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January 2, 2014

The Lineup Card

Six New Year's Resolutions

by Baseball Prospectus


1. Jon Lester: Don't Get a Hit
Any record that goes “Most times doing X without ever doing Y” is in a fragile state. Quintin Berry has the most stolen bases in a career without ever being caught, but Craig Gentry had that record once, too; then he got caught. Any such record is also of dubious value. The most innings pitched in a career without allowing a run--a record held by Timothy Jones, a Pirates pitcher in the 1970s--was good for 0.2 career WARP. So far as I can tell, meanwhile, Felix Hernandez holds no records.

And yet, such records get slightly more attention than similar, less-pristine achievements. As it stands now, there are four ways a pitcher can get noticed for his offense: He can be so good that it becomes part of his career obituary, as with Carlos Zambrano; he can be so good that he can actually transition into a hitting position after his pitching fails, as with Rick Ankiel; he can show so little interest in hitting that his disinterest becomes itself a commentary on the DH-or-not-DH debate; or he can set a record for futility. Not just be bad; set a record. Otherwise, he’s just another dude who was made to do something he’s bad at, giving it an honest effort with (all things considered) admirable results.

Justin Verlander and Jon Lester have shots at that record. Neither has a hit. The record for a hitless career is 47 plate appearances; Lester has 38, along with five postseason at-bats; Verlander has 35, plus three postseason at-bats. (Alex Wood has 22; Roberto Hernandez 20. Each is in the NL and could get the plate appearances to do it this year.) Odds aren’t bad that one will pass 47, but that’s not the hard part. The hard part is not blowing it after that.

So which player has the better chance? A case can be made for either. Verlander has never walked, or been hit by a pitch, or reached on an error. He once reached on a fielder’s choice, the only time in his career that he has stood on a base. (He did not attempt to steal. He has never stood on second base.) So Verlander already holds the record for the most career plate appearances with a .000 OBP.

On the other hand, he’s put better wood on the ball than Lester. He has struck out 57 percent of the time (when not bunting), while Lester has struck out 61 percent. Verlander has hit the ball into the outfield four times, and also lined out to the first baseman. Lester has hit the ball into the outfield twice. This is the third farthest that Lester has hit a baseball fair:

On the other other hand, Lester has hit the best ball that either has ever hit, a sacrifice fly that would have been out of almost any ballpark in the game:

(That was off Tim Lincecum. Together, these two pitchers have hit six balls out of the infield, and two were against Lincecum. Odd.)

Ultimately, it might come down to this: Boston. After one Lester plate appearance in 2011, Red Sox announcer Jerry Remy talked about the team’s attitude toward its pitchers hitting: “They really don't want them swinging until they get two strikes on them.” Probably smart! And, since 2007, Lester has swung at just 27 percent of the pitches he sees before two strikes. Verlander is far more aggressive: 39 percent. At a certain point, everybody who swings gets a hit. Verlander swings. This record is Lester’s to lose. —Sam Miller

2. Starlin Castro: Just Be Yourself
I think a lot of baseball fans and observers tend to latch onto players that they see themselves in. The comparison is often based in a fantasy world where we embody all of the positive qualities that we see in guys like Reed Johnson or the dominance we see in guys like Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. Others latch onto flawed players whose deficiencies endear the player to us.

I’m like that with Starlin Castro.

Castro is a player whose flaws have become magnified over the past two years as the whip like bat has struggled with the soft stuff low and away. He’s a bad to mediocre defender who flashes competence. His eye at the plate leaves something to be desired. He’s had some high profile lackadaisical moments; one of which led to a benching and a rift between him and the manager.

He’s teased at big potential, which is why I was drawn to him. But the deficiencies, the things that he struggles with, are what endeared him to me.

So for him, I have a simple New Year's resolution: Get out of your own head and apply your natural talents the best way that you can.

At his best Castro’s ability and utility create a pleasing aesthetic with gorgeous and warm undertones that hint at a big time future. It’s time to get back to that.

