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Thursday, April 30, 2009

A suggested change to the designated hitter rule

Some people like the A.L. designated hitter and some do not. Some like having a better hitter bat for the pitcher, while some like putting the pitcher at the plate, while carrying a disdain for a starting hitter that doesn’t have to field a position.

I grew up with a heavy dosage of AL baseball thanks to the Oakland A’s (the chosen team by Las Vegas TV networks), and my home team today, the Seattle Mariners, is an AL team. Most college games and minor leagues universally employ the DH. But over the years I’ve developed a strategic appreciation for having the pitcher, usually a terrible hitter, bat in the lineup. Being virtually an automatic out, managers often use the pitcher to bunt a runner over one base with fewer than two outs. In the later innings of a close game, a manager will often pinch hit for the pitcher to try and knock in important runs, forcing managers to use their bench and their bullpen.

This produces double switches and strategic player deployment that you don’t see much of in the AL. Whereas bench players are typically nominal backups (4th outfielders, backup catchers, utility infielders) and pinch runners in the AL, bench players in the NL are typically versatile utility guys that can hit somewhat well.

Having the pitcher bat also creates strategic dilemmas for pitchers that don’t come up in the AL. If a pitcher’s pitching unusually well after six innings in a tight ballgame and is fresh enough to keep pitching… but is due up with one out and a man on 2nd, do you pull him for a better hitter and hope the bullpen holds up? Or do you keep him in, have him bunt the runner over to 3rd and hope your leadoff hitter comes through with two outs? In the AL, the only questions you would need to ask are, “Is he tired?” and “Can I count on him to pitch this next inning?”

At the same time, there is value to the DH. It forces a pitcher to face a full lineup of true hitters and your team doesn’t need to punt one lineup spot for a couple turns. The AL has more offense as a result, and provides a greater challenge for starting pitchers because the lineups are stronger overall, and there isn’t that free out in the nine hole (well, most of the time) to pad your stats with. The DH position allows you to get a bad fielder with a good bat off the field, or allows you to give a good player a rest from the field without benching him. It minimizes the need to tinker with the lineup and allows a manager and coaches to just focus on the action on the field.

Seeing the value to both sides, I don’t think either option should remain unique to each individual league. I believe that each league should get to do both: Play with the DH, and play traditionally with the pitcher batting.

Here’s how: For the first half of the season, have every team in both leagues use the DH. After the All Star Break and for the rest of the season all the way through the World Series, scrap the DH rule in both leagues and put the pitcher in the lineup.

Here’s the logic: Early in the season, the DH slot allows you to get serious lineup time for your bench players, which will help them build their chops for the 2nd half, when they’ll come off the bench as pinch hitters. It will also give you the chance to hide power hitting bad fielders for half a season, but force you to play that clunker in the field down the stretch. It will give you the chance to rest your tired star while getting his bat in the game during the 1st half… but force you to bench him entirely to give him a rest in the 2nd half. It will also give your pitchers a chance to work on their hitting and bunting for a while before being asked to actually do it in a game. Hell, they might hit better if you give them a while to train for it.

In an indirect way, it will help starting pitchers down the stretch. Since chances are more likely they’ll be pinch hit for, their 2nd half outings will be shorter on average, which will help reduce their workload as the season wears on. Also, by replacing that pesky DH with a no-hit pitcher, you make the average start an easier one. The bullpen will get more work as the season wears on, reducing the chances of rust that tends to develop with AL relievers on 12 man pitching staffs.

