Congrats, Homeboy

I moved to Zionsville, Indiana with my wife in 1997. We lived there until 2005. So I was there when Mastny was pitching high school baseball and I do remember the local paper talking about his Furman playing career. But baseball’s not the sport in Zionsville, it’s football (and golf – it’s an old money suburb – I lived in an annexed area which was not ‘approved’ by some in the hierarchy).

The odd thing about Mastny is that he was born in Indonesia, whilst his parents were on vacation. What would Lou Dobbs say about Mastny’s citizenship, hmmmm? Would Orly Taitz (or Luke Scott, for that matter) think Mastny could run for president? (Heh…)

Anyway. Mastny made it to the bigs, found a little success, got a win in the post-season (yay!) but after a failed stint in Japan is a AAA pitcher waiting for someone to get hurt. Last year he pitched in New Orleans for Florida after a time in the independent leagues, but I haven’t seen where he landed for 2011.

But an Indiana kid from a town I lived in (and lived in when he did) made the majors! Can’t beat that with a stick!

 

He’s An Infielder, He’s A Catcher, No…

He’s an infielder.

*SORRY, I’VE BEEN OUT. EBOLA AND ALL**

Baseball teams are their own worst enemies at times.

It’s no secret why the majority of players drafted in high rounds were pitchers, catchers, shortstops, and center fielders at some point in their amateur career. And then, of course, most of them are converted somewhere quickly before they do too much damage to themselves or others around them. When you hear of a prospect moving to first or left field in A ball, that means “he can hit but I can’t play him anywhere without killing someone.”

Or, because they have a ‘need’ and they try to force a player to fit the need. Take Mr. Inge.

At VCU, he was a shortstop and relief pitcher. OK, he’s probably not a pro-caliber shortstop, and has a good arm. Why not try him at…well..third base?

But the Tigers saw something in 1998, and so after they drafted and signed Inge they moved him to catcher. Yes, their catcher was Paul Bako in 1998, but their third baseman was Joe Randa, and you know, no sense in moving a guy to catcher so you can keep Joe Randa happy. (Yes, I know the Tigers soon got Dean Palmer, but the message is the same.)

Usually, players learning to catch in the minors don’t take to it all the way and are hitters first and catchers second. But Inge was different – he really became a stellar catcher. Andy Etchebarren called him one of the best catchers in the AL, and they eyebrows know catching!

But catching really took a toll on his offense. He hit .230 in 1998, .244 in 1999 in A-ball, and hit .244 in AA-AAA in 2000. Each time, he had some pop, but no real power numbers.

The Tigers promoted him to the bigs to start 2001, and he spent most of the time up in the majors from 2001-03, though he did make month-long sojourns back to Toledo in each of those years. In 2001, Inge backed up Robert Fick. The Tigers went 66-96, and Inge hit a buck-eighty with no homers and an OPS+ of 24.

In 2002, Inge was the ‘regular’ catcher for a 55-106 team. Well, he got more playing time than Mike Rivera or Matt Walkbeck at least.  He hit .202 with an OPS+ of 64.

In 2003, you recall that was the year the Tigers cratered at 43 wins. Inge was the regular catcher, hitting .203 with an OPS+ of 64 again. Again, his backup was Matt Walbeck, who had a lovely OPS+ of 18 to go with his 44 in 2002. (And you wonder why the Tigers were so horrid?)

So then they got I-Rod to catch, and Inge moved to third, where for the most part he’s been happy and semi-quasi-productive. Well, except for 2008, where he caught and played center and third. That’s a player combo straight from the King Kelly school.

Should the Tigers have made Inge a 3B all along?

Probably. But they didn’t, and it took them three MLB years to figure that out.

 

The King & His Court: Redux?

While I often quote a pitchers W-L record, more often than not it can be deceiving.

When Nolan Ryan, at age 40, went 8-16, just looking at that made him looked washed up. Never mind the 5.5 WAR, the league leading ERA, or the fact that his team scored 3.3 runs per game when he started. He was 8-16, thus he’s no good.

