Author: Craig Calcaterra

Billy Beane

Could Billy Beane bust up the A’s?


My favorite thing from after last night’s game was watching old dinosaur newspaper columnists dropping “Moneyball” zingers. They were great because they showed that (a) those guys never, ever read the book or at the very least didn’t understand it; and (b) they were so confident in the power of their zingers they didn’t think it necessary to explain how a book that provided a snapshot of the Oakland A’s from 12 years ago was even remotely relevant to 2014.

Never mind, boys, just go with it. You sure stuck it to that Billy Beane good! Or Brad Pitt. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter probably.

A more relevant observation about Beane comes from Ken Rosenthal: Beane rarely stands pat. And after last night’s loss — made all the more crushing by the fact that the A’s simply went for it this year, trading prospects and bats for arms specifically sought for the postseason — Rosenthal is hearing that Beane could do some radical things. Like trade Jeff Samardzija. Or even Josh Donaldson.

Late in the column he suggests that he could stand pat for a couple of months and see where the team is before unloading either or both of those guys. That may be more reasonable. Still, there’s no escaping the fact that Beane went all-in and eschewed the idea of stockpiling prospects and holding on to offense at all costs because he smelled a pennant, that didn’t work and now he has some long-term challenges facing him as a result.

Which ain’t exactly “Moneyball” as the dinosaurs think of it, but we’ll give them a decade or so to catch up to that.

MLB to test new pace-of-play rules in the Arizona Fall League — including a pitch clock

Watchmen Clock

They’ve identified pace-of-play as a problem. They’ve created a committee to study it. Now, today, Major League Baseball has announced new rules, to be tested during the Arizona Fall League, aimed at increasing the pace of the game. They will include the following. This text is directly from the MLB press release:

  • The Batter’s Box Rule: “The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout his at-bat, unless one of a series of established exceptions occurs, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate. (Exceptions include a foul ball or a foul tip; a pitch forcing the batter out of the batter’s box; “time” being requested and granted; a wild pitch or a passed ball; and several others.)
  • No-Pitch Intentional Walks: In the event a team decides to intentionally walk a batter, no pitches shall be thrown. Instead, the manager shall signal to the home plate umpire with four fingers, and the batter should proceed to first base to become a runner.
  • 20-Second Rule [AT 17 SALT RIVER FIELDS HOME GAMES ONLY]: A modified version of Rule 8.04, which discourages unnecessary delays by the pitcher, shall apply. Rule 8.04 requires the pitcher to deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball with the bases unoccupied. The penalty prescribed by Rule 8.04 for a pitcher’s violation of the Rule is that the umpire shall call “Ball.”
  • 2:05 Inning Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:05 break between innings. Hitters must enter the batter’s box by the 1:45 mark. When batters violate this rule, the Umpire may call an automatic strike. When batters are set by the appropriate time and pitchers fail to throw a pitch before the conclusion of the 2:05 period, the Umpire shall call a ball.
  • 2:30 Pitching Change Break Clock: There shall be a maximum 2:30 break for pitching changes, including pitching changes that occur during an inning break. The first pitch must be thrown before the conclusion of the 2:30 period or the umpire shall call a ball. The clock shall start when the new pitcher enters the playing field (i.e., crosses the warning track, or foul line).
  • Three “Time Out” Limit: Each team shall be permitted only three “Time Out” conferences per game (including extra innings). Such conferences shall include player conferences with the pitcher (including the catcher), manager or coach conferences with the pitcher, and coach conferences with a batter. Conferences during pitching changes, and time outs called as a result of an injury or other emergency, shall not be counted towards this limit. A manager, coach or player will not be permitted to call a fourth time out in violation of this Rule. In such cases, the game will continue uninterrupted, and offenders may be subject to discipline.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but let’s start with a general caveat that this is just an experiment, experiments are good things, and thus things that we may think are dumb — like displayed pitch clocks — should at least be given a chance to see if they work in the AFL. If they simply imposed this on actual major league games without a test, fine, fire away, but there’s no harm in testing it all here.

