Category Archives: baseball

Toronto beats Baltimore’s worst pitcher in an elimination baseball game because the save is an awful, awful stat that should perish in a radioactive fire

I mean, I could just make several rude jokes based on Orioles manager Buck Showalter’s name, but let’s cut to the chase. The save is atrocious. Bullpen usage is usually awful because of it. It may not be the worst stat in sports, but it’s on the short list. Even hockey’s +/- (drink!) hasn’t caused such misery as using the closer only in “save situations.”

Edwin Encarnacion may have still bombed one off of Zach Britton, of course. Ed is a great hitter, and Britton did give up that other homer… that one single solitary home run, against Boston, all the way back on April 11th. Strange things can happen. For that matter, Encarnacion may have just blooped in the winning run from third. In that situation, the home team only needs to be better or luckier on one pitch.

So, if that happens to your best pitcher, you say that they beat your best and they deserve it. Instead, Encarnacion got to face Ubaldo Jimenez, who was an all-star in 2010 and a bottom-rotation guy ever since. This is somebody whom Buck Showalter would not trust in the playoff rotation, so why would he trust him in a tie game, during extra innings, with runners on base, when a loss ends the season?

All because of the save. Instead of using your best pitchers in high-leverage situations – say, with the season-ending run standing on third base against the heart of the opponent batting order – it’s become necessary to only use them in a spot where a lesser pitcher could serve just as well.

How incomprehensible was this? Let me put it this way: my teammates and I were watching on TV before our own hockey game started. We went down to play just after the Toronto fan lobbed a beer can at a Baltimore fielder; we came back just in time for the TV announcers to show Encarnacion’s June 10th walkoff against the Orioles before watching him hit the next baseball halfway to Mars. (That’s every broadcaster’s dream – to show footage like that and then have it repeat itself live so they can look all smart and prophetic.)

I showered, went home, walked the dog, hit the hay… and only when I woke up this morning did I find that Baltimore kept its best reliever in the clubhouse the whole time. I assumed Jimenez was in because Britton had pitched already. Why wouldn’t he? If Baltimore wins, they have today off, so Britton would presumably be available to get three outs on Thursday.

Nope. Gotta save him for that SAVE SITUATION! Only now it will be in April. Hope he’s fresh.

Back at the Hive 1.0 I talked about reforming the save. (Item three here.) Do it, Mr. Manfred. It’s time to end our long national pastime nightmare.

PS – Maybe Wade Miley is worse after all. Maybe Buck was saving him for the twelfth inning. 


Sad news for baseball fans of my generation

Woke up today to hear that former Baltimore Oriole pitcher Mike Flanagan had passed away unexpectedly at age 59.  (News via the Baseball Reference Blog – which, by the way, is yet another excellent feature of an indispensable resource for baseball lovers.)

*(please see below the jump for updates; latest at 10:40 pm, and well worth it.  I was so grateful to have a happy thought to associate with this, to start to celebrate the life and career of the man and not stand helpless against the manner of his passing)*

Flanagan won the American League Cy Young Award in 1979, part of one of those great Earl Weaver ballclubs that filled the sports background of my earliest childhood.  I hadn’t gotten into baseball yet, really.  At the time, I was all hockey.  I had a wonderful poster of the New York Islanders of 1978-79, a giveaway from Burger King – the players were lithographed, as I recall, fine line drawings of Westfall, Trottier, Bossy, Smitty, Potvin, Gillies, Merrick, Bourne… and among them, Al Arbour in his glasses, trying to figure out how to finally get them to the Stanley Cup.  I lived and died with those guys.

