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July 7, 2014

What You Need to Know

Weekend Wrap-Up, 7/7

by Daniel Rathman

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The Independence Day Weekend Takeaway
Some 24 hours before the A’s put the finishing touches on the summer’s first big trade, the team already on the field was involved in a replay-enabled controversy.

Setting the stage:

  • The Blue Jays and Athletics were tied 0-0 in the top of the second inning on Thursday, and Toronto had the bases loaded with one out.
  • Anthony Gose bounced to first baseman Nate Freiman, who attempted a tag on Munenori Kawasaki, the runner previously on first.
  • First-base umpire Vic Carapazza ruled that Freiman did not tag Kawasaki. This was important for two reasons: First, it meant that Kawasaki would eventually be safe at second; second, it meant tha, in Vogt’s mind, the force was still in effect at home.
  • Freiman threw to Vogt, who stepped on the plate, assuming that he’d retired the lead runner, Edwin Encarnacion. The bases were still loaded, but now there were two outs for Jose Reyes.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons asked for a review. In an odd twist, the skipper challenged that his own player, Kawasaki, ruled safe on the play, was actually out via tag. If reversed, that call would have eliminated the force at the plate. Since Vogt did not tag Encarnacion, the run would count, giving the Jays a 1-0 lead.

Sure enough:

The replay crew in New York overturned Carapazza’s call. Kawasaki was out and Encarnacion was safe. The score was 1-0, and the Jays had runners at the corners with two away.

A’s manager Bob Melvin begged to differ—and while crew chief Bill Miller warned him to stay in the dugout under threat of being ejected for disputing a replay review, Melvin had a different beef on his mind. He lodged an official protest with the crew, arguing that Vogt had handled the play under the assumption that Freiman had not tagged Kawasaki, after seeing Carapazza signal “safe.”

Fortunately—or unfortunately, if you play for Team Entropy—that run was the only tally the visitors would put on the Coliseum scoreboard in the opener. The Athletics went on to win, 4-1, rendering the protest moot.

On the other hand, it’s only a matter of time before this situation, or a similar one, presents itself again. Given this warning, it seems foolish to wait until a more pivotal instance before deciding how the issue will henceforth be addressed.

If the league chooses not to be proactive, it would take the easy way out and put the onus on players to cover both bases in the event that a call made earlier is overturned. In this case, that would mean that Vogt should have tagged Encarnacion, just to be sure. Vogt, predictably, isn’t a fan of that idea:

“You can’t change the way you’ve played baseball your whole life,” he told reporters after the game. “I wouldn't do anything differently on the play than I did, because the umpire didn’t signal that he tagged him, so I have to assume that he missed the tag and get the force out at home. You have to save the run the way you’ve always known how to save a run.”

Besides player habits, which aren’t—judging by the adoption of rule 7.13—always a compelling factor in the league’s view, the status quo undermines the spirit of rule 7.13, too. It’s easy to envision a similar tag play at the plate turning into a collision between the runner and the catcher, especially as the catcher is forced to determine in a split second whether or not there is a force at home.

Even if the league is proactive, though, the appropriate solution isn’t cut and dried.

The good news is that it may already be baked into the replay rule. Section J, no. 3 reads:

If a call is changed by Replay Review, the Replay Official also shall inform the Crew Chief of any placement of runners or other such actions as may be necessary in the Replay Official’s judgment to place both Clubs in the same position that they would have been in had the changed call been correct in the first instance.

Melvin’s protest essentially centered on the misapplication by the Replay Official of this portion of the rule. It seems the Replay Official had three choices, once it was determined that the call on the field would be overturned:

1. Kawasaki is out, Encarnacion scores (as ruled).

2. Encarnacion is out at the plate, and the inning is over…

…because it’s difficult to envision that, with the ball already in his possession, Vogt would have failed to tag Encarnacion before he crossed the plate had he known it was necessary.

3. Gose, the batter-runner, is out at first base, because Freiman—were he to have known that his tag on Kawasaki was official—would have won a footrace with Gose to first base to complete the 3-unassisted double play.

