Tag: Mariano Rivera

joaquin benoit getty

Yankees having internal discussions about Joaquin Benoit


Bob Nightengale of USA Today has the scoop on the Yankees’ reliever search …

Benoit registered an exceptional 2.01 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 73/22 K/BB ratio in 67 innings this past season with the Tigers, but he was awful in the postseason and he turns 37 years old in July, so the asking price shouldn’t be astronomical. The Yankees have the impossible offseason task of replacing Mariano Rivera.

A dozen dismissed: the best players left off the Hall of Fame ballot

Keith Foulke

While the BBWAA screening committee was keeping up with the Joneses — Jacque and Todd, to be precised — it left a bunch of superior players off Tuesday’s Hall of Fame ballot reveal.

In the grand scheme of things, it hardly matters who makes the ballot to be cast off after one year and who is left off altogether. But let’s give some recognition to those who won’t even get a token vote when the results are announced in January. Here are the best dozen players eligible but left off the Hall of Fame ballot.

Keith Foulke: Foulke was a more valuable pitcher than any of the three closers who made the ballot (Armando Benitez, Eric Gagne and Todd Jones), but he spent his first five years as a setup man and managed only 191 career saves. It seemed like he pretty much gave up his arm for the Red Sox’s run in 2004, when he pitched 83 innings in the regular season and 14 more in the postseason (allowing just one run). He pitched just three more seasons afterwards, none of them healthy, and stumbled to a 4.84 ERA. From 1999-2004, he was about as valuable as any reliever in the game, amassing a 2.43 ERA and 171 saves in 522 innings (Mariano Rivera, by comparison, had a 2.20 ERA those years, but threw 100 fewer innings).

Shannon Stewart: A dynamic player when he first arrived, Stewart swiped 51 bases in his first full season with the Blue Jays in 1998. Unfortunately, he lost his speed and eventually had his career cut short because of leg injuries, but not until after he was an above average regular for seven seasons, which is six more than Jacque Jones managed. He even finished fourth in the AL MVP balloting in 2003, though that was a misguided narrative driven vote based on him playing well for the Twins after a summer trade. From 2000-2004, he had an OPS+ between 112-118 every years.

Trot Nixon: The original Dirt Dog, Nixon was a bit of a late bloomer. He was the seventh overall selection in the 1993 draft, but he didn’t establish himself in Boston until he 1999, when he was 25. He went on to have his best year in 2003, hitting .306/.396/.578 to finish fourth in the AL with a .975 OPS. He also hit four homers in 11 postseason games that year. Nixon missed most of 2004 with back troubles, though he was back for the stretch run and the Red Sox’s postseason run. He managed just two decent seasons as a platoon player in his 30’s, but he did enough before then to justify a spot on the ballot.

Jon Lieber: Lieber won 20 games for the Cubs and finished fourth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2001 and mixed in several other above average seasons to finish his career 131-124 with a 4.27 ERA (103 ERA+). The Pirates wasted some of his early seasons shuffling him between the pen and the rotation and he missed a year and a half in his 30s following Tommy John surgery, so his overall numbers aren’t overly impressive. Still, he was a rock solid pitcher.

Geoff Jenkins: The NL’s answer to Nixon, Jenkins had seven seasons of 20 homers for the Brewers and three times topped a .900 OPS. He always struggled against lefties, which is probably the biggest reason that he never drove in 100 runs, and he was done at age 33, but he was just as valuable as a player as his more famous teammate, Richie Sexson, who did make the ballot.

Jose Vidro: While not quite a Hall of Fame path, Vidro looked like a future Hall of Very Good guy through age 29, hitting .304/.367/.470 and making three All-Star teams in his career up to that point. And that was pretty much it. After six straight seasons of OPSs from .820-.920, he failed to top .780 again. In 2008, he hit .234/274/.338 in 85 games with the Mariners, got released and was never heard from again, even though he was just 33.

Steve Trachsel: Famed for being an incredibly slow worker on the mound, Trachsel is a punchline now, and he was never much recognized as a quality pitcher over the course of his career. Still, he lasted 16 years with an ERA+ of 99, which rates as a pretty good career from here.

Esteban Loaiza: As a 31-year-old journeyman, Loaiza suddenly came through with one of the most surprising seasons in memory in 2003, going 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA and an AL-leading 207 strikeouts for the White Sox to finish second in the Cy Young balloting. He had a 5.71 ERA the season prior and a 5.70 ERA the season afterwards, though he did have one more nice year with the Nationals in 2005. He ended a 14-year career 126-114 with a 4.65 ERA (98 ERA+).

