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October 18, 2010
On the Beat
They Must be Giants
The Giants that are playing the Phillies in the National League Championship Series are not the same Giants that began the season. In fact, general manager Brian Sabean made several in-season moves that changed the face of the club and helped it win the NL West and beat the Braves in the National League Division Series.
Three players who have been regularly starting for the Giants in the postseaosn were acquired during the regular season. Third baseman Mike Fontenot came from the Cubs in a trade, left fielder Pat Burrell was signed as a free agent after being released by the Rays, and right fielder Cody Ross was claimed off waivers from the Marlins. The Giants also picked up two relievers at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline, getting left-hander Javier Lopez from the Pirates and right-hander Ramon Ramirez from the Red Sox.
Most of the moves have worked out well, including signing Burrell. He posted a .304 True Average with 18 home runs in 341 plate appearances after looking completely washed up with the Rays.
"Really, to be honest, I didn't know what to expect, because Pat being in the American League, I didn't get a chance to watch him," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We had a couple of players here that were really in his corner with (Aaron) Rowand and (Aubrey) Huff, who knew him very well and said, 'This guy's in great shape.' Really, we were in a win-win situation in signing him. He went to (Triple-A) Fresno. You give him credit for going down there. Once he went down there, our development people said 'this guy hasn't lost anything, he's got the bat speed.' He came up here really to be a pinch-hitter off the bench, but it was evident, once he got some playing time, that he should be out there helping this offense with the quality at-bats that he gives you, the power that he gives you, and he has played a pretty good left field for us."
Ross had a .289 TAv in 82 plate appearances while Ramirez had 1.196 WXRL in 27 innings and Lopez contributed 1.191 WXRL in 19 innings. Thought Fontenot had just a .230 TAv in 76 PA, he has replaced the struggling Pablo Sandoval at third base in the postseason.
While some teams are loathe to mess with their clubhouse chemistry, Bochy believes his club has benefited greatly from both the new players' production and their personalities.
"If you look at this team, we have some characters here, whether you want to call them castoffs or misfits," Bochy said. "I compare them to the Dirty Dozen. That's the way they play but they've coalesced into a team that goes out there to win. It's a great group of guys. They go out there and play the game the way it should be played. They play hard, play to win and they give you everything they've got for nine innings and you can't ask for more than that."
Ross and Burrell feel likes brothers in arms when it comes to being castoffs. The Giants claimed Ross off the waiver wire because they wanted to prevent him from going to the Padres rather than having a need for him, especially after trading for Royals outfielder Jose Guillen a few weeks earlier. Many people in baseball felt Burrell was unmotivated and could no longer be a productive player after he had a .237 TAv in 96 plate appearances with the Rays to start the season.
"When I got here, the situation was a little different," Ross said. "We had a lot of outfielders that were all really experienced and some guys on the bench that are used to playing every day."
Said Burrell, "I don't want to get into or dwell on what happened with Tampa Bay. It was just a case of getting another opportunity and taking advantage of it."
It was also that same way for Lopez and Ramirez. Lopez was with a Pirates team on its way to 105 losses and the Red Sox, who were in contention, felt that Ramirez was no longer effective or able to help their unsuccessful quest to chase down the Rays and Yankees in the American League East.
"We all just came together and we had one thing in mind, and that was to win," Ross said. "We all had to check our ego at the door and put the personal statistics aside and go out there and just play as a team, and I think that's one of the main reasons we're at where we are now."
Yankees GM Brian Cashman rarely gets the credit he deserves for the being architect of four World Series winners in his 14 years on the job. His critics say Cashman should be able to field a good team every year because the Yankees annually have the highest payroll in the game, usually by a large margin.
Regardless of how much money Cashman has at his disposal, he deserves credit for the July 31 trade that brought reliever Kerry Wood from the Indians. Wood was having a miserable season with a -0.969 WXRL while being limited to 20 innings because of injuries.
However, Wood contributed 1.344 WXRL in 26 innings with the Yankees. He also solved a season-long problem for the Yankees by emerging as the eighth-inning guy to pitch in front of closer Mariano Rivera.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi has a long-time relationship with Wood as they played together with the Cubs. Girardi was confident Wood could be an asset to the Yankees.
"I was excited because I knew Kerry's personality," Girardi said. "And I knew that the situation would not intimidate him. He's been involved in a lot of situations in his career. He's been a top-notch starter. He's gone through the elbow injury, been on top of the game and had to fight his way back. I knew that he was tremendous in the clubhouse, and I've always liked his stuff and his demeanor. His stuff has changed a little bit. His slider is not as big as it used to be. His velocity is not quite what it used to be. And in saying that, he still throws 95 mph."
The Wood trade wound up being one of the last deals made by Mark Shapiro during his nine years as the Indians' GM. At the end of the season, Shapiro took over the club presidency and assistant GM Chris Antonetti assumed GM duties. The promotions had been announced prior to the start of the season.