Point (3) is shaky, because Freiman began his throwing motion before Carapazza signaled “safe”—and, in any event, Freiman could not have seen Carapazza, who was positioned in foul territory beyond the first-base bag. It’s possible that Carapazza yelled “safe!” to advise Freiman of his adjudication, but if that were the case, Freiman’s decision to throw home would have been a mental mistake. We can’t absolve Freiman of that possibility, but we also can’t assume that he decided to go for a more challenging play than running to the bag would have been.

Point (2) is debatable, but to call Encarnacion out, the Replay Official would have had to invent a story that didn’t happen. There’s little doubt that Vogt could have executed the force play to complete the bizarre 3-2 twin killing, but we can’t know for certain that he would have.

So, once the call was overturned, the Replay Official really had no obvious recourse for the A’s with regard to the runners. The issue, then, was with overturning the call or allowing it to be challenged in the first place.

Mindful of that, Craig Calcaterra at Hardball Talk wrote that MLB should institute a policy that “if an umpire’s call on the field affects the subsequent decision-making of players on the same play, the call is not reviewable.”

Such a caveat seems viable, but it would need to be crafted more carefully to avoid going down a slippery slope. One issue, for example, is that in the case of a foul-ball call reversed to fair, the incorrect initial ruling would have impacted an outfielder’s effort level and subsequent throw back to the infield. Granting the Replay Official discretion with respect to the runners seems reasonable; eliminating the option of review might be an overreach.

About two months after squaring away the catch-transfer mess that plagued replay in early April, the league now has a new issue to tackle. This one could prove a touch hairier than simply returning to the logical interpretation of a rule, which prevailed until the advent of slow-motion review put fielders under the microscope. But as MLB strives to perfect the replay process to ensure that it’s accomplishing the goal of eliminating human error by umpires, figuring out a remedy for players misled by bad calls mid-play should be the next item on the docket.

As for the series, the A’s won Jeff Samardzija’s debut on Sunday, completing a four-game sweep of the Jays.

Quick Hits from the Weekend
While everyone was abuzz about that A’s-Cubs blockbuster, Mike Trout did this:

That’s a walk-off home run. And if you’re inclined to give Tony Sipp hell for throwing the best player in baseball a hittable 0-2 pitch when he could have been more careful

…consider that even Trout had never gone yard on a slider that far below the zone.

By barreling the breaking ball, Trout ensured that the Angels, already a step behind their upstate rivals in the midseason upgrade race, wouldn’t cede a game in the American League West.

The second of four games between the Halos and Astros in Anaheim was a seesaw affair. The Astros led 1-0 after the top of the second, when Chris Carter launched a solo shot. The Angels drew even in the latter half of the frame and pulled ahead with a two-spot in the last of the third. The Astros countered that with five runs in the top of the fourth, which featured a two-run long ball by George Springer and a three-run blast by Jonathan Singleton. The Angels immediately ate into that lead on a two-run dinger by Albert Pujols, and they knotted the score at 6-6 after the seventh-inning stretch.

Mike Morin and Joe Smith made quick work of the visitors in the eighth and ninth, setting the stage for Trout’s heroics. The solo shot off of Tony Sipp was Trout’s 20th homer of the season, and he now finds himself in exclusive company in the extra-base hit department:

The Angels brought the brooms in a four-game sweep.

***

The Braves weren’t quite able to sweep the Diamondbacks out of Turner Field. But that’s okay, because before Sunday’s defeat, they’d won nine in a row.

Even while losing the finale, Fredi Gonzalez’s squad allowed the Snakes only three runs. Scoring only once against Wade Miley and Co. was their undoing. The pitching staff, among the most reliable in the league of late, kept plugging along behind Alex Wood.

Over a 17-game stretch that dates back to June 19, the Braves have only once allowed an opponent to score more than four runs. The Astros put six on the board in a victory at Minute Maid Park on June 26. No one else has managed to crack five.

