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May 7, 2014

The Lineup Card

10 Items on Our Baseball Wishlists

by Baseball Prospectus


1. A Switch-Pitcher
They took my really big wish away from me when I was denied the chance to watch someone try to game the new transfer rule by intentionally dropping the ball on the transfer well after the “catch.” (Wishes are probably wasted on me.)

So I’ll wish for a switch pitcher to make the major leagues. It’s technically been done before. Greg Harris pitched both lefty and righty, but of the 6,293 batters he faced, he only faced two of them as a lefty at the very end of his career. The strategy implications would be fascinating, but there’s been nobody able to do both at the major league level. The Great Right (and Left) Hope, Yankees farmhand Pat Venditte, is stuck in Triple-A two months short of turning 29. We might need a new one pretty soon. —Zachary Levine

2. An Openly, Proudly Gay Player
There probably are gay men who are playing in MLB right now. I don't know that for a fact, but it's a numbers game, really. There are 750 players on active rosters in MLB. The percentage of men who are gay in the United States is something that depends on some semantic issues, but even if it's one percent (well below even the lowest commonly accepted estimates), that's seven or eight players. We also know that there have been players who have come out after their playing days were over. I find it sad that they felt that they had to hide while they were playing, not to fault them, but because it meant that everything around them didn't feel safe enough for them to acknowledge a simple truth about themselves.

What's promising is that last year when NBA player Jason Collins disclosed that he is a gay man, a bunch of MLB players tweeted out their support for him. When University of Missouri football player Michael Sam came out, Fox's Ken Rosenthal asked MLB executives whether they would sign an openly gay player. Seven of them went on the record and all of them said some variation on "If he can help us win a baseball game, sure!" If there's something on my bucket list, it isn't wishing that players who feel the need to hide in the closet would become more brave. They already stand in against 98-mph fastballs. I think they have the bravery thing covered. I'm hoping that the trend continues and that more people in the game—players, front office folks, media, fans, and most importantly, myself—will embrace the idea that anyone who can hit .280 with some power is welcome. And at that point, there would naturally be a player who felt safe enough to say "Why bother hiding this?" —Russell A. Carleton

3. A Perfect Perfect Game
A perfect game is a great feat, but perfection or even being above average is not required to pitch a perfect game. This may or may not bother me on some level. I would, however, like to tangentially mention that I would like to a see a single game feat accomplished that truly requires near perfection. It has always blown my mind that we never see baseball players that are so much better at their craft than their counterparts that they essentially break the game. It feels like we always see the typewriter improve generation over generation, but we never get a computer. The other problem with finding transcendental talent is that while baseball provides moments that will hint at that said talent, we usually cannot truly know we have witnessed it without hindsight. In other words, what I am seeking is an accomplishment great enough that we can know we are staring greatness in the face as it happens. The closest I have come to seeing this (my single favorite baseball memory) was Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout game, but I am hoping baseball can do even better next time around. I would like to see a 27-strikeout perfect game, but I will settle on a 20-plus-strikeout perfect game or what I am calling a perfect, perfect game. I have no idea what this would require, maybe a 120-mph fastball or a brand new pitch, but seeing it happen is at the top of my baseball bucket list. —Jeff Quinton

4. Dead Ball Era Outfield Dimensions
If you take a minute to look at baseball’s career ERA leaders, you’ll notice that not a single member of the top ten was born after the turn of the 20th century. Several of them lived through the Civil War. Obviously, we can’t compare these guys to modern pitchers because, in a phrase, the game was different back then. So different that we’ve taken to calling baseball played before 1919 the “Dead Ball Era,” when balls of yarn and solid cores went nowhere, and a team could win a World Series despite hitting .230 for the season.

Now, I’m no scientist, but I have a sneaking suspicion that today’s pitchers are a smidge better than their McKinley-era counterparts. Wouldn’t it be nice to reward the Clayton Kershaws and Jose Fernandezes of the world with video-game numbers of their own? The game’s current conditions already favor pitchers, with strikeouts soaring and scoring in a steady downtrend. If we were to push the fences back to where they were in, say, the Huntington Avenue Grounds, maybe we could finally discuss Kershaw, Fernandez, and all-time greats Smoky Joe Wood and Candy Cummings in the same conversation.

…Okay, so maybe this is suggestion is more about reviving baseball’s best nicknames than it is about parity. Is that such a bad thing, Noodles? —Nick Bacarella

5. A Genuinely New Type of Pitch
The last time a truly new kind of pitch was invented was in the 1970s, with Bruce Sutter’s split-finger fastball.