Shapiro is now in charge of the business side of the franchise more than the baseball side. One of his primary challenges will be finding a way to increase attendance. The Indians had the worst mark in the major leagues this season, drawing just over 1.3 million.
The fans are upset with a franchise that traded defending AL Cy Young Award winners CC Sabathia in 2008 and Cliff Lee in 2009 in the two seasons after the Indians went to the American League Championship Series. However, Shapiro said that is just one of multiple reasons why so few people go to the games at Progressive Field, where the Indians once had 455 consecutive sellouts.
“One of them is demographics," Shapiro said. "It’s a smaller city. A second is the economic troubles we’ve had as the city tries to re-shape itself. This has been a devastating period for the city. But there are two other factors. We need to win. We need to put a winner on the field and we need to improve the level of entertainment we offer within the ballpark."
The Indians have gone 81-81, 65-97 and 69-93 since coming within one game of the World Series in 2007. Though Shapiro says, "we're at the hump or just over it," as far when the Indians will attempt to field a winning team, the perception among fans is that ownership lacks the money to bankroll a strong roster. Shapiro says that is not the case.
“The trouble is, people are looking at this in the context of the mid-‘90s Indians,’’ he said. “That was obviously a very different market. We had top five payrolls. And we did not spend beyond our revenues in the mid-‘90s. We spent what we made. There’s probably only one team in baseball that spends significantly beyond their revenues. All the rest spend about what they make. The biggest markets make a ton of money, and don’t even spend their revenues. So the model you might emotionally ask for, an owner to use the team as a philanthropic endeavor and to continually fund huge deficits beyond revenues—you’re asking for something that doesn’t exist. There is no place where that exists. So changing an owner is not going to change that.’’
Run scoring was down this season across the major leagues. An average of 8.76 runs a game were scored in 2010 compared to 9.22 in 2009. Rightly or wrongly, that has caused many to dub this as the Year of the Pitcher.
There were certainly a number of outstanding individual performances as 16 pitchers had at least 6.0 SNLVAR. Six of them were at 7.0 or above: the Phillies' Roy Halladay, the Mariners' Felix Hernandez, the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright, the Braves' Tim Hudson, the Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez, and the Marlins' Josh Johnson.
Hall of Famer and TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley has his theories on why pitching has stepped to the forefront in 2010. One is that young pitchers are learning the value of changing speeds.
"I think there’s just been a crop of young pitchers that have come up to the big leagues and they’re ready," Eckersley said. "I used to say years ago that a lot of guys were here and they weren’t ready yet. These kids that come up to the big leagues now, they’ve got that changeup. Everybody’s got a changeup, everybody’s got that third or fourth pitch and I think that’s really the difference. Kids are ready to pitch when they get to the big leagues, and that may have a lot to do with coaching. You’ve got kids in Little League talking about the circle-change.”
When it comes to post-season play, the Phillies are considered the favorite to win it all because of a rotation fronted by Halladay, Roy Oswalt, and left-hander Cole Hamels. It has been suggested in more than one corner that the Phillies' threesome is the best since the Braves' triumvirate of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz. Not surprisingly, Smoltz, also a TBS analyst, has an opinion on the subject and he thinks the Phillies' trio is every bit the equal of the Braves' trio.
"They have much better stuff than we did, and that’s stating the obvious" Smoltz said. "They have dominated games; we dominated games in a different way. The only thing I’ll say is, if they can stick together then they’ve got a chance to shatter a lot of pitching records.”
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Red Sox, after missing the playoffs this season, plan to make a big splash in free agency with Rangers left-hander Cliff Lee and Phillies right fielder Jayson Werth their primary targets. … The Blue Jays may be conducting the most comprehensive search for a manager in baseball history as GM Alex Anthopoulos and assistant GM Tony LaCava are believed to have had phone interviews with the following: former Rockies and Cubs manager Don Baylor, Red Sox coaches Tim Bogar, John Farrell and DeMarlo Hale, Blue Jays coaches Brian Butterfield and Nick Leyva, Blue Jays minor-league managers Sal Fasano and Luis Rivera, Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, former Mariners and Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin, Padres bench coach Rick Renteria, Angels bench coach Ron Roenicke, Yankees third base coach Rob Thomson, and former Rangers and Mets manager Bobby Valentine. … Among the candidate for the Brewers' managerial opening are Melvin, Nationals third base coach Pat Listach, and White Sox bench coach Joey Cora. … With Valentine out of the running with the Marlins for the second time this year, some around the club believe former Florida third-base coach Bo Porter will become the next manager. … The Mets, who are unlikely to hire a successor to fired GM Omar Minaya until after the World Series, are expected to reach a settlement with closer Francisco Rodriguez in which they buy out the final year of his contract for 2011 and allow him to become a free agent.