Matt Morris: Morris went 12-9 with a 3.19 ERA to finish second in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting as a 22-year-old with the Cardinals in 1997, but then blew out his elbow in 1998 and missed two years. Back at full strength in 2001, he went 22-8 with a 3.16 ERA to finish third in the NL Cy Young race. Morris, though, declined quickly from there, turning into a pretty average starter at 28 and failing to even stay at that level from age 31 onwards. He was done at 33 after going 121-91 with a 3.98 ERA (107 ERA+) in 11 seasons.

Jose Cruz Jr.: Since he spent most of his career hitting in the .240s, Cruz struggled to earn respect and bounced around a lot. Still, from the day he entered the league in 1997 until 2005, he was never worse than an average regular. In 2001, he had a 30 HR-30 SB season for the Blue  Jays. He scored 90 runs three times and walked 102 times in 2003. Like many of these guys, he was pretty much done by 32-33.

Damion Easley: Easley is an exception: he played 17 years before retiring at age 38. However, he was a role player from age 32 on, never batting more than 350 times in a season. From 1997-2001, he was the Tigers’ starting second baseman, topping 20 homers three times and driving in 100 runs in 1998, when he went to his lone All-Star Game.

Dmitri Young: OK, so at this point, I’ve run out of players clearly better than Jacque Jones and J.T. Snow to list here. Young is in their neighborhood, though. He hit .300 with 830+ OPSs for four straight seasons with the Reds and then later went to All-Star Games with the Tigers and Nationals. He didn’t add anything defensively at first base or in the outfield, but he was quite a hitter. He finished his career at .292/.351/.475.

Mariano Rivera to Drew Storen: “You don’t need my cutter”

Drew Storen Getty

Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post put together an in-depth look at Drew Storen’s late-season turnaround. It’s a great read, chock full of charts and stats, but perhaps the most interesting part came in the opening paragraph.

Drew Storen had the privilege of meeting Mariano Rivera. Knowing such an opportunity is fleeting, Storen asked Rivera if he could impart wisdom on throwing the cut fastball, the pitch that Rivera lived on for 17 years as the game’s best closer. Rivera sagely replied, “You don’t need my cutter.”

More, via Kilgore:

“Right away, he goes, ‘You don’t need it,’ ” Storen said over the phone Thursday morning, as he drove to a workout in his hometown Indianapolis. “ ‘You got 43 saves at the big league level. You don’t need my cutter.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, okay.’ He goes, ‘You got everything you need. If you make the most of what makes you successful, then you’ll be successful.’ ”

Storen posted a 5.95 ERA through the end of July, prompting a two-week demotion to Triple-A Syracuse. Kilgore writes that, while in Syracuse, Storen changed his delivery to include a quick leg kick, and he changed his arm slot. While his results in Triple-A were not any better, the Nationals called him back up in mid-August. From August 16 through the end of the season, Storen posted a 1.40 ERA. The most staggering change was that he did not allow a home run in 19.1 innings compared to allowing seven in 42.1 innings prior to his demotion.

It is a small sample size with which to work, but the evidence seems to point to Storen having changed for the better. Still, it’d be nice to get the recipe to Rivera’s cutter. It couldn’t hurt.

Yankees to play exhibition games in Panama to honor Mariano Rivera

panama flag

This is pretty cool.

Mariano Rivera has talked about wanting the Yankees to play an exhibition game in his hometown of Panama City, Panama and now it’s happening.

Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News reports that the Yankees will play two exhibition games against the Marlins in Panama on March 15 and March 16.

Should be a great scene, with Rivera no doubt being part of the festivities. And maybe Yankees manager Joe Girardi can give him a last-minute “come out of retirement, please” sales pitch.

Dan Quisenberry for the Hall of Fame

Dan Quisenberry

OK, so you have probably heard — there are 12 finalists on what the Baseball Hall of Fame is calling the Expansion Era Ballot. These are players, managers and executives who contributed during what the Hall (naturally) calls the Expansion Era — from 1973 to the present. Only problem is, that’s not really the Expansion Era. There was no expansion in 1973. There was expansion in 1969, of course, and expansion in 1961 and 1962. There was even expansion in 1977.

What happened in 1973? Oh yeah: They should instead call it the “Designated Hitter Era.”

