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May 2, 2014

What You Need to Know

A Busy Thursday in Baseball

by Daniel Rathman

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The Thursday Takeaway
Everyone is entitled to a bad day at the office, every now and then. Even umpires.

Crew chief Tim Welke—who, with 29 years and more than 4,000 major-league games under his belt, is one of the most experienced umpires in baseball—had a bad day on Thursday. And a long one, too.

It was cold and miserable at Target Field. The Twins were starting Mike Pelfrey and Kris Johnson; the Dodgers had Red Patterson going in the nightcap. All of these things contributed to the eight hours and 12 minutes of sometimes-ugly baseball that Welke was responsible for overseeing. None of them would serve as an adequate excuse when he struggled to do so.

The expansion of replay both relieves umpires of the pressure of making irreversible (and inevitable) mistakes and puts those that they do make out there for everyone to see. As Hardball Talk writer and avid Twins follower Aaron Gleeman tweeted amid Welke’s rough afternoon, the latter aspect might shake an umpire’s confidence. It might make a bad day even worse.

Welke was at second base in the first game of the twin bill at Target Field. In the fifth inning, he denied the Dodgers a slick, 6-4 double play by ruling that Brian Dozier had beaten Hanley Ramirez’s flip to Dee Gordon at the bag.

The Dodgers challenged, replay proved Welke wrong, and the call was corrected to “out.”

In the eighth inning, Welke granted the Dodgers a 6-4 fielder’s choice, ruling that Gordon caught the throw from Ramirez and dropped the ball on the transfer (which would not have been a completed catch earlier in the season but is now).

The Twins challenged, replay proved Welke wrong again, and the call was overturned to “safe.”

Neither play had much bearing on the Dodgers’ 9-4 win. And it wasn’t the first time that Welke had flubbed a call that was reversed on review, or the first time that he’d missed a called that would be publicly ridiculed. But it’s fair to wonder if missing two in one game left him wanting to get away.

Of course, Welke had another game to work—a much longer game, it would turn out—and a tougher assignment at first base. This time, he made a questionable call that was not subject to replay review.

Rule 7.08 reads, “Any runner is out when”:

(c) “He is tagged out, when the ball is alive, while off his base. EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns immediately to the base.”

(j) “He fails to return at once to first base after overrunning or oversliding that base. If he attempts to run to second, he is out when tagged. If, after overrunning or oversliding first base he starts toward the dugout, or toward his position, and fails to return to first base at once, he is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged.”

In general, batter-runners are given the benefit of the doubt when there is no obvious intent to advance to second base. Intent might include squaring toward the keystone, as was pointed out on the Twins broadcast, or crossing into fair territory beyond first. Yasiel Puig didn’t exactly rush back to the bag, slowing down just shy of the grass and then sauntering over as catcher Josmil Pinto retrieved the ball and tagged him, but he made no obvious threat to keep running, either.

Welke might have found Puig in violation of the “at once” clauses. He might’ve thought he’d seen a turn toward second base that didn't happen. Or he might’ve had it in for Puig—though we don’t really have much reason to believe that it was more than an innocent mistake.

All we know for sure is that Tim Welke had a bad day.

Quick Hits From Thursday
Puig, on the other hand, had a very good one.

On April 18, when the Dodgers lost to the Diamondbacks in 12 innings, he became only the eighth player in at least a century to squeeze three walks and a hat trick into one six-plate-appearance game. That odd night apparently marked a turning point for the Wild Horse, whose OPS was a pedestrian .723 when it ended. Since then, Puig is 18-for-45 (.400) with six extra-base hits.

The 23-year-old went 4-for-4 with a double, a walk, and a stolen base in game one of yesterday’s doubleheader—something only three Dodgers* have done since the start of the 2011 season—and then picked up hits in each of his first two at-bats in game two. With those seven successful trips to the plate, he extended his streak of reaching base safely to nine before grounding out to third in the top of the fifth.

Puig is now up to .309/.396/.495 on the season, having lifted his OPS 55 points over the course of the doubleheader. While the .400 surge might not last much longer, earlier concerns about a sophomore slump appear to have been premature.

*If you can name the last three Dodgers to bat 1.000 with at least one extra-base hit and one walk in a game with four or more at-bats, you should win every trivia prize ever. Give it a try. Okay, you’re wrong. Now, give it another try, but guess the three most can’t-predict-baseball names you can think of. And now, take a look.

***

The topic of players diving head-first into bases has come up time and time again over the first month of the regular season, largely because it led to a day-to-day thumb injury to Yasiel Puig and a long-term stint on the disabled list for Bryce Harper.

Is it a form of hustle or a display of false hustle? Does it speed up the runner’s time to first or slow it down? Are there any situations in which it makes sense, or should players do their best to break what might have become a habit over their years of learning and growing in the game?

Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller shared their opinions on an Effectively Wild podcast about Harper and hustle more generally last week. Coaches, players, and managers debated the merits of the play in this MLB.com article by Anthony Castrovince.