Then there’s Steve Blass in 1969, who went 16-10 with an ERA+ of 78 and a WAR of -1.2. Or Charles Nagy, who went 15-10 in 1998 with an ERA well over 5.

But you, the sophisticated connoisseur of baseball stats, knew that.

So you know how I pity poor poor Felix Hernandez.

Again, I pick on Larry’s Mariners, but you know, the naked truth hurts.

Felix went 13-12 for the Mariners last year. A 13-12 record on most major league teams would mean a meh season. But Felix had a 2.27 ERA, an ERA+ of 174 and a WAR of 6.0.

It was a better season than his 19-5, 2.49 mark in 2009, which is as amazing to write as it is to contemplate.

No doubt his pedestrian record was greatly helped by a team that had only three batters on its entire roster that had an OPS+ of 100 or more. And two of them (Branyan and Sweeney) weren’t there for the entire year. Ichiro, of course, was the one with an OPS+ of over 100 but even then he had a mediocre year for Ichiro (113).

The off-season thus far has been a dud for their offense. They shed, via free agency or trades: Bard, Woodward, Branyan, Langerhans, Quiroz, Kotchman, Nelson, Lopez, Rob Johnson, and Hulett. They signed: Kazmar, Luis Rodriguez, Cust, Ryan, Langerhans (hey, wait…), Gimenez, Olivo, Bard (hey, wait…), Kennedy, Gerut and Gross.

Yawn.

So what’s a guy like Hernandez to do? Or for that matter Jason Fargas or Doug Fister or David Pauley?

Well, propose a three-true outcome game. A batter, a pitcher, and either a walk, strikeout or home run.

I bet the Mariners could clean up on that – as long as they can bat Jack Cust as often as possible!

Rondell, It Ain’t That Cold!

Meet the player that would win any vote for “Most Disappointing” not because of his performance, but because of his injuries.

Had he not been made of particle board, he could have been one of the best players of his era. He was a plus defender in center, could hit, run, throw, steal bases and had some power.

I remember when the Cubs got him, he did great but couldn’t stay in the lineup. I’d gladly take a player with a .900 OPS in left field, but not if they can only play 90+ games and the replacements were Delino Deshields (in LEFT?), Matt Stairs (rather much a defensive liability) and Rosie Brown. That 2001 Cubs team needed White in the lineup – it needed Baylor to let Deshields play second when they got him and bring Eric Young off the bench. It needed to stop wasting at-bats with Gary Matthews Jr., Ron Coomer and Corey Patterson (where have we heard that before?) and build a team that could get on base for Sosa.

Instead they got a lineup that was slap-tastic, bunting all the dang time in Wrigley. They had 34 more sac bunts in 2001 than any one else in the NL. WHY? WHY? WHY?

When he got to the Twins, Rondell was basically used up. There was concern when he signed with the Twins because he had no defensive ability anymore, and couldn’t run. It turned out that even though the Twins went 96-66, they had big problems in LF and at DH, thanks to Lew Ford cratering his career, Shannon Stewart being injured, and White being injured and not producing. Jason Kubel wasn’t ready (he soon would be), and when Jason Tyner is your answer, you aren’t asking the right question.

And if Rondell White were healthy, it wouldn’t have been necessary. But Rondell wasn’t healthy. And we wore a stocking cap in his UD card. It’s going to be below zero again this week. Rondell, that’s when you don the cap!

Would You Rather Be A Joe Smith Or A Devern Hansack?

I’ve been suffering with the epizutical crud recently, and today I sound like Brenda Vaccarro after a carton of Lucky Strikes. I’m on pins and needles, the house is a mess and my cards need attention thanks to the haul I just received yesterday.

And the kids are due back any time from school.

But I had a smashing bowl or three of cream of chicken soup (I find it more soothing than chicken noodle), I watched the Onion Sportsdome (the segment with the girlfriends of the anchors was hilarious), Tosh.O and now have the live version of “Must Of Got Lost” by the J. Geils Band on the iPod.

So now I turn my attention here, to Mr. Hansack. And unfortunately named fellow, at least in these United States. In Nicaragua, Devern Hansack could be as common as Thomas Brown or some name like that.