And while the DH will minimize strategic lineup juggling early, ditching the DH and forcing the pitcher to bat will test the savvy of every manager down the stretch. It will test the depth of every team’s roster, as while the DH rule helps you lean on 9-10 guys while hiding 3-4 bench players with infrequent use, the lack of a DH will typically require lots of pinch hitting and substitutions, plus require several relievers. This will lead to every one of your roster’s position players and your entire pitching staff getting a fair share of action. The 1st half will simply set the table with straightforward baseball. The pennant race in the 2nd half plus the playoffs will be a test of entire 25 man rosters and a manager’s strategic ability.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mariners Minor League recap for 4/29/09

A: Fort Wayne 6, Clinton 3
CLI: 10-8… FTW: 15-4

Aaron Pribanic: 5.2 IP, 5 H, (5 R) 4 ER, 2 walks, 5 K, 2 wild pitches
Cheyne Hann: 1.1 IP, 2 K
Greg Moviel: 1.1 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 2 K, balk
Ryan Moorer: two outs, 1 H
Maximo Mendez: 2-4, RBI, 2 K
Juan Fuentes: RBI single, lifted early after an apparent injury
Terry Serrano: 2-3, triple, 2 R, walk
Ogui Diaz: 2-4, RBI, K

Fort Wayne jumped on Aaron Pribanic early and the Lumberkings never quite recovered. The TinCaps (formerly the Wizards) scored three in the 1st and two more in the 4th. Despite this, Pribanic pitched into the 6th.

Groundballs: 7 (plus 1 bunt)
Flyballs: 4
Line Drives: 3
Pop Ups: 2
Walks: 2
Strikeouts: 5

Meanwhile, here’s a guy we haven’t heard from in forever: Greg Moviel. The 6’6” lefthanded Vanderbilt grad was last seen stinking up rookie ball in Peoria during 2007, allowing 17 runs in 6 innings before sitting out all of 2008 for what I gather was rehab from an injury. Here’s his Facebook profile if you’re into that sort of thing.

He replaced the recently released Keith Meyer. That’s right: Meyer, the M’s 15th round pick in 2007, was let go after 5 treacherous innings of his own, allowing 4 runs on 7 hits. Meyer had a subpar 2008 in Wisconsin and needed to show signs of improvement in Clinton to keep going, but instead he only looked worse. Godsped, Keith, and if you elect to stay in pro baseball, hopefully you catch on with anther org soon. At 23, you’ve certainly got upside ahead of you.

A+: High Desert 6, Inland Empire 3

Alfredo Venegas: 4 IP, 3 H, 3 ER (HR), walk, 6 K
Travis Mortimore: 1 IP
Edward Paredes: 1 IP, 1 H
Steven Richard: 1 IP, walk
Phillipe Aumont: 1 IP, 2 H, walk, K
Anthony Varvaro: 1 IP, 1 H, 3 K
Tyson Gillies: 1-4, solo HR, K
Edilio Colina: 2-4, 2 R
Joe Dunigan: 2-4, solo HR, solo HR
Juan Diaz: 1-4, double, R

Alfredo Venegas got the start in lieu of the struggling Edward Paredes, and he missed plenty of bats, striking out six, but also got roughed up in a three run 3rd inning. Still, despite a limited pitch count, Venegas gave the Mavs four innings and left with a 3-3 tie.

Groundballs: 3
Flyballs: 4 (1 HR)
Line Drives: 2
Walks: 1
Strikeouts: 6

He got a solo HR from Joe Dunigan in the 2nd, Tyson Gillies’ 1st home run of the season in the 3rd and a gift run thanks to two Empire errors later in the 3rd.

Juan Diaz led off the 5th with a double, and came around to score on an Edilio Colina single. Colina himself eventually came around to score and made it 5-3. Joe Dunigan blasted off again in the 6th to make it 6-3, and thanks to a bullpen relay, Empire never threatened again.

Anthony Varvaro allowed a leadoff base hit in the 9th, but struck out the side after that to get the save. Save for two horrid outings (April 14 and April 22), Varvaro’s looked solid as the closer so far. I know the team has no shortage of bullpen power arms right now (speaking of which, Phillipe Aumont pitched a scoreless 8th), but count Varvaro in the mix.

AA: West Tenn’s game with Mississippi got rained out.