There’s no complete consensus on the matter, except that it’s definitely not worthwhile when the ball is already in center field:

That blooper from Nick Punto aside, a play in the Braves-Marlins game last night presented a situation for those who universally oppose head-first slides to ponder. Here’s the play:

Jason Heyward hit a high chopper toward first base, where Garrett Jones fielded the ball and flipped to Henderson Alvarez, who was on his way to the bag. It was a bang-bang play, but Alvarez, who turned around too soon and lost track of where the bag was, had two choices: He could try to beat Heyward to the sack, or he could attempt to tag him before the outfielder got there. Alvarez wound up slipping toward the line as Heyward approached. Had Heyward stayed upright, Alvarez might have tagged him out.

Instead, because Heyward slid, Alvarez was forced to slide, too, and he barely grazed Heyward with his glove, which—regardless of whether contact was actually made—did not contain the ball. First-base umpire Jim Reynolds called Heyward out, but the ruling was reversed on replay to an infield hit.

The Marlins won the game, 5-4, anyway, but had Heyward been retired, B.J. Upton’s home run in the subsequent at-bat would have been worth two runs instead of three. Was the benefit of ensuring a single (which became a run, if you want to consider that aspect) by reducing the odds of being tagged out worth the risk of injury to Heyward?

That’s debatable. A play on which Heyward would’ve more obviously been tagged had he not slid might better underscore the point. But when it comes to impugning head-first slides in all cases, the play offers a little food for thought.

***

After getting yanked four innings into his start versus the Cubs on Wednesday, Tony Cingrani downplayed any concerns that he might be injured:

Unfortunately, it appears the steady decrease in his velocity was indicative of a more serious problem:

Fortunately for the Reds, who are also without Mat Latos in the early going, the schedule-makers threw them a bone. If the rest of the rotation stays healthy and Cingrani’s injury is as minor as he suggested to reporters on Thursday afternoon, they might not miss the southpaw much at all:

***

Another day, another case for Gregory Polanco’s immediate promotion to Pittsburgh.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle elected to bat his right fielder in the leadoff spot in both games of yesterday’s doubleheader at Camden Yards. In the matinee, Jose Tabata went 1-for-5 from the top spot in the order. In the 10-inning nightcap, Travis Snider went 0-for-5 with a walk and a golden sombrero, including a backwards-K with runners at second and third and two out in the bottom of the seventh.

Snider pinch-hit in game one and grounded out to second base with runners at second and third in the top of the eighth. Tabata pinch-hit in game two and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout. The Pirates went 6-for-29 with runners in scoring position across the two contests and left 28 men on base.

Matt Wieters slugged a walk-off homer in the bottom of the 10th to complete the twinbill sweep. Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, Polanco went 1-for-3 with a triple and scored the tying run on Andrew Lambo’s game-winning homer.

The Pirates have lost 15 of 19. They’re 10-18 on the season, one game ahead of the last-place Cubs and 9 ½ behind the first-place Brewers. A jolt from El Coffee can’t come soon enough.

The Defensive Play of the Day
Carlos Gomez led off the Brewers-Reds game eager to jump all over Homer Bailey’s first pitch. He got the one he wanted and hit it hard, but Billy Hamilton foiled the plan:

Unfortunately, he dinged himself up doing it and will probably sit out a game or two this weekend:

And then, in the bottom of the first inning, Gomez exacted his revenge:

What to Watch for This Weekend

Friday

  • When you hand a player a four-year, $53 million contract, it’s a little disconcerting to see him get off to a 2-for-32 start like Jhonny Peralta did. Cardinals Twitter was all set to declare the club’s new shortstop a bust. But over the past 17 days, Peralta has morphed into of Mike Matheny’s best bats, compiling a .262/.333/.523 slash line with nine extra-base hits in 72 trips to the box. Peralta contributed his first two-homer game of the year last Sunday, snapping a 363-at-bat long-ball lull for the club.

    The one thing Peralta hasn’t done yet is produce against left-handed pitchers, whom he torched for a .332 True Average in 2013. Peralta enters tonight’s showdown with Travis Wood just 1-for-16 versus southpaws. He’s mitigated that rut by drawing five walks, but the Cardinals—who sit in the league cellar with a .580 collective OPS when facing port-siders—need more from their marquee offseason pickup. Peralta will go to bat in support of Adam Wainwright in the Friday matinee at Wrigley Field (2:20 p.m. ET).

  • One young lefty has gone down with shoulder trouble, but another is coming back from it. After a rough offseason that began with surgery on his urinary tract and was extended by the shoulder strain, Mike Minor is ready to reassume his role in the Braves rotation. The 26-year-old made five rehab appearances (four starts) across three different minor-league levels, the most recent of them a seven-inning, five-run outing for Double-A Mississippi. He’s coming off of a career-best 2.3 WARP campaign and will take on Tim Lincecum in the series opener against the Giants (7:35 p.m. ET).

