The Big Five with … Rangers pitcher Cliff Lee

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ARLINGTON, Texas — Before Cliff Lee signs a mega-free-agent deal this off-season, he’s got another showdown with Tim Lincecum coming in Game 5. And this time, he’ll have to bounce back after one of his worst starts of the year — and certainly the worst in his otherwise brilliant postseason career. Not to mention, facing The Big Five: 

You’ve set such a high standard for yourself that on the rare occasion when you did struggle, was it a surprise to you?

“I don’t know if it was a surprise. I know every time I go out there, I expect to be successful. So any time it’s anything less than that, you’re disappointed. You never know what’s going to happen out there. Those guys swinging the bat are pretty good, too. If you make mistakes, that’s what they get paid to hit. I was throwing a lot of balls over the plate. You can’t do that on a consistent basis and expect to be successful. They showed me that the other night.”

Was there any issue with the mound in Game 1?

“No, none. I know I kick and scratch on the mound, but I do that every time, if you’ve watched close enough. That’s part of, I guess, my in-between-pitch routine and what I do. I like to pay attention to where my foot is hitting. I try to keep (the landing spot) smooth and level and clean.”

You said after Game 1 that health wasn’t an issue for you. Have you figured out why that happened? Was it a mechanical thing, or something else you need to change?

“Anything I say is an excuse, and I’m not going to sit here and make excuses. I threw balls down the middle of the plate, and they hit them. I’ve got to do a better job of locating pitches. The reason why, and all that stuff, regardless of what I say, it sounds like an excuse, so I’d rather not say anything.”

Has your opinion of the Giants hitters changed at all since the series began?

“They’ve got a lot of quality hitters; there’s no doubt about it. In the last press conference, I was saying how good their pitching staff was, and it made it seem like their hitters aren’t as good — and that’s not the case. They proved it in San Francisco for sure. They scored, what was it, 20-something runs in two games? They’re pitch-able, but like I say, if you make mistakes and miss over the plate, and they’re 2-0, 3-1 (in the count), bad things are going to happen.”

You’ve been with the Rangers for just more than four months. What’s your take on your time here?

“It’s been a great experience; they’re great teammates. I knew the offense was unbelievable before I got here because I’ve had to face them in the past, and it hasn’t been a whole lot of fun. I knew we were going to score runs, no question about that.

“It’s definitely one unit working together. There are a lot of individually talented players, but we really do pull for each other, and if someone doesn’t get it done, the next guy is there to do it. That’s the recipe for a winning team, and that’s why we are where we’re at.”

Editor’s note: Tony DeMarco is a contributor to NBCSports.com who has been covering the big leagues since 1987. He’ll interview a guest during each day of the World Series for HardballTalk.com.

Tony Clark thinks front offices have too much of an impact on baseball

AP Photo/Richard Drew
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Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post spoke to MLBPA executive director Tony Clark, who said he feels that front offices have too much of an impact on the game of baseball. Clark said, “You hear players saying it’s even hard to recognize how the game is being played. If those on the field see it and experience it, then those who are watching it will notice, too. It’s not to suggest I don’t like home runs or strikeouts or walks. I like all those things. But I also like more of the strategy and the dynamics that have always determined the outcomes in our games.”

Clark continued, “The decisions that are being made are changing the game. When you’re in a climate where the decisions about how the game is being played are being made less by the players who are playing and the coaches and managers who are coaching and managing it, we find ourselves in a climate that seems to be focused in on what everybody’s calling the three true outcomes: the home run, the strikeout and the walk. I would argue that there are two true outcomes: whether you win or you lose. … I’m not saying data is a bad thing. I’m saying it’s morphed our game and its focus quite a bit.”

Clark also discussed tanking, saying, “This isn’t a player problem. It’s reflective, I believe, of very deliberate business decisions. Players as a whole compete on every pitch and every at-bat. Our industry is predicated on competition from the top down. … What it appears that we are seeing in that regard is teams withdrawing from that competition for seasons at a time. It becomes challenging when it’s more than a couple of teams that are going that route, whereby you have a considerable chasm between those that are competing at one level and those that are competing at another.”

The current collective bargaining agreement expires on December 1, 2021, so the union and the owners will have three more years of talking about these issues before they are concretely addressed. The tanking issue seems like it will almost certainly be addressed.

Clark’s concern over the impact of front offices may not be misplaced, but it’s difficult to envision any kind of rule making a difference. Limit what data teams can access? Centralize the data? The “scienceification” of baseball, if you will, was an inevitability, an evolution. In order to go in a different direction, the game will need to evolve again. Trying to tamp down data usage in baseball is akin to playing whack-a-mole with various ways with which teams will find advantages over other teams.

Major League Baseball could try to cut into the ever-increasing three true outcomes rate by changing certain things about the game without touching the data. Back in 1969, the pitcher’s mound was lowered to encourage more offense. In a similar vein, to encourage more doubles and triples and fewer home runs, stadiums could be adjusted to have the fences back to a certain distance (e.g. at least 340 feet down the lines, 410 in center). The pitcher’s mound could be moved back a few inches, lessening the impact of higher velocity, which has been a big factor in the ever-increasing strikeout rate. There are surely other ideas that smart people can come up with to bring the game towards a more active, enjoyable experience. We still have three years to go so we’ll certainly be seeing some interesting suggestions.