As Michael Cunningham of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted over the weekend, before the D-Backs halted the surge, the bullpen deserves a good deal of the credit for the 9-0 spurt. Craig Kimbrel and the gang held foes to one earned run over 22 2/3 frames in those nine contests.

Rookie right-hander Shae Simmons has quickly emerged as a force for Gonzalez, earning high-leverage setup duty and recording key outs in the middle innings, too. On July 1, when starter Mike Minor was shelled for four runs in 4 1/3 frames, Simmons entered and blew the Mets away, stranding runners at the corners in the fifth before logging a clean sixth.

Anthony Varvaro, who’d likewise fared well in seventh- and eighth-inning work, has filled in admirably for fellow righties Jordan Walden (who missed more than a month) and David Carpenter (who hit the disabled list on June 17). The 29-year-old conceded an insurance run to the Diamondbacks in Sunday’s 3-1 loss, but it was the first tally against him since June 12.

For all of the Braves’ recent success, though, they are only half a game up on the second-place Nationals in the East. Matt Williams’ bunch has largely kept pace during the nine-game streak, which began with Atlanta one game behind Washington. The Braves will visit the Mets and Cubs before the All-Star break, while the Nats are scheduled to play a four-game home-and-home set with the Orioles before taking a three-day trek to Philadelphia.

***

Speaking of extra-base hits, once upon a time, about half a decade ago, Brian Roberts was the best doubles hitter in baseball. Then the leadoff man for the Orioles, Roberts led the league with 56 two-baggers in 2009. But as his age wore into the 30s, the second baseman struggled to stay on the field, much less to pepper the lines and gaps.

Hours before Trout lit up Southern California on Friday, Roberts turned back the clock at Target Field.

Batting second in the Yankees lineup in game two of four in Minnesota, the 36-year-old opened the scoring with an RBI double in the top of the first, driving in Brett Gardner, who’d tripled to begin the game. An inning later, Roberts delivered a ground-rule double that advanced Gardner, who’d walked, to third. Both of them scored on a single by Jacoby Ellsbury.

Two innings, two two-baggers, and a 6-1 Yankees lead. The visitors were done scoring, but Roberts wasn’t done hitting.

With two away in the top of the fourth, Roberts roped a triple, only to be stranded 90 feet away from home when Samuel Deduno—called upon early in relief of Kyle Gibson—fanned Ellsbury. With one out in the seventh, Roberts drilled his third double of the contest. He remained stuck on second as Mark Teixeira flied out and Carlos Beltran grounded out to end the inning.

Until Friday, Roberts had collected a pair of two-baggers in one game only once since August 14, 2009. He hadn’t doubled thrice on one day since a 4-for-6 effort in a 16-6 Orioles romp over the Angels that day. And he’d never tacked a triple on to multiple doubles in a major-league game.

Fortunately for the Yankees, who hadn’t seen a hitter notch four extra-base knocks in a contest since Alex Rodriguez did it on April 18, 2005, there’s a first time for everything. Joe Girardi’s squad watched the Twins inch closer with two runs in the last of the third and another in the bottom of the eighth, when Dellin Betances stranded the potential tying run on third base.

Roberts’ early work, which keyed New York’s three-spots in the first and second innings, held up in the 6-5 victory. The Yankees ultimately took three of four at Target Field.

***

The Brewers had played the Reds 266 times before Saturday, and not a single one of those meetings had concluded with a final score of 1-0 in either team’s favor. All of that changed at Great American Ball Park two days ago, thanks to Matt Garza, who became the first visitor to toss a complete-game shutout there since May 18, 2011.

Homer Bailey—eight innings of one-run ball, seven hits and four walks allowed, eight strikeouts recorded—was good. Garza, who earned his first shutout since he no-hit the Tigers on July 26, 2010, was better.

The 30-year-old led the Brewers to a road victory for just the second time since April 19, thanks in large part to his mid-90s fastball. Eighty of Garza’s 111 offerings were four-seamers, and the Reds whiffed on the heater nine times. They also went just 2-for-14 when they put it into play.