Just be you, Starlin. —Mauricio Rubio

3. Yasiel Puig Haters: Stop Hating
I resolve to enjoy one of the most exciting, dynamic players in the game without reservation or hesitation. I resolve not to get mad or fired up every time he celebrates an exciting play or does something that crosses an imaginary line of decorum created generations ago when young men like Puig weren’t even allowed to play the game because of the color of their skin. I resolve to acknowledge Puig’s mistakes are part of the learning process, and not blow them out of proportion because I don’t like on-field celebrations. I resolve to let Puig’s obvious enjoyment of the game allow me to let my guard down, and remind me how much I enjoy and love this game, and why I let baseball into my heart in the first place. —Mike Gianella

4. Ben Revere: Continue Not Hitting Home Runs
To Revere, not hitting a home run is like hitting a home run! It’s an amazing feeling to go up there and keep the ball in the park. Revere has been the master of that so far in his career. He has exactly 1,400 major-league plate appearances with Minnesota and Philadelphia, and his record to date is unblemished by a long ball. Last season, Revere hit more fly balls on a rate basis than ever before, so there is danger. Maybe flatten out the swing a bit, or do fewer push-ups. Ty Cobb used to have his wife feed and clothe him to maintain weakness in the arms. If Revere can keep this up, one day he will achieve his dream of walking down a street and, upon seeing him, a man will look at his young son. “Son,” he’ll say, “there goes the mediocre-est hitter ever.” “Dad,” the young boy will say, “’mediocre-est’ isn’t a word.” “Shut up, son,” the father will say, patting his boy on the head. “Shut up.” —Matthew Kory

5. Jason Parks: Stop Assuming All Dominican-Born Pitchers Will End Up Relievers
As 2013 expires and 2014 emerges from the calendar womb, covered in sympathetic fluids and general optimism, as a collective we rush to document the buoyancy we seek while we molt our perceived weaknesses, as if shedding our skin could actually change our cells or reconstruct our smiles. It’s arbitrary and [often] superficial, but our willingness to acknowledge our limitations and deficiencies needs an opening salvo, so in the spirit of the sanguine, please allow me to present my New Year’s Resolution: I will stop putting EVERY Dominican pitcher in a reliever box.

We often shy away from discussing the fact that a high volume of Dominican-born pitchers fail to reach their projections in a rotation and end up in the bullpen at the end of the developmental run. You can make a case that the lack of a formal little league structure in the country is the cause, or the showcase mentality that erupts as a result is what delivers those arms to the professional ranks with a “grip it and rip it; fastball velocity will get you off the island” approach, one that often comes at the cost of feel and nuance that is difficult to acquire the older a player gets. Regardless, I have a documented scouting bias as a result, and nine times out of 10, I’ll project a Dominican-born arm to the bullpen.

In 2014, it is my goal to shed these unwanted pounds of bias from my physique, to stop smoking on the stereotypes that are harmful to my lungs and the lungs of others in my general area, to start showing more kindness to Dominican arms with rotation projections, to save more and spend less when it comes to snapshot reliever declarations. 2014 is going to be different. I’m going to make it happen this year. I’m going to change. I can change. I’m documenting this so you can see I’m serious about this change. I might even put this change on my Facebook wall. I’m THAT serious about it. 2014 represents a new tomorrow. Yesterday is gone. Good-bye to the old and hello to the new me. You won’t even recognize me next year. You’ll see. I’ll show you all. Please love me so that I can love myself. —Jason Parks

6. Russell Carleton: Going #snarkfree
This one is kinda personal. New Year's is a time for a little self-reflection. In addition to writing about baseball, I occasionally try to make myself a better human being, so this year, on top of eating better, flossing regularly, and calling my parents more often, I'm going to try something else. I'm resolving to go #snarkfree, both in baseball and in real life. It's not that I won't disagree with people, or decisions that teams/GMs/managers—heck, even other writers—make. I will disagree. I just want to handle those disagreements differently. Too often, I've used snarkiness as a way not to take decisions that people make, or the people themselves, seriously. Considering that one of my own goals is to have people, inside the game and outside, to take my work seriously, that doesn't add up. I need to start more sentences with "I at least see what he's thinking there..." I don't know how well I will be able to keep my resolution, but one of the best ways to keep a resolution is to commit to it publicly. So, here it is. —Russell A. Carleton

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