Monday, October 12, 2009

Division Series Issues

1. Use of closer. In the Cardinals' second game, manager Tony LaRussa watched his starter, Adam Wainwright, pitch a masterful game, and after 8 innings the Cards had a 2-1 lead. So naturally, Wainwright went out in the 9th to finish off the game, right?

No, the Cards brought in their closer to finish the game, a guy who was not in the flow of the game and not used to the playoff atmosphere at Dodger Stadium--50,000 noisy, towel-waving fans trying to distract him. Of course, he would have been through the inning with no problem if not for Matt Holiday's two-out error when he lost a fly ball in the lights (and possibly in the white towels being waved).

But even then, he had a runner on second with two outs, but still he couldn't close the deal. It is a mystery to me why a pitcher who is still going strong is taken out like this. It makes no sense, and oldtimers are no doubt turning over in their respective graves at this type of thing in the modern game. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel showed better sense than LaRussa when he allowed his game one starter, Cliff Lee, to finish the game. LaRussa should have done likewise with Wainwright.

2. Posada vs. Molina. This one really makes my blood boil. Yankees game two starter A. J. Burnett prefers Molina to catch him and has been doing much better this year when Molina catches him. So what's the big deal about starting Molina for one game instead of Posada? Posada reacted like he had some sort of entitlement to start every game, which is absurd.

The stats in recent years have revealed many situations where a team's pitching staff has allowed a whole earned run a game less with on catcher compared to the other catcher. And the irony is that it is usually the backup catcher with the better earned runs allowed stats! Teams usually go with the better offensive catcher as the number one, ignoring the advantage they would get going with the better defensive catcher.

I can't help thinking back to my Senior year in high school. We had an outfielder, Tim Warren, who was in my class and started the first few games. Then one game the coach started a Sophomore, Tom Basinger, instead. One of my teammates complained to me that he didn't see what Tim had done wrong. My reaction was, "well, what has Tom done wrong?"

One player is not entitled to anything compared to another. To say otherwise is to buy into the "entitlement mentality" that seems to have overtaken this country. The idea seemed to be that Tim should remain as a starter, unless he commits some horrible blunder. (Similar to government workers, who can't be fired unless they commit some horrible blunder, due to due process rights.)

Moina's lifetime batting average is .237, compared to Posada's .277. This means Posada gets one more hit every 25 at bats, or one more every 5-6 games. Is this really a basis to deny Molina the chance to catch more often?

3. Umpiring blunders. Phil Cuzzi missed a call down the left-field line, calling Joe Mauer's blast a foul ball when it should have been a double. I have written on this blog about Cuzzi before, he is a bum and should be removed as an MLB umpire.

A number of sub-issues here. First, the extra two umpires added for the post-season seem useless. It has been said that the third-base umpire running out to left field really has a better view of this ball than the left-field umpire, whose initial response is to get out of the way of the ball. If so, why have these extra two umpires?

Second, what is MLB's method for evaluating umpires, and why aren't the evaluations made public? MLB claims that every game is evaluated, but where is the transparency? MLB is so worried about the game's credibility that it continues to ban Pete Rose for placing some bets many years ago, and yet it does nothing about incompetent umpires. Again, the entitlement issue rears its ugly head.

MLB should make its evaluations public, for the good of the game. The K-zone data will show which umpires call a good game and which don't--why not make this public? And why don't announcers highlight the umpiring discrepancies more? I think I know the answer to this one--their network's contract to broadcast games will probably be revoked if they are deemed to be too critical of MLB. Or, the network will retain the rights but the critical announcers will be canned.

The third issue here is the replay challenge like football has. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has publicly advocated this, saying the manager should be able to throw a challenge flag, and if upheld, he should get the flag back to use again. If the challenged call stands, then he loses the flag for the rest of the game. It would certainly disrupt the flow of the game, but isn't it worth this disruption to get the crucial calls right?

In an ideal world the worst 3-4 umpires would be replaced each year by the best 3-4 from Triple-A. But we know this will never happen. When good cause is needed for firing someone, the hardest sort of good cause to establish is sheer incompetence.

4. Baserunning blunders. There should never be blunders in the major leagues like we've seen during the past week. The Twins, so proud of their attention to the fundamentals, were guilty of two monumental blunders during the 3-game sweep by the Yanks. One guy, Gomez I believe, overran second base and was tagged out before the runner ahead of him scored, costing he Twins an important run. Then yesterday in game 3, the runner Punto rounded third too far and was thrown out at third, rally costing the Twins as they were in the process of rallying back in the late innings.

At least two of the baserunning blunders I've seen recently have been committed by pinch-runners. Again, this illustrates the problem of taking out a player who is into the flow of the game, and replacing him with someone in who is coming in cold.

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