That enabled Garza to ensure that Milwaukee’s first-inning run would hold up. Bailey fanned Scooter Gennett and Ryan Braun to begin the game, but he got into trouble shortly thereafter, when Jonathan Lucroy hit the first of four Brewers doubles. Carlos Gomez drew a harmless walk, but Aramis Ramirez’s ensuing single was anything but harmless: It brought home the game’s only run.

Garza retired the first 12 batters he faced. When Brandon Phillips led off the fifth with a single, he was promptly doubled off on a line drive by Jay Bruce. Zack Cozart, who doubled with one away in the fifth, was the first Cincinnati runner who was stranded aboard. Unfazed by the man in scoring position, Garza took care of business against Bailey and then whiffed Billy Hamilton for the second time on the afternoon.

The shutout lowered Garza’s ERA to 3.70, closer to his mid-3.00s FIP than the 4.10 mark he carried into the outing. After spending the 2013 campaign with the Cubs and Rangers, Garza has been a roughly replacement-level starter to this point in 2014, not what the Brewers had in mind when they handed him $50 million over four years in late January. They’ll hope that he can build off of this effort in his last start before the All-Star break, a home date with the Phillies on Thursday.

***

Even Coors Field can’t put a dent into Clayton Kershaw’s ERA these days. After no-hitting the Rockies at Dodger Stadium, tossing eight scoreless innings at Kauffman Stadium, and blanking the Cardinals for seven innings at home, Kershaw held the Rox to two hits and a walk over eight frames in the mile-high air.

Tack on four zeroes from the start preceding the no-no, and Kershaw has now put a goose egg on the scoreboard in 36 consecutive innings. That’s the third-longest scoreless stretch for a Dodger since the team moved west from Brooklyn in 1958.

Kershaw took home National League Pitcher of the Month honors in June, when he struck out 38 percent of the batters he faced. It may be July now, but Kershaw is still Kershaw. He racked up eight punchouts on Friday, and his slider—which stifled the Rockies in the no-hitter—was an absolute menace.


Kershaw twirled 30 sliders at the Rockies, 24 for strikes, all of them swinging, nine of them for whiffs. Fewer than half of those sliders were inside the strike zone; Weiss’s hitters couldn't help but chase the breaking ball down and away. And they went 0-for-8 when they managed to hit it into play.

The 26-year-old Kershaw now has a 1.85 ERA, only slightly higher than the 1.83 ERA with which he won the senior circuit Cy Young Award in 2013. He’ll have a great chance to extend his scoreless run on Thursday, when the Padres—the worst hitting club in the majors—come to Dodger Stadium to close out the pre-break slate.

***

The Red Sox won the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader with the Orioles in walk-off fashion. They might’ve swept the twin bill had Nelson Cruz not been a member of the visiting club.

A one-year signing in the offseason, Cruz came into the game one homer off the American League pace set at 27 by Jose Abreu. He doubled with two away in the first inning, but both he and Steve Pearce were stranded aboard. Then he singled in the third inning and stole second base but was left on when Chris Davis was punched out for the second time in as many at-bats.

In the fifth inning, with the Red Sox up 4-2, Cruz took matters into his own hands. He launched a rocket into a sign over the Green Monster, halving that lead. An inning later, when the Orioles batted around against John Lackey, Burke Badenhop, and Tommy Layne, Cruz chipped in an infield single. By the end of that rally, the visitors were up 7-4.

That tally would hold through the end of the contest, but Cruz wasn’t done punishing Boston pitching. He notched his second two-bagger at Edward Mujica’s expense in the seventh, only to be stranded by Davis, who grounded out again.

Add it all up, and Cruz went 5-for-5 with two doubles and a long ball. The last Oriole before him to be perfect in at least five trips to the plate, with three or more extra-base hits? That would be Miguel Tejada on July 9, 2005. The last Oriole to slug a homer amid such an effort and be stranded the other four times? That would be Brooks Robinson, when he hit for the cycle on July 15, 1960.