As for the rules themselves: I like the no-pitch intentional walk. I LOVE the rule about batters having to keep a foot in the box, though that list of exceptions to the rule is pretty long and could prove, in practice, to swallow the rule. We’ll see. I also love the “time out” rule. We don’t need the Sons of Posada continuing to go out to the mound after every pitch to have a confab with the pitcher. Figure your approach and your signs out before the game and between innings, OK?

The “change break” rules are fine for the Fall League and maybe most regular season Major League games. But good luck on specifying inning and pitching change break times in the postseason when commercials rule the day. There will be pushback on any such measures from the business people at some point.

As for the pitching clock — which will be an actual clock on the wall of the outfield, behind home plate and in each dugout, operated by an independent time-keeper — I like that they are couching it in terms of the existing rule about how fast a pitcher must deliver the pitch. And, as many big league pitchers have opined, the 12 seconds stated in the rule is probably too fast. Twenty may even be too fast, but better to start there and see what happens. As we’ve said many times, the key here is to get the pitcher and the batter on the ball, so I think the “keep your foot in the box” rule and the pitching clock could prove to be the key to all of this.

We’ll see if it works. We’ll see if anyone complains. Viva scientific experimentation.

Adam Dunn still plans to retire

Adam Dunn

It was a bummer that Adam Dunn didn’t get to play in last night’s game, as he’s gone his entire career without playing in the playoffs. But it’s not like he’s hung up on that apparently, because he still plans to retire, saying last night that “That’s probably it” and that he is almost certain to retire.

He had no problem with not playing in the game, saying that it was the manager’s call. Melvin himself said that the only time he considered using Dunn was in the top of the 12th, with a man on second and first base open. He probably would’ve been walked in that instance. As it was Alberto Callaspo game in and delivered an RBI single.

So long, Adam Dunn. It’s been an interesting 14 years. You socked 462 homers and walked and struck out like crazy. You were one of God’s own prototypes. A high-powered mutant of some kind never even considered for mass production. Too weird to live, and too rare to die.

Derek Jeter launches an athlete publishing portal: “The Players’ Tribune”

derek jeter getty

source: AP

Derek Jeter alluded to this in that feature of him in New York Magazine last week. And now here it is: “The Players’ Tribune.” It’s Jeter’s athlete publishing portal where he plans to give a space for jocks to say what they want without going through the “filter” of the media. He explains the impulse:

I realize I’ve been guarded. I learned early on in New York, the toughest media environment in sports, that just because a reporter asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer. I attribute much of my success in New York to my ability to understand and avoid unnecessary distractions.

Those simple answers have always stemmed from a genuine concern that any statement, any opinion or detail, might be distorted. I have a unique perspective. Many of you saw me after that final home game, when the enormity of the moment hit me. I’m not a robot. Neither are the other athletes who at times might seem unapproachable. We all have emotions. We just need to be sure our thoughts will come across the way we intend.

So I’m in the process of building a place where athletes have the tools they need to share what they really think and feel. We want to have a way to connect directly with our fans, with no filter.

Which could be cool. At least until you realize that the “tools” very likely include publicists and promotional people who are going to attempt to do for pro athletes what Jeter has been quite deft at doing for himself over the past 20 years: avoiding controversy and, either actively or passively, promoting themselves, the products they endorse and the various interests they represent. Jeter may not like the media “filter” but the alternative “filter” that will be applied over the sentiments of his athlete/authors is going to be far, far more robust than he’s claiming here. Of that there can be no doubt.

Not that there isn’t a place for it. As I’ve noted many, many times over the years, there is a trend towards newsmakers breaking their own news. Teams announcing things directly as opposed to going through the media. This is a logical extension of that for athletes. Why issue a press release or seek out one friendly member of the press when you have something you want to say, announce or promote when you can reach people directly? It makes a lot of sense, actually.