  • The good news for Bronson Arroyo: In his most recent start, he finally worked into the seventh inning for the first time this year. The bad news: He hasn’t struck out more than three batters in any of his last eight starts, a career-long drought that dates back to last September 16. Whereas left-handed batters have troubled Arroyo most in the past, it’s his fellow righties who’ve had their way with him so far in 2014. Like-handed hitters are 16-for-30 with three home runs, four walks, and only two strikeouts versus Arroyo this year, which is good for a—ready for this?—.495 TAv. That number has just about nowhere to go but down in tonight’s matchup with Andrew Cashner and the Padres; the extent to which it drops may determine the Diamondbacks’ fate in game one (10:10 p.m. ET).

Saturday

  • Actually, it’s one down, two up in the shoulder-injury department. Joining Minor in activation land this weekend is Jake Arrieta, who returns to lock horns with Michael Wacha and the Cardinals. The 28-year-old managed to post a 3.66 ERA and be worse than replacement level in nine starts with the Cubs last year, thanks almost entirely to the .190 BABIP posted against him (1:05 p.m. ET).

  • One more pitcher ready to come off the disabled list? Sure, why not. Hisashi Iwakuma joins the party, though unlike Minor and Arrieta, it’s a thumb ailment, not shoulder woes, that sidelined the Mariners righty. The 33-year-old Iwakuma is looking to build on a 2.2-WARP breakout, and his return should help stabilize a Mariners rotation that has already used seven starting pitchers (he’ll become the eighth). Iwakuma compiled a 1.38 ERA and 33-to-7 K:BB ratio over 26 innings and four starts versus the Astros last year. He’s due to meet Dallas Keuchel, who quietly enjoyed an excellent first month, with a 3.56 ERA and 30-to-8 K:BB mark in 30 1/3 frames (4:10 p.m. ET).

  • A player saying “there’s no timetable” for his return and a skipper saying “I think he’d be ready around the time he’s eligible to come off” the disabled list are two things you don’t often read in the same story—especially when the date to which the latter quote refers is four days from the time the article was published. But that’s precisely the ambiguity Michael Cuddyer and his skipper, Walt Weiss, created earlier this week when discussing the outfielder’s mild hamstring strain. If Weiss is to be believed, Cuddyer might rejoin the Rockies lineup in game three of four versus the Mets. Whenever he’s ready, he’ll return to a .331 TAv, which—at least for now—has quelled talk of impending regression after the 35-year-old notched a career-best .331 batting average during his first healthy year in Colorado. He never batted better than .284 with the Twins (8:10 p.m. ET).

Sunday

  • Last year, the Indians ranked in the middle of the pack in ground-ball defense, allowing a .240 average when batters rolled or chopped the ball. So far in 2014, they’re dead last at .282—and Corey Kluber, whose worm-killer rate has ticked up to 47.9 percent in the early going, is not a happy camper. The 27-year-old Kluber has been wronged by his infielders more than any other pitcher on the Tribe’s staff. When opponents have hit the ball on the dirt against him this year, they’ve batted—ready for this?—.339. That’s batting-title territory, and if the defense doesn’t shape up this weekend, more trouble looms for Kluber, because the White Sox are seventh in ground balls hit so far. No one has bounced more of them than speedy leadoff man Adam Eaton, whose 71.3 percent rate leads all big leaguers one month into the year (1:05 p.m. ET).

  • As of Thursday morning, no American League pitcher had recorded more strikeouts with his curveball this year than Sonny Gray. In 52 at-bats terminating with the hook, opponents have amassed just nine hits—all singles—one walk, and 22 strikeouts. The bender has been particularly effective against left-handed batters, who are a combined 2-for-17 with 14 Ks. That could spell bad news for the Red Sox this weekend, because John Farrell’s offense is slugging just .368 on curves so far in 2014, the fifth-worst mark in the majors*. Gray is due to get the ball for the visitors in the finale at Fenway, where the home nine will counter with John Lackey (1:35 p.m. ET).

*Thanks to Harry Pavlidis for research assistance.

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

9 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

Screamingliner

Josh Hamilton hurt his thumb sliding head-first into first base. Bryce Harper hurt his sliding into third.

May 02, 2014 04:36 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff

Fixed.

May 02, 2014 05:16 AM
 
tmlfan4ever

These recaps are simply one of the best features of this site. Thank you.

May 02, 2014 06:22 AM
rating: 2
 
sean7711

^^ agree with above. Many thanks for the daily summaries

May 02, 2014 08:41 AM
rating: 1
 
yadenr

Yes- reading these is like when I was a kid and rushed downstairs in the morning for cereal and box scores. You are my new cereal and box scores.

May 02, 2014 08:50 AM
rating: 1
 
danrnelson

That response is poetic. Just got a rush of nostalgia from 10-year-old me.

May 02, 2014 09:28 AM
rating: 0
 
Broken Arrow

Is there a leader board for umpires with the most overturned calls? It would be a fun one to watch.

May 02, 2014 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

I haven't seen a "leaderboard," but this website appears to track each reviewed/overturned call and lists the umpire who made it: http://www.closecallsports.com/search/label/Instant%20Replay

The samples are almost certainly too small, at this point, to render any judgment about umpire quality based on overturned calls, but it would be nice to keep track.

May 02, 2014 16:19 PM
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Thanks, guys!

May 02, 2014 16:18 PM
 
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