnerability, that is not necessarily the case. UPDATE: There is a section in the filed documents asserting that, yes, some areas of the park are less safe, but it’s not clear whether that’s an objective judgment or not.

But one thing that is the case is that, when it comes to matters of budget, the Mets don’t always get the benefit of the doubt. Another thing that is the case is that, if an incident were to occur at Citi Field in the near future, be it violent or criminal in nature, the Mets will likely see these documents once again as “Plaintiff’s Exhibit A” in the negligence suit filed against them.

And if and when they do, they will be in the unenviable position of having to make the argument I made in point 3 above, but with much, much higher stakes involved.

 

(via CBS Sports)

2015 Preview: Seattle Mariners

Felix Hernandez
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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Seattle Mariners.

The Big Question: Did they add enough offense?

The Mariners surprised in 2014, but man, if they just got a lick of offense, they could’ve surprised a lot more. Their 87 wins and near-wild card birth was achieved almost totally on the back of their pitching staff. Overall, the M’s had the best staff in all of baseball, allowing only 3.42 runs a game. The offense, however, was forgettable at best. Seattle scored 3.91 runs a game, which was third to last in the American League.

Robinson Cano is back, of course. As is third baseman Kyle Seager, who was the only other regular besides Cano to post an OPS+ above 100 in full-time play. Other positive offensive contributors in 2014 included Michael Saunders, who only played have the season and who is now gone, and Logan Morrison who played in 99 games. To improve upon 2014’s performance, the M’s needed more offense. So they went out and tried to get some.

The biggest addition was Nelson Cruz, who hit 40 homers and slugged .525 for Baltimore last year. Also added was Seth Smith, who hit .266/.367/.440 for San Diego in 2014. Given that Austin Jackson only played in 54 games last year you can think of him as an addition too. Rickie Weeks was acquired as well, though he’ll be riding pine and hitting against lefties mostly.

I sort of don’t think that’s enough. Taking Cruz out of Camden Yards and putting him in Safeco Field is going to cause him to take a step back a bit, and that’s before you acknowledge that he likely overachieved a bit last season in the first place. Seth Smith is not a cure-all, and full seasons of Morrison and Jackson could, based on their track records, mean full seasons of anything from good production to less-than-mediocrity. For the M’s to take that next step, they’re probably going to need more than this. They’ll need better production from Dustin Ackley, Brad Miller and Mike Zunino or they’ll need to add a bat at some point during the season.

None of which is to say the Mariners are in trouble. Heck, with their pitching staff (discussed more below) they’re almost instant contenders. But they were a flawed team last season which, while likely better on offense as 2015 begins, may not be quite good enough.

What else is going on?

  • The pitching is, of course, ridiculously good. Felix Hernandez needs no introduction. Hisashi Iwakuma has been one of the best kept secrets in baseball over the past three years. His late-season falloff last year is a bit worrisome, but given how James Paxton came on late in the season, the M’s may not need him to be a number two starter like he was before. Paxton has an injury history, of course, but he has gobs of talent. But wait, there’s more! Taijuan Walker has dodged injury and perpetual trade rumors to, presumably, earn a slot in the rotation following a spring in which he has tossed 18 scoreless innings with a 19/4 K/BB ratio. J.A. Happ at the back of your rotation is way better than J.A. Happ at the front of your rotation, and pitching in Safeco should help him. Roenis Elias is hanging around when someone needs a break, gets injured or forgets how to pitch. An extremely solid crew.
  • The bullpen was every bit as strong as their rotation last season, with Fernando Rodney, Danny Farquhar, Tom Wilhelmsen, Yoervis Medina and Charlie Furbush all pitching well and all returning. Rodney is occasionally heart-attack inducing, but if he implodes, Farquhar can handle the job. Expect a bit of a step back for this crew, as all bullpen performances fluctuate from season to season, but it’s a strong unit.
  • Adding Rickie Weeks was fun. Because he’s a second baseman and the Mariners, you may have noticed, have a pretty OK second baseman. That makes Weeks a super-utility guy, who will probably get looks in the outfield. Which is hilarious given that one of the reasons he was on the outs in Milwaukee was because he basically refused to play in the outfield when they asked him to. One presumes that Weeks was aware of Mr. Cano’s presence before signing his deal with the M’s, so one presumes that he’s on board with the move to the outfield now. Should be fun, though. He’s only ever played 2B and DH.
  • Another smallish addition: Justin Ruggiano, who could platoon with Seth Smith and/or Dustin Ackley. Or maybe Weeks can platoon. A lot of flexibility here, it seems, and if Lloyd McClendon feels comfortable with doing some plate-spinning with this lineup, he may be able to squeeze a bit more production out of it even without another big name addition.

Prediction: It’s hard not to like this club’s chances to to compete for a playoff spot. I think they still have enough questions on offense to where the Angels get the nod, but I think the Mariners are contenders. Second place, American League West.