AAA: Tacoma had the night off.

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How I analyze the results of minor league games

Since I obviously cannot attend most minor league games, and most scouting material is isolated observation of a small sample of games from scouts with varying degrees of bias, the obvious next best way to track the minors is to check out the box scores and game logs from Minor League Baseball, do a little bit of internet research and try to piece together where every key player stands, which players in the peloton are emerging as key players, and which prospects may not be long for their prospect status.

For each game played, I scan the box scores. I pay attention to multi hit games, RBI base hits and extra base hits. Since hitters fail on average 70% of the time, I pay little attention to hitless and weak performances on a game to game basis.

For pitchers, I track every line score of every pitcher, noting anomalies such as wild pitches, hit batters and balks. Since each pitcher is a focal key to how the ballgame proceeds, it's important to note how each one does, good or bad, as each performance helps provide guidance of how to evaluate the hitting performances.

Wind speed and direction is also a factor: Hitters have an easier time hitting home runs with a 20 mph wind out to center, pitchers have an easier time getting hitters out in cold conditions, and it's very difficult to get an extra base hit, let alone a home run, with a wind blowing in from the fences. I'm also cautious about good pitching numbers in a blowout for the same reason as hitting numbers.

I try to note past histories of opposing players when noting particularly good or bad performances by the team I'm studying. If the hitters teed off on a historically poor pitcher or someone struggling, I give it less credence than if they did so off an ace.

I note the score and the progression of scoring: I may give less credence to big hitting numbers in a high scoring game or a blowout, since in both cases hits may have been easy to come by, and in the case of a blowout there was little pressure to succeed or fail, which does not necessarily reflect competitive game conditions. Now, if a pitcher notched those 8 strikeouts in 5 innings while the game was close, or a hitter drove in those three runs while the game was close, that means something since there was more pressure... while ringing up K's or base hits in garbage time doesn't mean as much.

In a low scoring game, I first note the weather to see if the wind was blowing in. Then I note the scheduled pitchers: An ace will obviously shut down most lineups, and I won't be as critical of hitters who don't do well if they're facing a phenomenal prospect. Then I note the hitters: If a pitcher shuts down a lineup full of poor hitters that swing themselves into lots of outs, that means less.

I note the playing environment. The Cal League and Pacific Coast League is very offense friendly due to warm and high altitude playing environments that fuel home runs. So I'm careful about overrating strong hitting numbers or careful to criticize pitchers who put up poor numbers. The Midwest League is very pitcher friendly as most of the college age and teenage hitters are new to pro ball and the weather is cooler. I'm careful not to overrate a good pitching effort, as well as careful not to come down too hard on hitters who struggle.

Likewise, a great pitching effort in the Cal League deserves note, as does poor hitting at that level. And a fine hitting season in the Midwest League deserves as much significant note as a pitcher who can't seem to keep a lineup under control there. But that gets into macro analysis, which is another story.

- For starting pitchers, I track the result of every ball in play, free base or strikeout. This will often tell me more about what said pitcher did than the line score.

A pitcher who allowed two runs but gave up a lot of line drives probably left a lot of pitches up in the zone, and could get hit hard by a better lineup. A pitcher who gets a lot of groundballs works down in the zone, indicating a pitcher that can do consistently well against most lineups since it's hard to generate consistent offense off groundballs. A pitcher who got groundballs, didn't walk anybody and still gave up 5 runs probably had bad luck: His infield defense probably let him down. With better fortune on the groundballs, he typically has a better night.

When possible, I'll search through Google News for news on the completed games, to see if there were any quirky developments that produced these results, or why particular players were missing. Sometimes a grounder through the hole takes a weird bounce that only a beat writer can note. Sometimes a player came out of the game due to an un-noted injury. Sometimes a player's dealing with an illness or injury that hampers his performance. Sometimes the box scores don't tell the full story about the weather: Maybe it was windier than it seems, or an intermittent drizzle of rain killed the offense. And when the game log notes an ejection or injury, usually it won't tell the story but a beat writer who watched the game will.

