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April 14, 2014

What You Need to Know

Weekend Wrap-Up, 4/14

by Daniel Rathman

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The Weekend Takeaway
During Adrian Gonzalez’s heyday with the Padres, from 2007-2010, the first baseman was a true all-fields power hitter:

Then Gonzalez tore the labrum in his left shoulder and underwent surgery on October 20, 2010. He was traded to the Red Sox that offseason and, for a while, the Green Monster sustained some of his opposite-field power. Then, on August 25, 2012, the Red Sox struck the infamous mega-deal with the Dodgers. And this happened:

The combination of Chavez Ravine and Gonzalez’s surgically repaired shoulder was like an eraser that wiped away the red dots on the left third of the first chart.

Last May, Gonzalez told Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times that his erstwhile power might never return. In October, Howard Megdal of Sports on Earth wrote that Gonzalez was “a changed hitter.”

Fast-forward six months:

Gonzalez woke up on Sunday morning with four home runs, two of them to left field. He hit his fourth homer of the 2013 campaign on May 10, and all of those went to right. The lede in Dylan Hernandez’s Los Angeles Times recap of Saturday’s win: “Adrian Gonzalez’s power is coming back.”

In the top of the third inning of the Dodgers’ series finale at Chase Field, Gonzalez balanced out that last spray chart with a three-run moonshot. It was his fifth tater of the season and extended his active homer streak to four games.

Gonzalez told reporters that his shoulder is “looser.” His “finish is coming back.” The numbers and charts don’t lie.

Quick Hits from the Weekend
With the bases loaded and two out in the fourth inning of Friday’s opener between the Rockies and Giants, the visitors’ starter, Jorge De La Rosa, was out of sorts. He’d just hit Brandon Hicks and walked Brandon Crawford on four pitches to force in a run, which trimmed his lead to 3-2. The good news: Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner was about to step into the box.

De La Rosa tried to recalibrate himself with a get-me-over fastball, perhaps figuring that—given his wildness in the preceding plate appearance—Bumgarner might be instructed to take a strike. That wasn’t the case:

Bumgarner put a 415-foot charge into the heater, driving it to left-center field, where it landed for his first career grand slam. The blast was eerily reminiscent of another Bumgarner homer, a 416-footer, also against the Rockies, but at Coors Field on September 11, 2012. That one, off of Jhoulys Chacin, turned a 4-1 deficit into a 4-4 tie; this one flipped the score from 3-2 Rockies to 6-3 Giants.

Friday’s slam was the first by a Giants pitcher since Shawn Estes did it in 2000, and only the second in the franchise’s San Francisco era. Ten others did it between Estes and Bumgarner, the most recent being Travis Wood on May 30, 2013. (For the full list, see this Sports Illustrated post by BP alum Jay Jaffe.)

***

While Bumgarner did his best work at the plate, down the California coast, another National League West pitcher shined on the mound. For the second time in five starts, Andrew Cashner turned in a one-hit shutout.

Last September 16, the victims were the Pirates. On Friday, Cashner blew away the Miguel Cabrera-led Tigers, permitting only a Rajai Davis single and two walks, one of which he erased by coaxing a twin killing from Cabrera. He fanned a career-high 11, two more than his previous best, set back on June 28, 2012, against an Astros lineup whose cleanup hitter was Brian Bogusevic.

Cashner worked almost exclusively off of his 96-mph fastball, 93-mph sinker, and 85-mph slider in game one of three at Petco Park, sprinkling in eight changeups and two curveballs to keep the Tigers on their heels. He got nine of his 11 strikeouts with the hard stuff and the other two with the slider, which also accounted for his lone mistake.

Davis’ knock in the sixth-inning came on a backed-up breaking ball. Cashner then walked Ian Kinsler, falling into a two-on, one-out jam before escaping it with one pitch: a sharp slider that Cabrera rolled over into the 5-4-3 double play.

The last eight Tigers batters all either struck out or grounded out to the left side. As a result, Cashner efficiently became just the third pitcher in Padres history to collect double-digit strikeouts in a one-hit gem. The others, Andy Benes and Kevin Brown, both did it in the 1990s.