There have been pretenders, most notably the gyroball. The gyroball was supposed to be a pitch thrown like a bullet, rotating such that it would move through the air without drag. It turned out to be a mistake pitch called a back-up slider (essentially a slider without break which, if it could ever be consistently commanded, might be at best circumstantially useful). The most striking characteristic of the gyroball, besides its mostly mythic nature, was its ability to generate mass hysteria and excitement, eloquently demonstrating the appeal of a new kind of pitch.

It’s not that I don’t like the pitches we have. There’s plenty of variety in terms of break length, direction, and velocity. It’s just that it would be cool for there to be something genuinely new: a way of tossing a baseball 60 feet, 6 inches that nobody had ever used before. At this point, most of the pitches which are both a) consistent with human physiology and b) able to get MLB hitters out have already been discovered, but perhaps there’s still some method out there waiting to be found.

Maybe someone will figure out how to throw a 90 mph knuckleball with all of the break of an 80 mph pitch. Maybe the gyroball is better than we thought, and with a few mechanical tweaks C.J. Wilson will be tossing an unbeatable strike. Maybe, as MLB’s global reach expands, some talented youngster from Mongolia will introduce us to the Yakball, a pitch so fearsome paeans will be written to its awesomeness. For now, we can only hope… and wait. —Robert Arthur

6. A Three-Way Playoff Tiebreaker
We sort of had this last year, with the Rangers and Rays playing a tiebreaker game for the chance to face the Indians in a postseason game. Not the same thing as a three-way tie, but the spirit was embodied.

The automatic one-game play-in may have watered down this pipe dream, but there could ostensibly be a three-way tie for a division, for example, where neither team would otherwise qualify for a wild card. (Looking your way, AL Central.)

Last September MLB.com itemized the potential blast radii of chaos that could result from two-, three-, and four-way tie scenarios. They spent more time explaining who would play whom, rather than digging into the emotions or amount of blood loss sustained when 162 games are converted into nine innings for the chance to play one more game for the chance to play, technically, a best-of-one postseason series.

It will happen someday and it shall be splendid. Pray your team is not involved. Maybe it will be a four-team tiebreaker. Maybe five! And certainly not in our lifetime, probably not in our children's lifetime, but specifically in the year 2391, the league will have all teams finish 81-81 and require 15-way tiebreakers. We're not sure how it will end but your descendants are going to spiritually lose it. —Matt Sussman

7. Brian Cashman in Charge of a Poor Team; Billy Beane in Charge of a Rich One
Brian Cashman is, by most accounts, a pretty good GM. He's won more World Series than any GM alive, and he seems well suited to his market, knowing just the right amount of did-he-really-just-say-that straight talk to feed to the horde of writers that follow his team. Billy Beane is, by nearly all accounts, a pretty good GM. He's won more games with less money than perhaps any GM of his generation, depending on how you want to define the terms. But, of course, he's building great teams not just in spite of his limitations but because of them; his particular genius almost seems to require the nutrient-poor soil and indirect sunlight in which, for instance, Moss can grow abundantly. And Cashman is building great teams in the sort of soil where, if we're honest, we all genuinely believe we could have won five or more championships ourselves. Who is truly the better GM? How much does each owe to his surroundings? What would Cashman do in Beane's suit? What would Beane do in Cashman's suite? Baseball needs a Freaky Friday to find out. —Sam Miller

8. A Red Sox World Series Win My Five-Month-Old Son Can See
You’ve probably noticed it's been a rough time for the Red Sox recently. They haven't won a World Series since last season, a full lifetime if you’re only five months old. In fact, the franchise hasn’t won a single playoff game during that time, or finished with a winning record. It has to be tough to be a fan under those conditions. My five-month-old son has had to live like this for his whole life. He’s known only failure and pain. Think about that! In his whole life he’s never seen his team make the World Series or the playoffs. In fact, all he does is cry. The doctor says it’s something called “colic,” but I know that Johnny is just a true, died-in-the-wool Red Sox fan. He bleeds red. It’s true! One time he fell down and cut his finger and the blood that came out was red! I was like, ‘I knew it!’ So imagine how he must feel, to never see his team win. That’s tough, man. I tell him that all the time. “Hey, Johnny,” I say. “It must be tough. I don’t know how you do it. Spit up if you understand.” And you know what? Johnny spits up every single time. Then he cries. Because he knows the pain of being a fan of a team that has never won in his lifetime.

