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May 20, 2009

On the Beat

Mid-week Roundup

by John Perrotto

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It was just two seasons ago that the Rockies made their mad dash to the World Series. They won 13 of their last 14 regular-season games, and then beat the Padres in a one-game playoff for the wild card before sweeping the Phillies in the National League Division Series and the Diamondbacks in the National League Championship Series.

Though the Rockies were swept by the Red Sox in their first-ever Fall Classic, the future looked bright. The Rockies had a young nucleus of players that seemed ready to lead the franchise to more October dances. That nucleus is still in place, though it isn't quite so young anymore, and the Rockies' next post-season appearance seems light years away. The Rockies are 15-23 and tied with the Diamondbacks for last place in the NL West, 11½ games behind the Dodgers.

That has led to plenty of frustration and speculation surrounding the team, speculation that centers on the future of general manager Dan O'Dowd and skipper Clint Hurdle. O'Dowd has been on the job for 11 years, and it has been seven years since Hurdle was promoted from hitting coach to replace the fired Buddy Bell. Owner Charles Monfort, however, has said that he has no plans to make any changes, and those close to the situation also believe that O'Dowd and Hurdle are safe. What could come, though, is the breakup of a club that hasn't become any better since 2007. The Rockies slipped to 74-88 last season, and they're off to their regular bad start this year.

Right-handers Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez, reliever Manuel Corpas, catcher Yorvit Torrealba, first baseman Todd Helton, third baseman Garrett Atkins, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and right fielder Brad Hawpe all remain from that magical '07 team. If the Rockies can't turn their season around, it would not be a surprise to see some of those players dealt at the July 31 non-waiver trading deadline.

The Rockies have actually outscored their opponents; they're averaging 5.1 runs a game (12th in the majors), and giving up 5.0 (18th), but calling Denver home inflates these figures; their .253 team Equivalent Average is just 12th in the NL. They're 3.8 wins under their Pythagenport record, more than any club in baseball. The run differential provides some hope that things will begin to even out for the Rockies, and that's what is Hurdle is preaching to his team as they try to avoid being blown out of contention by Memorial Day. "This game is all about picking yourself up, dusting yourself off, and moving forward," said Hurdle. "We've gotten knocked down in the early part of this season. The critical part is for us to get back up. We have to find a way to get moving. It's critical that we do that. I believe we have the people in this clubhouse who can do that."

In many ways, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki became the clubhouse leader during his rookie season in 2007, when he posted a .272 EqA. Though that number slid to .244 last season and has bounced back somewhat to .261 this year, he is considered the primary spokesman among the players; Helton, the respected veteran, is more of the quiet type. Tulowitzki cannot help but think back to the Rockies' magical run of 2007. "I think what's happened is we've lost our swagger somewhere along the way," said Tulowitzki. "I'm not saying we're going to go out and win 22 of 23 games again or anything like that, but we believed in ourselves. We thought we were going to win every day. We never thought we were out of a game. It's different now. We have the guys who want to win, but I don't know if we have that same confidence."

Offense is rarely a problem for the Rockies; runs are still plentiful in the high altitude of Denver, even if the Coors Field humidor has somewhat cut into the high scores in recent years. Hawpe leads the way with a .329 EqA, and Helton is having a bit of a bounce-back season at .301 following last year's back surgery.

The 18th-place ranking in runs allowed is about as good as it gets for the Rockies, whose history of poor pitching since joining the major leagues as an expansion franchise in 1993 has been well-documented. Ubaldo Jimenez (1.3 SNLVAR) and Jorge De La Rosa (1.2) are long on stuff and are now turning that into production, though the bullpen does not have a reliever who ranks among the top 100 in the majors in WXRL.

Tulowitzki believes that the Rockies' pitching would be better with some help in the field; the Rockies are 26th in defensive efficiency at .673. "In 2007 we made all the plays, and we're not doing that now," Tulowitzki said. "Our defense is a big downfall. We're not catching the ball like we used to. You have to do the little things like that if you're going to be a winning team, and we've gotten away from that."

---

The process of the lineup card making its way from the manager to the umpires in the moments leading up to the start of a game is more complex than just the skipper handing it over to the men in blue. The manager determines his batting order hours before the game begins. Then the bench coach fills out the lineup cards, either by hand or on a computer, one copy of which is posted on a wall in the clubhouse and is then transported to the dugout as it gets closer to game time. The other copy, signed by the manager, then goes to the umpires.

When the Rays listed two third basemen and no designated hitter on their lineup card on Sunday, forcing pitcher Andy Sonnanstine to bat third, manager Joe Maddon did not point any fingers. The Rays do their lineup cards by computer, as quality assurance coach Todd Greene inputs the information and then prints them out. Bench coach Dave Martinez then checks the cards. "It was my mistake," Maddon said. "It was my fault. I screwed up. Nobody else did."