After 45 years and counting, the Padres are the only franchise that still cannot boast a no-hitter. Based on his recent dominance, a healthy Cashner might get them on the board before too long.

***

The Yankees won the third game of their four-game battle with the Red Sox behind five home runs. But the story after the contest wasn’t New York’s 2-1 edge in the series; it was a replay review that went awry on national TV.

Here’s the play:

Dean Anna roped a ball into the right-field corner, where Red Sox right fielder Daniel Nava got a charity carom that enabled him to fire quickly to second. Anna beat the throw and was ruled safe by umpire Ron Kulpa. But replays available to the Red Sox’ challenge team indicated a problem with that call—namely, that Anna’s foot came off the base as Xander Bogaerts applied the tag—and manager John Farrell challenged it.

The NESN telecast showed several replays, all of which provided some evidence that Farrell had a point. Here’s a screenshot from the first one, which you can see at 1:26 in the video embedded above:

This frame would seem to supply the indisputable evidence required to overturn a call on replay. Anna’s foot is clearly a few inches off the base, a fact confirmed by the shadow beneath it, and Bogaerts’ glove, which contains the ball, is on Anna’s right hip.

Here’s another angle from the NESN telecast, which essentially shows the same thing:

And another:

The FOX Sports 1 broadcast had similar angles. Yet this ruling was confirmed. Emphasis on confirmed, because that would mean that the umpires in the control center had evidence to suggest that Anna’s foot was on the base at all times, not simply that the there was insufficient evidence to overturn the call. It is possible that this was a reporting error, though no clarification for that announcement by the MLBReplays Twitter account was given.

Major League Baseball later issued a statement, relayed by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal and other reporters, that the replay ruling was incorrect, and that the call was upheld because the control center did not immediately have conclusive replays at its disposal. The call had no bearing on a game that the Yankees won 7-4, but it raised questions about the credibility of the replay system, which failed in the late innings of a nationally televised game between the league’s biggest rivals—hardly an ideal time for such a flub.

That leaves two questions:

1.) Just how conclusive must the evidence to overturn a call be? In other words, which of the above three frames were available in the replay center and deemed insufficient? It is plausible, based at least on angles two and three, to argue that Bogaerts’ glove may not be in contact with Anna’s hip, since the images lack the depth for the viewer discern that. But short of an aerial or ground-up view, it would be difficult to show that indisputably, and since neither of those angles existed at any point, one of the above must have sufficed and not been available. The official word that the call was confirmed (as opposed to, “the call stands”) also is difficult to fathom (unless, as mentioned, this was a mistake).

2.) How could angles available on the telecast not be available in the control center? And if such a possibility exists, should there be a recourse for managers whose challenges fail early in a game, but whose beefs are later proven legitimate by the league’s own admission?

With each passing controversy, it becomes clearer that issues with the expansion of replay will take time to resolve. Until then, we can only hope that the system won’t fail at a more pivotal time in a more critical game.

***

Toss this onto the mounting pile of bizarre plays that have emerged from MLB’s strict emphasis on the definition of a catch. With runners at the corners and one out in the top of the third inning of Saturday’s middle match between the Athletics and Mariners, Brandon Moss hit a fly ball to deep left-center field, where Dustin Ackley made a sliding catch. Sort of.

A quick recap: As he approaches the ball, Ackley slides, has the ball land in his glove, closes his glove around the ball, gets up, and then has the ball pop out of his glove as he tries to take it out to throw it back to the infield. As this is happening, Coco Crisp, the runner on third, returns to third to tag up and scores. Josh Donaldson, the runner on first, retreats to the bag assuming that Ackley caught the ball. Ackley’s throw goes to second baseman Robinson Cano (via Brad Miller), who touches the bag, then throws to first, where Justin Smoak tags both Donaldson and Moss.

Before we go any further, a little thought exercise: If you weren’t watching the game and haven’t looked up a play-by-play of it (or even if you were/have), two questions: 1) Which baserunner would you have had on first base at the end of that play, and which one would you have called out? 2) How would you have scored the play?