Anyway, there will be a 16-member panel that will vote on the players — 75% (12 out of 16) are needed for Hall of Fame induction. It’s a good panel with Hall of Famers (Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro, Frank Robinson), a few executives (Blue Jays president Paul Beeston, former Orioles president Andy MacPhail, Phillies president and CEO David Montgomery, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf) and writers who have closely observed the game (Elias’ Steve Hirdt, San Francisco Chronicle’s Bruce Jenkins, BBWAA secretary/treasurer Jack O’Connell and longtime Fort Worth Star Telegram writer Jim Reeves).

Quickly, the 12 people on the ballot are:

Players (6): Dave Concepcion, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons.

Managers (4): Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, Billy Martin, Joe Torre.

Executives (2): George Steinbrenner and Marvin Miller.

And so, because I’m crazy, I’m going to go through the 12 candidates one at a time (well, I’m going to do the managers all at once and maybe the executives too).

And I’ll start with the man whose appearance on this ballot makes me want to cry with happiness, an old friend, Dan Quisenberry.

Dan Quisenberry

Summary: Outstanding relief pitcher for the Kansas City Royals from from 1979 to 1988. Finished his career with short and mostly unfulfilling stints in St. Louis and San Francisco. … Famous for his submarine pitching delivery and his wit. Among his many famous quotes: “I have seen the future and it is much like the present, only longer.”

The quick case: Won Rolaids Fireman of the Year five times, tied with Mariano Rivera for the most ever. … He set the Major League record with 45 saves in 1983. That record was broken, but he set another record that year that still stands and will almost certainly NEVER be broken — 35 of those saves lasted more than one inning … Led the league in saves five times in six years and finished top three in the Cy Young voting four years in a row. … One of the great control pitchers in baseball history, he had just 92 unintentional walks in more than 1,000 innings.

The history: Quisenberry got just 18 votes his one year on the BBWAA ballot — 119 fewer than his contemporary Bruce Sutter, even though they were equals as pitchers. I think Quiz was hurt by his relatively low career save total (244), and the quirky way he went about doing his job.

Comparable Hall of Famer: Bruce Sutter

Right up front: I do not claim to be unbiased or even-handed when it comes to Quiz. I was beginning to know him when he died — I met him at a poetry reading. We were friends. I am still friends with his wife Janey and their now grown-up children, Alysia and David. I believe Dan Quisenberry was a wonderful man and a fantastic pitcher and it would be one of the great days of my life if he was elected into the Hall of Fame. He has his case. I have written many times: Quiz was every bit the pitcher that Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter was, even if they did it in very different ways.

Let me talk about something else. Start with a fun little thought experiment: Think for a moment about the sport that you love the most and have played the best. It really doesn’t matter what sport it is. For the example, I’ll choose tennis. I was never a good tennis player. But I probably was better at tennis than anything else when I was in high school.

OK, now, here’s the fun part: You get to infuse yourself with as much athletic ability and talent as you want. You keep your own personality, but you get to be the ideal version of yourself in that sport. Who are you? In my case, I’m Roger Federer. Hey, why not? I try to play Federer’s game 75 bajillion levels below Federer himself. Of course I am not comparing myself. I’m saying that my tennis game at the nth power is not Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic or Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi or John McEnroe. It’s Roger Federer. That’s the unattainable height above my game.

It’ a fun game to play. If you see yourself as a wide receiver, you might see your ideal self as a tall, fast, unstoppable blur like Andre Johnson or you might see yourself as the relentless Jerry Rice or you might see yourself as the ultra quick, in-and-out Wes Welker. If basketball is your sport than at its highest level you might be Lebron James or Michael Jordan or Larry Bird or Tim Duncan.

And if your sport is baseball and you think of yourself as a pitcher, your ideal self might be a big left-handed fireballer like Koufax or Unit or Kershaw, maybe a right-handed flame thrower like Verlander or Seaver or Pedro, maybe a pitching savant like Maddux or Lee. If you see yourself as a closer, you are probably Mariano Rivera. You might be Trevor Rosenthal too. Who wouldn’t want to throw a 100-mph haze past a hitter, just to know what it’s like?

But the truth is that, every now and again, an athletes comes along who is great, truly great, and in a way that no one had ever envisioned before. The player does not so much reach that height as he/she pulls down the bar to their own abilities. If every great quarterback was 6-foot-4,with a bazooka arm, what fun would it be? So there’s Drew Brees. If every dominant basketball player was a 250-pound giant, with the power of a linebacker and the speed of Usain Bolt, what fun would it be? So there’s Chris Paul. There’s Steph Curry. There’s Muggsy Bogues.