The Rays listed both Evan Longoria, the usual starter at the position, and utilityman Ben Zobrist as third basemen on their official lineup card on a day when Longoria was supposed to serve as the DH. Indians manager Eric Wedge waited until Zobrist played third base in the top of the first inning, and then challenged the lineup card with umpiring crew chief Tim McClelland. The umpires ruled that the Rays were not allowed to use a DH in the game, which led to Sonnanstine batting. "My immediate thought was, 'Take your card out of your pocket,'" Maddon said when he saw Wedge talking with McClelland. "It said two '5's [third basemen], and I said, 'Oh, no.'"

Sonnanstine amazingly came through with an RBI double, and the Rays wound up winning the game. He was the first starting pitcher in an AL batting order since Ken Brett for the White Sox on September 23, 1976 against the Twins. "The players pretty much rallied around the situation," Maddon said. "Everyone was supportive, almost to the point where it was getting syrupy and disgusting."

---

Former Diamondbacks pitching coach Bryan Price certainly wasn't a fan of general manager Josh Byrnes' decision to fire his manager, Bob Melvin, earlier this month, and replacing him with player development director A.J. Hinch. Price resigned rather than remain on the staff, and it had as much to do with his belief that Hinch is not qualified to be a manager as it did with his loyalty to Melvin. "To me, it was not only a slap in the face to Bob, but to Chip and Gibby," Price told the Marin Independent Journal, referring to D'back coaches Chip Hale and Kirk Gibson, "and to anybody who has actually managed or coached in the past. [Hinch] doesn't have any credibility between the lines as a manager. I thought it bypassed people who were better prepared to finish out the season."

Hinch said that he did not take Price's criticism personally, but more as being directed at the situation. "I have a lot of integrity," Hinch told the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro. "I have worked my tail off, on the field and certainly in my career, to get here. People are going to react how they want to react, and I can't control that."

---

Rangers manager Ron Washington was nearly fired early last season, and he seemed to be on the hot seat when this season began, but with his team leading the American League West by three games, the third-year skipper is beginning to win praise for the job that he's doing with a team that hasn't had a winning season since 2004 or been to the postseason in 10 years.

Second baseman Ian Kinsler told Jean-Jacques Taylor of the Dallas Morning News that a sign of Washington's evolution as a manager came two weeks ago following a loss to the White Sox. Washington entered a silent clubhouse and told the players to turn on the stereo and enjoy themselves. "It was a sign of his maturity as a manager," Kinsler said. "He'd never done that before. It shows he knows what's going on with our team, and he understands how we're going to respond."

Washington said that understanding and trust comes from years of experience; he had spent 10 seasons as a major league infielder and 11 years on the Athletics' coaching staff. "You have to be honest," Washington said. "You can't fool these guys. I'm genuine. I don't have to be fake. They know it. They don't have any bigger cheerleader than me. I've got their back in good times and bad times. I know what it feels like to struggle and you know you're better than your numbers."

---

Scouts' views on various major league players:

  • Rockies third baseman Garrett Atkins: "He's looked more like a guy at the end of his career than in his prime with the way his bat has slowed down. He looks like he is swinging under water."

  • Royals utility player Willie Bloomquist: "He's a good 25th man to have on a club because of his versatility, but they're making a mistake by beginning to play him too much at shortstop. That's more than he can handle."

  • Brewers infielder Craig Counsell: "He'll be OK in the short term as a fill-in for [injured second baseman] Rickie Weeks, but he's a little long in the tooth to be an everyday guy anymore."

  • Athletics outfielder Aaron Cunningham: "I think he's a Quad-A player, he'll tear up Triple-A, but he's just not quite good enough to be more than a bench player in the majors. If he can learn to hit lefties, though, he'll at least have a career."

  • White Sox third baseman Josh Fields: "I don't know what happened to the guy who hit 23 home runs as a rookie two years ago. He looks like he's searching for the time he's up at the plate. He doesn't seem to have an ounce of confidence and he just swings at everything."

  • Mariners reliever Brandon Morrow: "I thought they pulled the plug on him as the closer a little too soon. I know they're trying to protect him from losing confidence, but he's got the stuff to be one of the best closers in the league."

  • Diamondbacks outfielder Gerardo Parra: "He looks like the real deal because he can really swing the bat. This team really needs a spark, and he can give it to them."

  • Astros right-hander Felipe Paulino: "This guy has a great arm but no idea what to do with it. He is just out there throwing the ball to the plate with no plan or purpose."

  • Indians infielder Jhonny Peralta: "They had to move him off shortstop because he just doesn't have enough range to play the position. He's got the arm for a third baseman, though, and I think he'll be good there. He might also hit better now that he can relax and not carry the rough times in the field over to his at-bats."

