What were the Pirates doing on defense?

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Milledge defense.jpgThe Post-Gazette’s Dejan Kovacevic observed something quite extraordinary: in the early going of the Pirates-Giants game, the Pirates consistently shifted all three outfielders towards right, even with right-handed batters at the plate. This allowed Aaron Rowand’s leadoff double and Mark
DeRosa’s broken-bat, two-run single before the shift was removed. Kovacevic believes that Lastings Milledge could have reached both of those balls had he been positioned properly.

I didn’t watch the game live, but I just now went back and watched the replay on MLB.tv and, yes, the shift was rather ridiculous. The Giants broadcasters began questioning it during Edgar Renteria’s first inning at bat, saying that the Pirates “must have last season’s scouting report,” because unlike last year when Renteria was battling injuries, he can now pull the ball again. Even if that’s the case with Rowand, there’s no word on why they were running it during everyone else’s at bats. And I’ll add that the problem was exacerbated by the fact that the Pirates’ starter Brian Burres is a guy who works the cut fastball inside and that even if he’s not throwing there on purpose — which is rare — he misses inside all the time, which makes pulling the ball into an empty left field pretty damn easy. Just ask Mark DeRosa.

Overall, Kovacevic notes, seven fly balls were hit
to left with no outs recorded “through no fault of his own.
He simply could not cover the ground to get to them, whether because of
foul luck or flawed advance scouting or positioning.”

Pirates baseball: it’s FAN-tastic!

Tommy La Stella talks about his refusal to report to the minors in 2016

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In late July of 2016, Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella was demoted to Triple-A. It wasn’t personal. It was a roster crunch situation and La Stella had options left so, despite the fact that he had been an effective player to that point of the season, it made sense to send him down.

La Stella didn’t take the demotion well. In fact he refused to report to Iowa and went home to New Jersey instead. It was not until August 17 that he finally reported and then only after prolonged discussions with the Cubs and the assurance that he’d be back in the majors once rosters opened up. Which he was, after spending just over a week down on the farm.

Such a move by a player would, normally speaking, make him persona non-grata. His teammates would shun him and the organization would, eventually, cut bait, with the press characterizing him as a me-first player as he walked out the door. That did not happen with La Stella, however, who remains with the Cubs two years later and, by all accounts, is a popular and important guy in the Cubs’ clubhouse, even if he’s not one of the team’s big stars.

Today Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic has an in-depth story about La Stella, what went down in 2016 and how he and the Cubs have proceeded since then. The story is subscription only, but the short version is that there was a lot of understanding and empathy on the part of the Cubs organization and their players about what was going on in La Stella’s head at the time and how everyone allowed everyone else the space to work through it.

I’m happy to read this story, because all too often we only hear about such incidents as they occur, with little followup. To the extent the story is told, most of the time its completely one-sided, with the player who acts out being treated like a bad seed with little if any explanation of his side of things. And, yes, there are always two sides to the story. Sometimes even more.

Kudos to Rosenthal for telling this story. Here’s hoping the next time a player is involved in a controversy that, in the moment, makes him appear to be a bad seed or have a bad attitude, we hear more about it then too.