Craig Calcaterra

scherzer getty

Great Moments in Yankees Kremlinology: Max Scherzer edition

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Following the Yankees in the offseason — and the media which covers the Yankees in the offseason — reminds me of the Cold War. No, not the threat of nuclear annihilation or any of that fun stuff, but there is definitely some fun Kremlinology to it all.

Like political reporters who covered the Soviet Union, those who cover the Yankees spend an awful lot of time attempting to understand a secretive organization’s plans and intentions by interpreting indirect clues and, often, reading a whole hell of a lot into the smallest thing.

Which, to be fair, the Yankees have justified by fairly frequently (a) lowering expectations as the offseason begins; only to (b) make some big splash later, with little or no warning. Which makes some sense because the Yankees general manager is, like the Soviet Premier, nominally in charge but answers to an ownership/party hierarchy that can trump his intentions if it so chooses.

Today the New York Daily News thinks the party hierarchy is so choosing. With the headline “Hal Steinbrenner won’t rule out Max Scherzer,” which is only missing an exclamation point because newspapers only do that when countries win World Wars. From the story:

Maybe it’s just his DNA talking, but while Hal Steinbrenner added his voice to the chorus of Yankee bigwigs sounding doubtful about adding a pricey player such as Max Scherzer, the Boss Jr. didn’t slam the door on an expensive upgrade, either.

All from Hal Steinbrenner saying “look, it’s not over till it’s over” in response to questions about the Yankees’ payroll and need to add some starting pitching. Which, sure, because this is the Yankees could mean that they give Scherzer crazy money just after lunch today. Or could mean absolutely nothing and the press is reading too much into an innocuous comment.

Which is what the Yankees’ offseasons have come to look like. Their prerogative, of course. But man, I’d hate to have to cover that team.

Pace of play needs addressing, but the pitch clock should be the last resort

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I have mixed feelings in the wake of this morning’s report that baseball is, at least for the minors, considering implementing a pitch clock.

On the one hand, yes, I would like to see the pace of play improved and to do that you have to deal with the batter-pitcher interaction, getting both sides to speed things up. On the other hand, I can’t help but think the pitch clock should be a last resort in this regard, not the first move. My opposition to the pitch clock, has a lot of elements to it, no single one of which is major, but taken together feel like a lot.

It would be a visual distraction. Broadcasters would be flashing it on and off the screen and talking about it all the time. Managers and players would use replay challenges or, at the very least, argue about when it was started and stuff. Technical glitches would happen. Less concretely, it would put lie to the old — and good — saying about how baseball doesn’t have a clock. There’s just a football element to it that I don’t much like.

But more significantly, I am a person who prefers that problems attempt to be solved by the least intrusive means first and that more drastic measures be taken if and only if less intrusive measures prove ineffective. Baseball hasn’t done that yet.

What it could do: simply make the umpires enforce a time limit in which pitchers must throw pitches. The rule book says 12 seconds. Fine, many around the game have said that 12 seconds is too fast, so make it the 20 seconds to which a pitcher is subject under the clock rule. Baseball can, with a simple directive to umpires, ask that this rule be emphasized, just as it has often done so regarding other rules in the past. Have some meetings in spring training and tell everyone, “hey, we’re going to be making a point of this, OK? Don’t say you weren’t warned.” Yes, I realize that can lead to some subjective umpiring. One pitcher may get 22 seconds and another called at 19. But it’s also the case that, if the pace of play is not otherwise a problem in a given game, it will become a non-issue.

The broader problem I see here — which I wrote about back in August — is that a pitch clock is just the latest example of Major League Baseball’s habit of adding unnecessary rules and unnecessary components of new rules when smaller moves might solve the problem. Baseball felt the All-Star Game wasn’t holding people’s interest, so they made it decide home field advantage in the World Series. They felt they had a problem with small market teams not being able to compete, so rather than give them money or draft picks, they put them in a silly competitive balance lottery. They felt they had a problem with calls being missed so rather than simply solve that with a straightforward replay system that would allow umpires to correct their own mistakes, they added an unnecessary manager’s challenge. They felt they had a problem with catchers getting hurt on plate collisions so they made a new rule rather than enforcing existing rules about when catchers can and cannot block the plate.

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line, but baseball has been a big fan of 90 degree turns and long arcs these days. And of taking the officiating of the game out of the umpire’s bailiwick and putting it into the players’ and managers’.