Hansack earned a base card (not even an update, but a base card) in 2007 thanks mainly to his fame in no-hitting the Orioles on the last day of the season. Well, it wasn’t an official no-no in the eyes of MLB since he went just five innings before the game was called. Hansack faced professional tomato can Hayden Penn (9.51 career ERA in 82 1/3 innings) and was leading 9-0 when rain and boredom kicked in.

How bad was it for Baltimore? Russ Ortiz pitched an inning. Yes, Russ Ortiz. Ortiz is still on his “bang the bum slowly” tour of the majors and minors, but I thought he was done after 2006. OK, he was done in 2005, but he didn’t know it.

Two of the corner spots for Baltimore were manned by Chris Gomez (1B) and David Newhan (RF). Fernando Tatis was the only Oriole to reach base on a walk. And I have a sneaking suspicion that even if Dave Roberts, Melvin Mora and Miguel Tejada are games and professionals, I don’t think they were gung ho about playing the last game of the year in the rain and wet and cold.

But Hansack pitched well and got the win. It was nice that the game was official.

As for the rest of his career, he spent time in the bigs in 2007 and 2008, but it was either September or emergency call-ups. He was hurt in 2009 and that’s it.

Hansack’s issue was simple – he was in the wrong organization. He was older (28 when he first made the bigs) and the Red Sox were fighting for pennants and had depth. If Devern was pitching for the Orioles or A’s or Mariners, he probably could have gotten a lot longer look in the bigs. But the Red Sox aren’t the Red Sox because they have money – they know to stockpile guys like this that they can call up at a moment’s notice if they need an emergency start.

You won’t forget his name anytime soon, that’s for sure.

Future Stars? Really Upper Deck? Really?

Ever since I found these packs in the Target bargain blowouts (usually in the 8 packs for $9.99 cardboard that normally has a Heritage or A&G in it and then of course the 2007 Fleer Ultras in the back), I wondered about the name of this series.

Then, BA Benny ripped one, and in the comments I used my MST3K “Future War” line. (BTW – that episode is a must see. The movie is hideous beyond belief and the riffs by the ‘bots and Mike are sharp!)

But I really want to parse this thing out here a sec.

Let’s go with some definitions:

Future (adj.) -That is to be or come hereafter.

Star (n.) – A person who excels or performs brilliantly in a given activity, esp. a sport.

Ergo, future star is someone who will excel or perform brilliantly in the future, but is not necessarily one now.

So, who is in this series?

Well, some aging vets like Smoltz, Ortiz, Schilling, Thome, Griffey, Helton, I-Rod, Sheffield, Berkman, Guerrero, Kent, Damon, Giambi, Piazza, and Glaus. It’s now 2010, and really just Thome, Ortiz and Guerrero are active stars by the definition of stars.

Some of the future stars were guys who were in their prime or had stuff in the tank, like the Jones (Chipper and Andruw – oopsy on that one), A-Rod, Jeter, Young, etc. I can almost give them that, kinda, sorta, but to me a pack of ‘Future Stars’ should be good, young players – just getting up to arbitration eligible or just past “Super Two” status.

But the young players they DID choose, you have to wonder about the criteria.

Oh, I know they had a lot of inserts of “All-Star” Futures, numbered to 500, but those should have been the BASE of the set. Guys like Lincecum, Gordon, Cain, Verlander, de Aza. Those would have fit the criteria – yes some would miss but there is no sure thing in baseball.

But in the base set, you had guys like Conor Jackson, who had a decent 2006 as a young first baseman for Arizona. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that a first baseman with modest secondary skills (power and patience) would never be a star – especially in Arizona. Good player, yes. Star, no.

Jon Garland is another name on the checklist. He was coming off of back to back 18-win seasons. But, as for stardom he was never the ‘ace’ of the Sox. He was the third man in the rotation in the 2005 post-season, and in 2006 he led the AL in hits allowed. He never was going to be a marquee name, just a innings eater. And that’s what he is today.