What actually happened: Under the new emphasis on “voluntary and intentional” releases from glove to throwing hand, Ackley did not complete the catch. Donaldson returned to first base, assuming that he had. Moss was given a single and ruled out (3U) for passing Donaldson when both of them were standing on first base. Crisp scored, giving Moss an RBI on the play.

There are a few issues or unanswered questions stemming from that:

1.) The onus is now on runners to watch whether fielders cleanly transfer the ball before deciding how to run the bases. For Crisp, that was irrelevant; whether or not he returned to tag, he was going to score. But Donaldson’s instincts—see the ball land in the glove, turn back and run to first—served him wrong on the play, as both he and manager Bob Melvin said after the game. Donaldson told reporters that it will lead to “less aggressive baserunning.”


2.) At 0:17 in the highlight video linked above, Cano is standing on second base with the ball in his glove, and Donaldson is still on his way back to first (as you can see a moment later, when he joins Moss on the bag). That appears to be the point at which Moss passed Donaldson, and it comes after an apparent, but uncalled, force out at second base (7-6-4).

3.) Moss was given a single on the play, but as A’s broadcasters Glen Kuiper and Ray Fosse discussed later on the telecast, it’s an odd scoring, given that the ball was catchable for Ackley and the miscue came on the release, which wasn’t obviously affected by the first part of the catch. The question, then, is where on the spectrum of these no-catch plays does the line between hit and error lie?

Second-base umpire Eric Cooper did not comment on the play after the game, which leaves issue (2) an open question. It’s possible that the umpiring crew did not see Cano standing on second base with the ball, which led Cooper—who ventured over to first to clear up the play—to incorrectly sort out the runners. (At the risk of fueling a minor conspiracy theory, if you look at the 0:17 mark of the highlight, Cooper is facing away from second base.) If that’s the case, it’s not impossible to envision a scenario—say, a one-run game in which the runners at hand are Donaldson and the much-speedier Crisp instead of Moss—in which a manager like Melvin would want to challenge or ask the umpires to initiate a review of the baserunners. (If further clarification is given, I’ll update the article with it.)

With each passing day, it seems more issues stemming from the literal interpretation of the catch rule arise. Those who adjust quickly will do their jobs better. And, as we learned on Saturday, that goes not only for fielders, hitters, and runners, but for scorers and umpires, too.

***

Hitting a game-tying home run in the ninth inning is a good way to set a milestone—whether that milestone is one’s first career homer or 2,000th career hit.

Michael Choice, pinch-hitting for the Rangers with the Astros up 5-4, did the former with a solo shot. Raul Ibanez, up for the Angels who were down three runs, went the latter route off of Jose Valverde:

Which, you might remember, has happened before on a bigger stage:

Just as the Tigers bounced back to win Game One of the 2012 ALCS, the Mets won Saturday on a 13th-inning homer by Anthony Recker. The Astros also escaped with a one-run victory, on a triple by Jason Castro and a sacrifice fly by Jose Altuve in the 10th.

***

Ibanez wasn’t finished for the weekend, though. On Sunday, he followed Mike Trout and Albert Pujols in the year’s first sequence of back-to-back-to-back home runs—and a unique one, at that.

Jeff Fletcher, who covers the Angels for the Orange County Register, was the first to observe that the three players who slugged the homers were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, respectively. Research by our own Russell A. Carleton and Andrew Koo confirmed Fletcher’s claim that the sequence was the first of its kind, at least since 1950.

On August 3, 2004, Pedro Feliz (then 29), Barry Bonds (40), and J.T. Snow (36) smacked consecutive homers, but the order disqualified that entry. On July 8, 1986, Kirk Gibson (29), Lance Parrish (30), and Darrell Evans (39) slugged three in a row for the Tigers; Evans missed the quadragenarian requirement by 11 months. In fact, before Ibanez’s homer on Sunday, Bonds was the only 40-plus-year-old player to partake in a back-to-back-to-back display in at least 64 years.