But baseball was still inescapable, in the landscape, as it had to be on Long Island.  We were right in the epicenter of the heyday of the American League East Division.  To our immediate west were the Yankees – the Bombers, the juggernaut, the Evil Empire, with George Steinbrenner as their Emperor.  They had won the three previous AL pennants, 1976-78, brawling and blustering through baseball as the New York papers covered their exploits in rivers of ink, rivaling the rivers of ticker tape they sailed on down the Canyon of Heroes.  The Bronx Zoo was inescapable while growing up on Long Island in the 70’s and 80’s.  It was their identity, even as players came and went via free agency.  Reggie and his candy bar gave way to Rickey Henderson, the ultimate hot dog; Willie Randolph was driven in by Nettles and Munson, and then by Mattingly and Winfield; Billy Martin came and went like the swallows to San Capistrano.  And they had their arch-rivals, each year, every year, bracketing them to the North and South, each with their own identity: the Boston Red Sox, the perennial foils, with their slugging lineup and long burden of last-second defeats; and the Baltimore Orioles, the home of endless pitching and the three-run dinger, Earl Weaver and the Oriole Way.

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Not exactly Nostradamus-level difficulty

The Boston Red Sox have had the Devil Rays’ own time trying to hit the ball lately.

They have gotten exactly three base hits in three consecutive games, all against the rival Tampa Bay Rays, though they managed to win the first of them since one of the hits was a three-run home-run courtesy of Jacoby Ellsbury.  (He also homered in the second game of the series, and is having a helluva year overall.)

You’ll notice my ugly mug all over the comments there – not much else to do when you’re home sick – and one thing I mentioned was that the Sox were playing in Kansas City tonight, getting to face Luke Hochevar, who is not exactly the immovable object.  This led me to suggest that Boston would probably surpass three hits on their first trip through the batting order.  (Hochevar’s career: 9.7 hits per 9 IP, .274 average against. He also allows steals at an 83.1% rate for his career, so the Sox will be active on the basepaths.)

This was not really a stretch to predict, but lo, it hath come to pass.  The eighth and ninth hitters,  Jason Varitek and Mike Aviles, hit singles to give Boston four base hits on their first trip through the order.  Through five innings, they have four runs on eight hits (20 AB) and two walks.  They should have even more, but the Royals have shown better arms than their pitcher tonight – KC has ended three of the five innings by throwing out Red Sox runners.

When you’re a Mets fan, this is about all you have to think about is cool stuff like this.

For example, another thing I noticed from the Jacoby Ellsbury thread above: Bobby Bonds appears three times on the list at that post, the only man on the list more than once.  (It’s leadoff hitters who’ve met certain HR/run/RBI levels with an OPS 30% above league average.)  Bobby did it twice with the Giants, and the only year he was a Yankee.  The Yanks (most likely at Billy Martin’s insistence) traded Bonds to the Angels, and got back Mickey Rivers and Ed Figeroa.  Rivers actually finished third in the MVP vote his first year there, and Figeroa fourth in the Cy Young vote.  And they played effectively for the Yanks for a few years after, meaning that they actually came out ahead on the deal. The Angels, however, didn’t do badly for themselves, trading Bonds for Brian Downing, an underrated player in his own right – and one who would wind up making the very list Bonds is on.

I love little patterns and coincidences like that.  It’s also interesting to see how Billy Martin’s dissatisfaction led to the Yankees improving their team, almost by accident.  For one thing, there was no real indication that Rivers or Figeroa were capable of what they did their first year in New York.  For another, part of the Yankees problem in 1975 was an injury to CF Elliott Maddox, who was playing very well before wrecking his knee.  (He was arguably never the same player afterward.)

Rivers replaced Maddox in centerfield, but there was another difficutly: the Yankees had nobody to bat second behind him.  It had been Sandy Alomar, who was, to be honest, brutal.  The Yankees solved that problem by moving Roy White to that spot.  But who was going to replace Alomar in the field?  Well, the Yankees were already trading for extra pitching besides Figeroa.  Pittsburgh was giving up Ken Brett (and giving up on Dock Ellis).  They had young John Candelaria, and Jerry Reuss and Bruce Kison… they could afford to part with some pitching.  They could also afford to part with one of their two second basemen.

They kept the established Rennie Stennett, and threw in the young, unproven Willie Randolph.