Some love for Billy Wagner

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How about ending your career with a season like this: 7 wins, 2 losses, 37 saves, 1.43 ERA, 104 strikeouts and 22 walks in 69 1/3 innings.
39-year-old Billy Wagner, who has maintained all season that this would be his last, ended his 16th major league campaign by striking out the last four batters he faced in a win that sent the Braves into the playoffs Sunday.
If he’s truly done — and it seems doubtful that he’s the type to flip-flop — he finishes his career with 422 saves, a 2.30 ERA and 1,196 strikeouts in 903 innings. A seven-time All-Star, he ranks fifth all-time on the saves list and sixth for strikeouts among relievers. Among pitchers to throw at least 300 innings, only Rob Dibble and Brad Lidge have stronger strikeout rates than Wagner, who finished with 11.9 K/9 IP, and Lidge will probably fall behind Wagner during the downside of his career.
Wagner will be an interesting Hall of Fame case. His numbers are remarkable, but he ranks as just the No. 3 reliever of his era and he’s struggled mightily in the postseason. It’d help him a bunch if he were a big part of a Braves run to the World Series this month. Wagner’s teams are 1-6 in seven postseason series, with the left-hander giving up 13 runs over 11 1/3 innings in 13 appearances.
And that’s a big negative. Since he’s a closer, it will probably be held against him more than a similarly poor postseason performance would be held against a Hall of Fame-caliber hitter. Wagner, though, was a big reason why most of those teams got to the postseason. In his 13 relatively healthy seasons, his worst ERA was a 2.85 mark.

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.