Chris Duncan got on the checklist because he was on the World Series winners. But anyone who saw Duncan play the outfield knew that he was, well, um…horrific. How does -17 fielding runs above average in 2007 grab you? His numbers in the minors were rather pedestrian, and he was helped by LaRussa’s insane machinations. A ‘star’ isn’t a platoon corner outfielder, but Duncan was as a rookie and an astute observer could have seen that he was never going to be more than a platoon player. Now, were Rance Mulliniks or Gary Roenicke stars? No. Were they great platoon players? Yes. That was Duncan’s topside and it was obvious then.

And this season, while his brother Shelley is having somewhat of a renaissance in Cleveland (well, he was better than some of the other guys they trotted out there when Sizemore got hurt and they had to scramble the OF up big time), Chris was hitting .191 in Syracuse. Oof.

This leads us (FINALLY!) to the pictured card – Zach Duke, 2007 FUTURE STAR.

Do future stars get DFA’d at age 27?

Well, he is a pitcher, and you should know the rule that Baseball Prospectus put forth  (TINSTAAPP) – There Is No Such Thing As A Pitching Prospect. So these things happen. People fall off the rails really quickly. For every Maddux, Smoltz or Glavine – there’s a Steve Avery waiting to happen.

But someone should have noticed this about Mr. Duke before calling him a “Future Star”:

1. He was playing for Pittsburgh. Since Schmidt and Neagle left and Francisco Cordova blew out his arm – the Pirates have ‘developed’ guys like Josh Fogg, Kip Wells, Oliver Perez and Ian Snell. Oh, Tom Gorzelanny’s OK but now he’s a Cub, and Paul Mahlom and Ross Ohlendorf could be the next Mike Maroth’s.

2. His fantastic 2005 was promising, but 2006 threw cold water on that. The NL hitters adjusted and he gave up 255 hits and 116 runs.

3. Did I say he was playing for Pittsburgh?

Anyway, unless Upper Deck really needed a Pirate in the set, Duke wasn’t anyone’s idea of a ‘future star’. He was perhaps a ‘future All-Star representative for a crappy team that has no one else even remotely resembling a representative.’  Or perhaps a ‘future innings eater that can throw 200 innings of league average baseball if he’s got a good defense behind him’.

Well, in 2007, the NL hit .359 against him. He was hurt, you say. But in his CAREER the NL has hit .305 against him. When he was named a “Future Star” by Upper Deck, he was coming off of a season where opposing batters hit .302 against him.

He’s not really blowing it past ’em, is he?

At any rate, while I am collecting this set (it looks cool, why not?) Duke is everything that is wrong with the name “Future Star”.

And now, he’s a Diamondback, fresh off a 8-15, 5.72 season. Going to the Diamondbacks, though, means that he’ll play for a 70-win team, not a 50-win team.

That may perk up his spirits.

 

 

 

Perseverance

In 2006, Mike Maroth was injured and only pitched 53 2/3 innings. That was injury added to insult, as he suffered a lot during his time as a Tigers pitcher.

In 2003, Maroth took the hill 33 times, went 9-21 for an egregious team. But while he got a lot of sympathy, he also was egregious, giving up 34 home runs, posting a 5.73 ERA (75 ERA+).

In 2004 and 2005, he was a OK, decent placeholder. In that last year, he went 14-14 but didn’t pitch all that well.

He got a lot of money in 2006, and was pitching well, but then…ouch.

His first real success, gone. The justification of his million dollar salary, gone.

So he tried to come back.

In 2007, while people were unwrapping this card, he had a 5-2 record. But Detroit, hip to fact that a 5-2 record doesn’t make up for a 5.06 ERA, especially when the pitcher was coming off of an injury and they had a hot prospect (Andrew Miller) in the wings. So Detroit (Rock City) moved him down the line to the Cards for a PTBNL.

And while more kids were unwrapping this card, Maroth was imploding his MLB career.

His first start was a gem – 7 1/3 innings, just two hits and one run.

After that, ick. He had a bad start, a mediocre start, and then, five straight appearances where the opposition scored 10 runs or more.

Let me say that again.

In his next five appearances, the opposition scored more than 10 runs in the game.

10 runs!

The low point is when he mopped up after a horrid Braden Looper start, and just added kerosene to the fire, as the Cards lost 15-1. He gave up 7 in 1 2/3 innings.