So if I could have one baseball wish, one thing that I would put at the top of my baseball bucket list, one thing I want more than anything, it would be this: I want the Red Sox to win, just once, for Johnny. That’s not too much to ask for. Just once! And I’ll go to him and I’ll say, “Johnny! Johnny! The Red Sox finally won! Finally! It’s been so long but they’ve finally done it! They’ve done it for you, Johnny! For you!” And you know what? Johnny will look up, his eyes meeting mine, and he’ll smile. Then he’ll spit up. Then maybe he can take a nap in peace*.

*Back off Bill Simmons! —Matthew Kory

9. A Three-Inning Closer
In their quest for the most favorable batter-pitcher matchups, modern managers use relief specialists much more often than their predecessors did. In the latter innings of games today, LOOGYs and ROOGYs reign supreme. It's not uncommon to see a manager make two or three pitching changes in an inning in an attempt to exploit platoon splits and increase his team's likelihood of winning a given game.

Unfortunately, that makes for long games that bog down at the point when the excitement level should be at its pinnacle. Therefore, one of the things I would love to see return to the game is the true, three-inning fireman reliever: a pitcher who can enter the game in the seventh inning and lock it down until the end. This wouldn’t be an easy adjustment; going three innings requires a pitcher to pace himself, whereas coming in for one inning demands only short-burst effectiveness. Staying in longer would require a different kind of repertoire than we see from most of today’s one-inning closers, and the peripheral numbers would seem subpar compared to what we’re used to seeing from save-getters in 2014. However, I do think the right three-inning guy would make games shorter while also providing some roster flexibility.

Ultimately, I think the game may have passed my bucket-list item by, but a man can dream. About three-inning relievers. —Mauricio Rubio

10. Giancarlo Stanton, Colorado Rockie
Giancarlo Stanton hits unbelievably long home runs wherever he goes, but on a rate basis, he’s done the most damage in Denver. In 11 games and 47 plate appearances at Coors Field, Stanton has produced a .333/.447/.974 triple-slash line with seven home runs, by far his best performance in any park. But what makes the Stanton–Coors relationship so special isn’t how many home runs he’s hit there; it’s how far those homers have flown.

The following table lists (and links to) all of Stanton’s mile-high homers, with distances courtesy of ESPN Home Run Tracker. “True distance” is how far Home Run Tracker estimates each ball would have traveled at Coors if its trajectory had continued down to field level instead of ending in the seats. “Standard distance,” which adjusts for wind, temperature, and altitude, tells us how far each ball would have traveled on a calm, 70-degree day at sea level.

Date

Pitcher

True Distance

Standard Distance

Video

7/23/2013

Josh Outman

427

393

Link

8/18/2012

Tyler Chatwood

465

453

Link

8/17/2012

Josh Roenicke

494

488

Link

8/16/2012

Adam Ottavino

456

444

Link

8/17/2011

Aaron Cook

466

455

Link

8/16/2011

Edgmer Escalona

433

423

Link

8/15/2011

Kevin Millwood

474

453

Link


All of Stanton’s Coors Field big flies have been bombs—“no doubt” home runs, as ESPN puts it. They’re all worth watching, but pay particular attention to Rockies catcher Wilin Rosario’s reaction to Stanton’s 494-foot blast from August 17, 2012, which is the longest home run any big-league batter has hit since 2009 (when Stanton was still in the minors):

Here are Stanton’s average home run distances at Coors and overall from 2010–14. The numbers in parentheses are MLB averages over the same span.

Location

Avg. True Distance

Avg. Standard Distance

Overall

412.9 (396.9)

410.0 (394.3)

Coors Field

459.3

444.1

Stanton’s average homer travels 16 feet farther than the league’s. In Coors, though, even his standard home run distance has beaten the league’s overall average by 34 feet, which—if you trust Home Run Tracker’s altitude adjustments—would suggest that those distances weren’t purely a product of the thin air.

Even if they were, though, it wouldn’t change my conviction that Stanton is miscast as anything other than a Colorado Rockie. To maximize our collective joy, the player who hits the longest home runs should play his home games in the park that most magnifies his power. We all want to see him make the bad ball fly.

Stanton’s next crack at Coors will come later this summer, in an August 22–24 weekend series. Road trip, anyone? Ben Lindbergh

13 comments have been left for this article.

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