Cruz’s big night helped the Orioles hang a rather odd line on Lackey. The right-hander fanned 11 over 5 1/3 innings, but he was knocked around for five runs on 10 hits, including two homers. According to the Baseball-Reference Play Index, since 1914, only one other starter has struck out at least 11 batters and been shelled for 10-plus hits without completing the sixth inning: David Cone, on September 13, 1998.

Needless to say, Lackey wasn’t pleased with his effort in the defeat—and he decided to take out his frustration on Cruz, insinuating that reporters should continue to bash the former Ranger for his involvement in the Biogenesis scandal, despite claiming that he wouldn’t:

“I’m not even going to comment on him,” Lackey began, before commenting. “I’ve got nothing to say,” he continued, before saying a lot. “There are some things that I would like to say, but I’m not going to,” he said, just before… “You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff.”

The 35-year-old might not have minded getting thumped by a player with no ties to performance-enhancing drugs, but Cruz’s big night set him off. Lackey has now been torched to the tune of 17 runs (16 earned) on 23 hits (five homers) in 14 innings over his last three starts, on the heels of his three-hit shutout over the Twins on June 19.

And with the Rays’ victory over the Tigers on Sunday night, the defending champions have fallen into last place.

***

Henderson Alvarez allowed only five hits to the Cardinals on Sunday. He also picked up three himself.

All of the right-hander’s knocks were singles—one of the infield variety, with the help of a little #slack from second baseman Kolten Wong—and all of them came on pitches outside the strike zone.

Alvarez joined A.J. Burnett, Jordan Lyles, and Wade Miley as the only pitchers who’ve racked up three hits in a game this year. His contributions on the mound and at the plate helped the Marlins take two of three from the Cards at Busch Stadium, their first series win on the road since a quick two-gamer on June 4-5 in Tampa Bay.

The Defensive Plays of the Weekend
Think quick, Chris Archer!

***

Yasiel Puig and route efficiency don’t always go together. But that doesn’t stop him from turning misjudged fly balls into two outs:

***

Adam Eaton and route efficiency, on the other hand:

***

No one navigates the sprawling foul territory and the tarp at the O.co Coliseum quite like Josh Donaldson:

***

Meanwhile, in the minors:

What to Watch on Monday

  • A date with the Cubs seemed to get Clay Buchholz back on track last Tuesday, but the right-hander notched only two strikeouts, tied for the lowest total recorded by any starter who worked into the seventh inning versus Chicago this year. Tonight, Buchholz will try to keep shaving his bloated 6.22 ERA while facing the other Chicago squad, the White Sox, led by Jose Abreu, who went 0-for-6 in a 14-inning game started by Buchholz back in April. The rookie first baseman will continue his bid to join Mark McGwire as the only first-years to slug 30-plus homers before the All-Star break. He’ll try to pop one over the Green Monster in support of Scott Carroll (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • Among pitchers who’ve made at least 16 starts, the top four in strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) are Yu Darvish, David Price, Strasburg, and Max Scherzer. No surprises there. But can you name the pitcher who’s currently in fifth place?

    His mention here already grants you one big hint—it means he’s scheduled to toe the rubber today. Here’s an even bigger one: He’s scheduled to pitch against the team with which he made his major league debut in 2012. Last hint: He’ll be going up against the big-name—or big-game, if you wish—pitcher for whom he was traded in December 2012.

    Answer: Jake Odorizzi, who has 101 strikeouts to his name through 88 1/3 innings (10.3 K/9). The right-hander will take on Royals ace James Shields in the series opener at Tropicana Field (7:10 p.m. ET).

  • The Brewers remain comfortably ahead in the National League Central as the All-Star break approaches, but the battle for second place rages on when the Pirates visit the Cardinals. Adam Wainwright, whose ERA shrank to 1.89 following 7 2/3 scoreless innings against the Giants, could send it plummeting past Kershaw’s 1.85 clip if he turns in his fifth straight one-or-fewer-run outing while dueling Charlie Morton (8:15 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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