Maybe a pitch clock will ultimately prove necessary. Or, maybe, if implemented it will prove to not be an issue at all. Heck, for that matter, maybe this is all just a negotiating tactic by the owners, aimed at getting the union to agree to a stepped-up enforcement of existing rules to begin with. But that possibility notwithstanding, I am always skeptical of radical change being Step 1 rather than being taken if and only if a less radical solution is not first attempted.

Report: The pitch clock is coming to Double-A and Triple-A

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Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi report that, if the owners have their way, the pitch clock is coming to Double-A and Triple-A games in 2015. It will not, however, come to the major leagues. Not yet anyway.

This is the result of baseball’s experimenting with rules to speed up the pace-of-play during this past Arizona Fall League season. The pitch clock, the most notable of these innovations, was a physical clock on the wall behind the plate, in the outfield and in the dugout which stipulated that a pitcher had 20 seconds between pitches to get the ball back, get his sign from the catcher, and begin his delivery.

The report also says that the owners would propose a rule for Double-A and Triple-A which would require batters to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box between pitches.

For the rule to take effect, the owners have to vote to adopt it, which this report from Rosenthal and Morosi says they are poised to do. Then it must be approved by the MLBPA. Given how significant a change this is, the decision to start only in the minor leagues likely improves the chances of the union’s approval, inasmuch as its members will not, for the most part, be subject to it.

It’s also probably a smart way to roll such a thing out. A handful of games in the Arizona Fall League are likely not enough in which to iron out the wrinkles a pitch clock is likely to create in the fabric of the game. Better to have early mistakes and tweaks made in minor league games than major league games. And it’s more likely players would not oppose it coming to the major leagues at a later date if they see that, for a year or two, it worked just fine in the minors. Were it not for the the technical constraints involved, they likely would’ve done replay like this too.

I’m very curious to see how this works. Assuming, of course, it happens at all.

Matt Moore aiming for a June return

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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that Matt Moore is slated to start throwing off the mound in the last week of January. He began soft tossing and throwing on flat ground in September. This schedule — which is still the original schedule, as Moore has not suffered any setbacks — would have him return to the Rays in June.

Moore, who is still just 25-years-old, is 29-17 with a 3.53 ERA in 63 career games, 61 of which were starts. He has an extremely team-friendly contract and, for as much shuffling and rebuilding as the Rays have done lately, he still looks to be a part of the team’s future.

 

Braves trade Evan Gattis to the Astros for three prospects

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I updated my will recently because I was worried that, at some point in 2015, I would literally have a stroke or a heart attack or something and drop dead on the spot from watching Evan Gattis play left field for the Atlanta Braves. Now, it seems, I do not have to worry. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that the Braves have traded Gattis to the Houston Astros for a “trio of prospects.”  Joel Sherman reports that that trio is Michael Foltynewicz, Rio Ruiz and Andrew Thurman.

Gattis is obviously a beast in the power department. He hit.263/.317/.493 with 22 homers in 401 plate appearances last year, but he is certainly an all-or-nothing hitter, striking out 97 times. He also has some defensive liabilities, especially if he’s asked to do anything but catch. The Astros could DH him. Or, depending on what they think about his framing abilities — which are supposed to be good — as opposed to his overall receiving and ability to throw out baserunners — not great — could have him catch some as well. Still: he’s a bat first and foremost.

As for the package the Braves are getting in return, Foltynewicz, a right-hander, was the Astros’ first rounder in 2010. He’s 23-years-old and last year spent his first time in Triple-A, where he posted a 7-7 record and an ERA of 5.08. He also had a cup of coffee with the big club. The Astros’ fourth overall prospect before 2014, he strikes out guys at a decent clip and had a chance to compete for a slot in Houston’s rotation this season.

Ruiz is a third baseman who hit .293/.387/.436 in high-A-ball last year. He showed mostly doubles power, but he’s also only 20-years-old. If the power develops and he can stick at third base defensively, he profiles as a nice prospect.

Thurman, also a right-hander, just turned 23. He was a second rounder in 2013 from U-C Irvine. He posted fairly unimpressive numbers in A-ball.

A power infusion for the Astros. A couple of building blocks for the future for the Braves. Instant reaction: seems like a good deal for Atlanta if, for no other reason, than it keeps Gattis from playing left field.