  • Dodgers outfielder Juan Pierre: "He's been playing his rear end off since Manny [Ramirez] got suspended, like he has something to prove to everyone who thought he shouldn't be an everyday player anymore.

  • Twins shortstop Nick Punto: "I never got the whole idea behind giving this guy a three-year contract as a free agent. He's a good utility guy, but he's overexposed when he plays every day."

  • Giants shortstop Edgar Renteria: "He doesn't have any juice left in his bat, and he's adequate at best in the field, which makes me wonder why the Giants gave him all that money [a two-year, $18 million contract] as a free agent."

  • Pirates outfielder Delwyn Young: "He has his shortcomings defensively, but he can really rake with the bat, and I'd love to see Pittsburgh give him regular playing time to see exactly what he would do with it."

---

Three series to watch this weekend as interleague play begins, with probable pitching matchups:

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

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

BP Comment Quick Links

BrettG

The Mets are going to be busy traveling between Boston 7 New York to play the Reds Sox & Phillies this weekend. I could be mistaken, but I think the latter mention of the Mets should refer to the Yankees.

May 20, 2009 09:43 AM
rating: 0
 
joepam

So... the Mets are playing the Red Sox and the Phillies?

May 20, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 0
 
buffum
(458)

Actually, Charles Nagy was in an AL battting order after the Indians lost their DH when Manny Ramirez played RF. I can't remember the year, but it was against David Wells (which I remember because Nagy batted left-handed, making it an even worse matchup).

I want to say 1998 or so.

May 20, 2009 09:56 AM
rating: 1
 
Hank Brockett

Nagy entered the lineup in the second inning in a 1999 game - http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE199907220.shtml

May 20, 2009 10:22 AM
rating: 1
 
Jay Taylor

But Sonnanstine entered the lineup in the bottom of the first. I don't see how it's any different.

Also, the quote was:
"He was the first starting pitcher in an AL batting order since Ken Brett..."
Which obviously isn't true.

May 20, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
Jay Taylor

Yeah, I thought it was weird to see them claim that too.
Here's the game:
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/CLE/CLE199907220.shtml

For some reason Manny switched from DH to right before the right fielder had an at bat.

Also, if I do a search on B-R PI it says there have been 48 AL pitchers to have PA's against AL teams since 1976.

May 20, 2009 10:26 AM
rating: 1
 
Drew Miller

They pulled the plug on Morrow as closer? I know they were alternating him with Aardsma, but no one else on the roster has any saves. Are they looking for a third option, or trying (gulp) to use Aardsma there full-time?

May 20, 2009 10:17 AM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Steve Phillips, today, on Carlos Beltran, from his chat on ESPN.com:

"Steve Phillips: If the Mets don't make the playoffs, I firmly believe they need to reconfigure the core of this team. While Beltran does have talent, I just don't see him as a winning player. Even after my comments on Sunday night, Beltran let a fly ball drop in between himself and Angel Pagan in the Dodger game. I see him putting up numbers but not making plays to win games. I would take Torii Hunter, Grady Sizemore, Curtis Granderson, and Nate McLouth over Beltran, and use the financial difference to improve the team in other ways. Beltran isn't a $17 million dollar a year player. He just doesn't have the kind of impact for that kind of money.

Steve Phillips: Many people think that Alex Rodriguez is the best player in the game, but he's never won anything. I look at Beltran in a similar fashion as Rodriguez--a great talent that just doesn't seem to have what it takes to win championships. Maybe the Mets can keep him and add pieces to the core around him and still win. But when you're dealing with a budget and the screams of immediacy in New York, I'm not sure the Mets can wait to piece it together around him. I know there are a lot of people who disagree with me, but it's just the way I see it. Beltran is a very good person and a solid citizen, in addition to being a guy who puts up numbers. I like him, I just don't think they can win with him. "

Steve Phillips truly believes that Nate McLouth and Torii Hunter are more valuable than Carlos Beltran. Amazing. This is why he was fired from his job with the Mets.

May 20, 2009 12:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

I find it ironic that ESPN is going advanced-stat-happy while still having Phillips on the broadcasts. In a way that is a good thing. Presenting alternative viewpoints is a good way to provide contrast and get people thinking.

May 20, 2009 12:17 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

You could use that excuse to put the most abject moron in the world on the air to tell people what they think.

May 20, 2009 12:30 PM
 
David Coonce

That's already been done - have you ever heard of Glenn Beck?

Hi-Yo!

May 20, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

Yes, you could, but it is still a worthwhile practice, provided that it isn't abused.

I sense that you are thinking that Phillips might fit "abject moron" status.

May 20, 2009 13:03 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

I have no problem with divergent viewpoints. If you've read us for long, you've probably noticed instances where some of our authors don't agree with others on some things. I'm totally in favor of that, provided they can back their opinions up. Informed disagreement is great.