The Angels weren’t done, either.

Kole Calhoun failed to make it four long balls in a row for the Halos, but he added to Bartolo Colon’s misery with a double off the wall. Mike Scioscia’s club tacked on five more extra-base hits before the end of Colon’s afternoon, saddling the right-hander with a career-high nine in five innings. Hank Conger’s bomb in the fifth brought Colon’s gopher-ball total to four, which matched his worst ever.

***

Justin Upton was the most feared hitter in baseball last April, when he whacked 12 big flies in his first 23 games. But the outfielder cooled off over the ensuing three months, hitting just .243/.339/.342 between April 28 and July 31.

With Jason Heyward batting .149 in the leadoff spot and B.J. Upton toting a .191 mark in the two-hole, the Braves have needed as much production as they could get from Freddie Freeman and the younger Upton in the early going. Freeman homered and doubled on Sunday to raise his triple-slash line to .442/.519/.814. And Upton had a series to remember.

The 26-year-old went 2-for-3 with a dinger and two walks on Sunday, giving him eight hits in 10 at-bats versus during the weekend tilt with the Nationals, and an 11-for-14 line over the last four games, including two doubles and four home runs. It’s not easy to raise your OPS by 703 points over a four-game span, even this early in the season. Unless, of course, you’re Justin Upton.

The Defensive Play of the Weekend
Sometimes, free baseball is the best kind of baseball. On Saturday, Jonathan Villar waited until the 10th inning to rob Alex Rios of a knock and help the Astros cling to a 6-5 win over the Rangers.


What to Watch for on Monday

  • It has been a year and a half since Jordan Zimmermann failed to record a sixth-inning out in three consecutive starts, and when he was pulled early in four straight in 2010, the right-hander was still on the mend from Tommy John surgery.

    All of that is to say that Zimmermann is among the most reliable starters in the majors when it comes to giving his manager more than 15 outs. But he failed to finish the second inning in his most recent outing, a 1 2/3-frame clunker against the same Marlins club that awaits him now. Zimmermann had “no answer” for reporters seeking an explanation or excuse last week, and to avoid further inquisition, he’ll need to atone for that dud tonight (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • The Rangers squeaked away with a series win over the Astros to improve to 6-6, but they picked up both of their victories in 1-0 fashion. Ron Washington’s lineup has been held to two or fewer runs in three of its last four games and four of its last six; a 3-for-40 skid with runners in scoring position dating back to Wednesday’s loss to the Red Sox is chiefly to blame. Prince Fielder and co. will attempt to snap out of it in Colby Lewis’ return to the rotation. The right-hander is due to face rookie Roenis Elias in Lewis’ first big-league game since July 18, 2012 (8:05 p.m. ET).

  • Ron Roenicke’s bunch was a popular darkhorse pick to earn a playoff spot in the National League this year, and so far, the Brewers haven’t let those who chose them down. After dropping two of three to the Braves, the Brew Crew swept the Red Sox at Fenway, the Phillies at Citizens Bank Park, and the Pirates back home in Milwaukee. That’s good for a season-best nine-game winning streak, and with the Cardinals coming to Miller Park, the Brewers—who previously won nine straight from April 14-23, 2013—have an early opportunity to pad their Central division lead. Matt Garza will fire the first pitch of the series in tonight’s matchup with Lance Lynn (8:10 p.m. ET).

  • After making 53 relief appearances for manager Kirk Gibson between last year and the first couple of weeks of 2014, Josh Collmenter moves back into the Diamondbacks rotation for tonight’s opener against the Mets. The tomahawk-throwing right-hander last started a game in September of 2012, but Gibson prefers him in the rotation over Randall Delgado, who logged a 10.13 ERA and was torched for 17 hits and six walks in just eight innings in that role. Collmenter’s Achilles heel as a starter has been the long ball; he’s served up 27 of them in 196 2/3 innings when toeing the rubber first. Tonight, he’ll try to keep the ball in the yard against David Wright and the Mets while dueling Zack Wheeler (9:40 p.m. ET).

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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