Nobody grows up hoping to be Dan Quisenberry — even Dan Quisenberry didn’t grow up hoping for that. He was a semi-conventional pitcher when he played for the University of La Verne. He was not drafted, of course. He was not viewed as a prospect of any kind even though he pitched well in the minor leagues. How could they view him as a prospect when he offered no tools whatsoever? Think of the conversation.

GM: Tell me about Quisenberry. How’s his fastball?
Scout: Nonexistent. Probably throws 80 mph.
GM: That’s top speed?
Scout: I haven’t seen a faster one. It has some sinking action to it.
GM: OK, how about the curve?
Scout: Yeah, not really.
GM: What do you mean, ‘Not really?’ He doesn’t have a curve?
Scout: He throws one. But, you know, it doesn’t really curve. The less he throws it the better.
GM: Slider?
Scout: Nope.
GM: Change-up?
Scout: Not really, no. They’re all change-ups.
GM: Knuckler? Screwball? Spitter?
Scout: No. No. No.
GM: So what does he throw?
Scout: Well, like I said, that fastball has some sinking action to it.
GM: You’re telling me the guy throw an 80-mph sinker? That’s all he throws?
Scout: Well, sometimes he’ll throw it 75.

So, as a 22-year-old, he pitched in Class A and AA with that repertoire of nothing, and he posted a 2.42 ERA in 52 innings, walking 10 the whole year. The Royals didn’t buy it and sent him back to Class A and AA, and the next year he posted a 1.00 ERA in 54 innings with a .907 WHIP. They didn’t buy it again and sent him back to Class AA, where he has a 1.34 ERA in 74 innings and, again, WHIP less than 1.

Obviously at this point, they didn’t buy it again and sent him back to Class AA for another full season (2.39 ERA, 12 walks and one homer allowed in 64 innings) at which point they must have gotten sick of him in Jacksonville because the Royals FINALLY promoted him to Class AAA. Before the end of that year — Quiz was 26 — the Royals called him to the big leagues. He did not allow a run or walk a batter in his first six appearances. The Royals stuck with him, though Jim Frey famously went to see him pitch in the bullpen, asked him to throw a curve, and then walked away in disgust.

And that was when Quiz got a pitching lesson from Pittsburgh’s submariner Kent Tekulve. Quiz was more of a sidearmer before that — he took on Tekulve’s full submarine style. Tekulve was a sensational pitcher in his own right but he was a bit different from Quiz. He too relied on the sink that came from his submarine style — he forced a lot of double plays and was extremely difficult to hit home runs against. But Tekulve was not as soft-tosser like Quiz. He had a little pop in his pitches. He would get his share of strikeouts, especially in the early years. He would challenge hitters. He would walk quite a few too.

Quiz was different. He learned Tekulve’s motion but brought his own supernatural control and unique ability to avoid mistakes. I do not want to compare the careers of Quiz and Sutter, but it is instructive to see how two men who were so unlike each other could be almost exactly as effective as each other. Remember, they pitched almost exactly the same number of innings:

Sutter stuck out almost 500 more batters than Quisenberry. Hitters batted 37 points worse against Sutter (.267 for Quiz; .230 for Sutter). Sutter threw much harder, he had a nastier out pitch, it’s easy to understand his advantages.

And Quiz? Well, you just have to total up a bunch of little things. They both had good control, but Quiz’s control was historic — he walked 147 fewer batters. Sutter, because of that nasty split-fingered fastball, threw 37 wild pitches. Quiz threw four. Yeah, four. Quiz induced 45 more double-play grounders. He allowed 18 fewer homers. Small things: He hit about half as many batters and committed half as many balks.

When you total it all up — Quiz had the slightly better ERA and slightly higher Baseball Reference WAR. He was just relentlessly useful. He was persistently productive. He never gave anything away.

Everyone has his or her own opinion about what the Baseball Hall of Fame means. I suspect a lot of people here don’t think Dan Quisenberry OR Bruce Sutter belongs in it. That’s not unreasonable. But I’m not actually focused on that point here. I’m thrilled Dan Quisenberry is on this ballot because he never did have his Hall of Fame case properly heard. Quiz was great in a way that nobody imagined a pitcher could be great. He probably did more with his own abilities than any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball. Maybe there should be a place for that in the Hall of Fame.

Anyway this was the point of the thought of experiment. The first time I met Quiz, we talked a little bit about both being dreamers. And I think that’s true. We both dreamed a bit about what we might have been with unlimited talent. The big difference is this: Quiz also became one of baseball’s great pitchers with his own talent.