But what it will not do is provide fans with any candid insight into these players’ lives. At least not insight that the player doesn’t specifically want to provide. Yes, the media can and often does distort what an athlete has to say and that’s crappy. But good reporters who are straight-up with their subjects have often been nonetheless able to give us a look behind the stage-managing and the spin of publicists and P.R. people and tell us something important or interesting about the subjects they cover. To reveal the human side of athletes, their fears, their foibles and what makes them tick, often in ways the athletes themselves are either unable or unwilling to articulate or, often, may not even know.

I hope Jeter’s website is more than just a safe place for athletes to tell us about their dogs, their charity work and the way in which they plan to really, really change the fashion business. But I’m not at all confident we’ll get that. Derek Jeter learned that the way to become a Golden God in sports is to reveal little if anything about his personal life or to let people in to his personal life.

Do you honestly think that his pitch to his contributors will be “that ‘say nothing’ approach I took the past 20 years? Yeah. I want to totally move away from that now and GET RAW,” or do you think his pitch is “You see how slick I am? I can make YOU that slick too.”

I’d bet an awful lot on the latter.

Playoff Reset: The National League Wild Card Game

Andrew McCutchen

The Game: San Francisco Giants vs. Pittsburgh Pirates, National League Wild Card Game
The Time: 8:00 PM Eastern
The Place: PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The Channel: ESPN
The Starters: Madison Bumgarner vs. Edinson Volquez

The Upshot:

  • I’d say something snarky about how throwing Edinson Volquez out there in a win-or-go-home game is a fool’s errand, but after watching a Jon Lester-James Shields matchup turn into a crazy, bullpen-heavy game in which 17 runs were scored, we should probably know now that you can’t predict anything about this crazy game. Other than it’s amazing and wonderful and no amount of pre-game analysis matters when randomness rules the baseball universe. That said: if you told me that a team had Edinson Volquez on the hill when it’s fighting for its continued playoff life, I’d say you’re smart to have money on the other team.
  • Of course, this is not exactly the same Edinson Volquez we’ve seen for the past few years. He went from someone getting shelled on a regular basis during his stints with the Padres, Dodgers and Reds to a fairly reliable guy in 2014, posting a 3.04 ERA in 32 games. The Giants have historically hit him well, but that history all came before this year. More recently, Volquez is 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA in his last 11 starts. For him, it all seems to be about his mechanics, which in the past have been erratic. Whether it’s the Pirates’ coaching staff or Russell Martin’s steady hand behind the plate, Volquez has been a different guy this year.
  • There’s way less uncertainty on the other side of the matchup. Madison Bumgarner is the Giants’ ace, and he’s a good one at that. He was 18-10 this year with a 2.98 ERA and he strikes out a batter an inning. He has pitched in two World Series before, so the moment is not going to rattle him. Pirates’ lefties Ike Davis and Gregory Polanco should finalize their will. Starling Marte, on the other hand, has destroyed lefties and the two most important bats for Pittsburgh — Andrew McCutchen and Martin — bat from the right, so it’s not the worst possible matchup for the Pirates.
  • The crowd is going to be crazy. We saw this last year when the Pirates faced the Reds in the Wild Card Game and again in the NLDS against the Cardinals. The Giants are a veteran team who has been there and done that, but it should be a pretty electric atmosphere. It’s probably no accident that the Pirates are one of the best teams at home in all of baseball. Of course, Bumgarner is a good road pitcher.
  • I have a hard time seeing Volquez not be overly-amped at the start of this game and so I feel the pitching matches up way better for San Francisco. But it’s also the fact that the best players on offense are on the Pirates’ side of the ledger with McCutchen and Marte and that, after Buster Posey, the Giants’ offensive weapons have been a lot more erratic this year, especially in the second half.

This is a true pick ’em game, maybe even more than the Royals-A’s game was. But if we learned anything from that game, it’s that pickin’ ’em in a one-game playoff is a sucker’s game.