This sounds like a lot of effort, and when you recap the games it can be. It can take an hour or so just to recap four games in your team's minor league system, and two hours plus to cover ten (an average number of teams an organization has in play once the rookie leagues start). And that's two hours if you just hit the highlights and keep the in-game coverage to a minimum.

So why do it? Couldn't I just track the top prospect lists on Baseball America and scout.com and ignore everybody else?

Well, not every player in MLB was a top prospect coming up. Rotations, lineups, benches and bullpens are full of 24th and 37th round picks that slid under the radar, minor league castoffs who figured things out with a new organization, and international signees who diligently stepladdered in obscurity through the system.

Many of the ballplayers you see on MLB fields today weren't Baseball America Top 100 prospects, multi million dollar international signees, or top draft picks. Anyone looking to seriously track a team's minor league org does themselves a disservice to focus on a top 20 list parsed by a national media outlet. That's like watching an episode of NBC Nightly News every night and considering yourself fully informed on World News.

Some star prospects or future MLB regulars tend to pop out of nowhere to many. But if you're tracking every level of the system, they don't pop out of nowhere at all: You see their growth on a day by day, week by week, month by month basis.

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Yuniesky Betancourt showed us something last night


Yuniesky Betancourt did something that impressed me yesterday. No, not just the 4 hit game with the 3 run line drive homer last night against the ChiSox: An aggressive free swinger like Betancourt will have nights like that, especially against bad defenses like the ChiSox (seriously, 40 runs below average this season would not be a surprise) and pitchers having off nights like the one John Danks had.

No, late in the game with the Mariners rallying and DJ Carrasco on the mound, Yuniesky Betancourt took the first two pitches, both of which were clearly outside. Now, granted, the coaches could have signaled for him to take the first pitch, and both pitches were clear misses. But Yuni has always been a hitter who futilely swung at those outside pitches, with no sense of plate discipline whatsoever. And Carrasco wasn't exactly unable to throw strikes.

Instead of swinging himself into an easy out, Yuni laid off two outside pitches. That he swung at the next pitch in the zone is no surprise, because that's what he does after all. But behind 2-0, Carrasco was in a position where he had to pipe it in, and Yuni took advantage of Carrasco's disadvantage, a disadvantage Yuni helped create by laying off on at least one pitch he would have waved at. The old Yuni would have swung himself out of that at bat, and the Mariners out of a big rally, in 1-3 pitches.

Yuni was on the verge of getting run out of town for his lacking work ethic and development. I'm not saying he's fixed: It's one game, and he still popped up in a critical at bat in the front end of the doubleheader, a 2-1 hard luck loss. Also, I wasn't quite paying attention to his defense so if he had any gaffes or watched any playable balls go by, I didn't notice. But stuff like this, in tandem with a four hit night, gives encouragement to the notion that Yuniesky Betancourt isn't a lost cause just yet.

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Storytime with Erik Bedard (introducing assistant Phillipe)

Class sizes are increasing and there's only of me.
Therefore I now have an assistant to help manage the class.
Say hello to Phillipe.

HI PHILLIPE!

Do you talk?

Phillipe is from Quebec. Where is Quebec?
My dad says it's the part of Canada where all the dirty bastard French come from.


That's not very nice.
That's what he-
[lifts kid by neck] TONIGHT YOU DINE ON DETENTION SOUP
EEEEEEEEEEEEE
Put him down, Phillipe.

EEEEEEEEEE
It's not that kid's fault he's raised by ignorant, closed minded parents.

[puts down kid]
[whimpers]
Everyone behave themselves and no one gets hurt.