All sides need to be informed for that to work, though, making my stance "saying something and backing it up with logic and evidence of thought is wonderful", not "alternative viewpoints are wonderful".

May 20, 2009 13:24 PM
 
Richard Bergstrom

I think Phillips just has sticker shock from all the big bad contracts he signed.

This is from Wikipedia, so take it as you will:
"
In the late 1990s, Phillips assembled a Mets team made up of big name stars, such as Al Leiter, Mike Piazza, and Robin Ventura, and excellent role players, that played in the 2000 World Series against the New York Yankees. He is also credited with drafting David Wright, Scott Kazmir, and Lastings Milledge, and signing José Reyes. Additionally, Phillips is credited with acquiring aging and ineffective players with large contracts like Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Pedro Astacio, Mike Bordick, Bobby Bonilla, Rickey Henderson, Kenny Rogers, and Jeromy Burnitz. He had an uneasy, if not volatile relationship with manager Bobby Valentine, and when Phillips decided to fire Valentine before the 2003 season, many expected the GM to be next. He traded future star player, Jason Bay,and also attempted to trade star shortstop Jose Reyes to the Cleveland Indians (http://mlb.fanhouse.com/2007/03/12/the-indians-missed-the-boat-on-jose-reyes/).

He was critical of the Cincinnati Reds Rule V Draft acquisition, Josh Hamilton, stating that Hamilton, who had walked away from the game due to abuse issues, was being given the chance to make the major league team (through the Rule V draft) without spending the time in the minor leagues which the other players had, thus sending the wrong message to those players .[3]
"



May 20, 2009 19:02 PM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Only thing I want to clarify here is that Rickey Henderson was hardly "ineffective" for the Mets. His line in '99 was 315/423/466, with 89 runs scored in 121 games.

May 20, 2009 20:52 PM
rating: 0
 
Drew Miller

I agree generally, but it kind of hinges on one's definition of "informed". Does that imply that they have to be informed with a baseline of "correct" information? If so, who decides what information is part of that baseline?

I mean, one could argue that Steve Phillips is "informed"--just not in ways that you or I might agree with.

May 21, 2009 07:00 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Dave Pease
BP staff
(2)

Are you making that argument, Drew? I'm sure not, and if you aren't willing to either, I don't think we're disagreeing about anything.

May 21, 2009 13:30 PM
 
drawbb

In a related story, Phillips also agreed with Larry Himes in 1992 that Greg Maddux was not a #1 starter, but Mike Morgan was.

"I like him, I just don't think [the Mets] can win with him." Was he talking about Beltran or himself? Oh, wait...one of those issues has already been settled.

May 20, 2009 12:40 PM
rating: 2
 
eighteen

Steve Phillips is an idiot. He actually claims the way Johann Santana pitches affects the Mets offense; that Santana is the reason the Mets don't score runs when he pitches.

It's one thing to be ignorant enough to believe that - but to publicly express it takes stupidity to a whole new level.

May 20, 2009 15:54 PM
rating: 1
 
Drew Miller

What I think he's talking about is psychology. But even if you pretend that Santana's pitching is negatively affecting the Mets' hitting psychologically, Phillips provides no evidence--he just makes the statement and leaves it. Classic evidenceless arguing style.

May 21, 2009 07:24 AM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

How Phillips ever advanced beyond ticket taker is quite the mystery.

May 20, 2009 16:32 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Call it selection bias... good GMs or managers either remain on the field, or retire peacefully. I guess the bad ones become analysts.

"Do you know what happens if you had a job in construction and you couldn't make money? You become an inspector!"

- Gallagher

May 20, 2009 19:05 PM
rating: 0
 
duback

"Sonanstine amazingly coming through with an RBI double" wasn't amazing. He can hit. Coming in to this season he was a career .400 hitter with a career .500 OBP(4 for 10 with 2 walks). The amazing thing was that they were lucky enough to commit such a blunder on a night when he was pitching.

May 20, 2009 20:58 PM
rating: 0
 
Matt Hunter

Someone just used 10 AB to justify someone being a good hitter. Steve is that you?

May 20, 2009 22:08 PM
rating: 2
 
Drew Miller

Not to mention the fact that the "double" wouldn't have been one if a competent defensive play had been made.

May 21, 2009 07:25 AM
rating: 1
 
rmyawn

Rick Rhoden not only started a game in the batting lineup for the Yankees in the 80s, he did so *on a day when he wasn't pitching." In fact, he was the DH.

May 20, 2009 23:24 PM
rating: 1
 
saigonsam

I don't understand how you can make a line-up on a computer (excel I assume) and not put some conditional formating or validation parameters to prevent duplicate names and positions. A 9th grader could design that program.

May 22, 2009 01:58 AM
rating: 0
 
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