EEEEEEEE
What's the matter?
I don't know. The child started screaming for no reason.
HE'S A DEMON HE'S A DEMON
That's not very nice.
Why do you say that, young man?
YOU'RE A DEMON YOU MADE DEMON EYES AND TEETH
That is absurd.
I think you're just nervous because he got mad.
NO HE'S A DEMON
Phillipe is new to our country and he can be quite scary. He means no harm.
I am here to help.
YOU'RE A DEMON
[looks around] Where is today's story?

EEEEEEEEEEEE
WHY ARE YOU SCREAMING?
HE'S A DEMON HE'S A DEMON
I don't know what scares him so.
I will send you to the nurse. [picks up phone]

EEEEEEEEEE
I have an unruly child that's rather upset for no reason. Please bring the nurse.
FEAST
ZOMGZOMGEEEEEEEEEE
I see. [hangs up]

I will have to go find the nurse. I will be right back. Phillipe will watch you.
NONONONONONONO
Behave yourselves. [leaves room]

EEEEEEEEEE
[Room turns blood red]
EEEEEEEEEEEE
I HAVE A STORY ABOUT THE CONSUMPTION OF SOULS.
EEEEEEEEEEEE
A CALVARY OF PATRIOT CRUSADERS ONCE TRIED TO DEFEAT THE DEMONIC MEANCES OF THE NORTH.
THEY ROUTED THE FRONT LINES AND HAD THE STRONGHOLD SURROUNDED
THEY SENT THEIR THREE GREATEST WARRIORS TO DEFEAT THEIR LEADER
ONE WAS A FRESH FACED GOLDEN WARRIOR FROM QUEENS.
THE OTHER WAS ARSEFACE, A PATIENT BEARDED MAN FROM BOSTON.
THE THIRD WAS A SPEEDY, POWERFUL MOOR FROM DETROIT WE SHALL CALL HACKER
THE GOLDEN WARRIOR WAS PROMPTLY DEVOURED IN A SEA OF PURE WHITE FLESH THAT MORPHED INTO SHADES OF RED, WHITE AND BLUE BUT MOSTLY RED AS IT CRUNCHED BETWEEN THE LEADER'S JAWS
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
ARSEFACE SCREAMED AND CHARGED WITH ALL HIS MIGHT, A DECISION UNCHARACTERISTIC OF THE PATIENT TACTFUL WARRIOR.
WITH ONE POWERFULLY DEMONIC SWIPE THE LEADER SENT ARSEFACE FLYING HIGH INTO THE AIR BEYOND SIGHT, NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN UNTIL HE LANDED CHEST FIRST ON THE PEAK OF A GREAT ICY MOUNTAIN SPIRE FAR AWAY WHICH IMPALED HIM
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
DESPITE KNOWING HE FACED INEVITABLE DEFEAT, HACKER CHARGED FORTH WITH ALL HIS MIGHT AND TOOK A MIGHTY SWING
AND HIS SWORD RECOILED WITH NO EFFECT SO POWERFULLY OFF THE LEADER'S LOWER BODY THAT THE HACKER'S ARMS BROKE FROM HIS BODY
AS HE SCREAMED AND BLOOD POURED FROM THE NOW DISENGAGED STUMPS, THE LEADER STOPPED DOWN AND DEVOURED HIM IN ONE BITE LIKE A PIECE OF FINE SUSHI
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
MMMM SUSHI
WITH THE PATRIOTS' FINEST WARRIORS VANQUISHED THE DEMONIC FORCES RALLIED AND DROVE BACK THOSE WOP YANKEE BITCHES.
AND HERE I AM, THE LEADER, TO SPREAD FORTH THE MESSAGES OF DEMONIC DOGMA AND EAT YOUR SOULS
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

[Room turns back to normal color. Door opens]

I couldn't find the nurse.
[whimpers]
They are behaved.
[whimper]
And yet they are broken.
I guess there's only one thing I can do for now.

[whimpers]
[opens door]
Time for recess.
[runs outside] EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE

Look at them run like bats out of hell.
Wow, those kids have some problems today.

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