Or was the low point where he himself gave up 10 runs in 5 innings against the Braves as a starter, where LaRussa just let him absorb the punishment.

As a Cardinal, he was 0-5 with a 10.66 ERA. So, now what.

He could have quit. He made almost $6.3 million as a major league player. Even with taxes and the agent fee, that’s more than enough to live on.

But he kept at it. And it was ugly.

He made three starts for Omaha in 2008. 0-2 with a 12.91 in just 7 2/3 innings.

The Blue Jays signed him for a look-see in 2009, but released him at the end of string. Career over?

No. The Twins signed him, rehabbed him, and he pitched in a few games for their GCL and IL affiliates.

Yes, Maroth played in the GCL this past year. And he started three games for Rochester. A Rochester squad that was the scourge of the IL – 49-95. And yet, here was Maroth, trying to get back to the promised land, playing for a bad team that was getting worse as players got called up or hurt.

What that says to me about Mike is that he could have taken the money and ran. He could have lived off of his ignominy and millions. But he didn’t want his last entry in the majors to have a 10+ ERA. And I can’t blame him.

Many think that making millions takes the fire out of baseball players. Mike Maroth has millions, but he’s given three years of his life to try to get back to the bigs without success, and odds are he will try again in 2011.

That is perseverance.

 

 

 

 

 

Paul Byrd – 2007 Topps

October 26, 2010

“Look Into My Eyes…You Are Getting Sleeeeepy!”

The Topps photographer needs to back off a bit here. But Byrd seemed to hypnotize managers into keeping him around.

In 2006, Byrd was the veteran presence, and he had a winning record (10-9) but a high ERA (4.88) and was only 0.3 WAR. All that for $7 million!

While collectors were opening Series 2 packs and seeing Byrd put the voodoo on them, he was having his last good full season. 2.1 WAR, 15-8 record with a 4.59 ERA (ERA+ of 99). He was probably a bit lucky, but he was definitely a steadying presence as Cliff Lee (yes, THE Cliff Lee) and Jeremy Sowers (yes, THE Jeremy Sowers) were found lacking, and Jake Westbrook was hurt for some of the season. The Indians won the division thanks to great pitching by Sabathia and Carmona, and good performances by Byrd and Aaron Laffey “Taffey”.

Stats aside, Byrd was quite valuable, and probably was good in the room and taught those young-ins a thing or two about pitching.

Sabathia, Lee, Carmona, and Westbrook have done alright for themselves.

 

 

Matt Capps – 2007 Topps

October 10, 2010

Coffee is for closers!

Well, everyone needs to grab a cup.

Nothing irritates me more (besides slappies playing corner outfield or infield positions and managers with an overgrown affection for LOOGYs and ROOGYs and 12-man pitching staffs) than the current usage of the ace of the bullpen.

The game is potentially won or lost at many points during a game.

It used to be that the ‘firemen’ came in to keep the game within one run, came in when it was tied, came in early when ahead. They came into the game when the game was at risk – with men on base.

Getting three outs in an inning when you start with no one on base? That’s your job. Whoop-de-damn-do. If it’s the 4th, 7th or 9th, a major league pitcher should be able to do that.

When entering the game at the start of the ninth, any major league pitcher worthy of his uniform should be able to:

A. Close out a three-run lead.

B. Close out a two-run lead

C. Close out a one-run lead with the bottom of the order coming up.

A real ‘fireman’ can leave those jobs to the junior recruits. A real ‘fireman’ comes in with the tying run on third and no one out in the 7th and shuts ’em down. A real ‘fireman’ faces 3-4-5 in the 8th up one with a runner on second.

Managers are managing for stats – and they probably are pressured by agents to secure a ‘logical’ bullpen. Players like ‘order’ and want to have ‘roles’, and claim they need them to succeed. Well, that’s just…

You pitch when your name is called. If you are such a ‘closer’ then close the game out when it needs to be closed. That could be the 6th or 7th.

Why am I creating a diatribe on Matt Capps’ card? Why not on a card of Shawn Chacon, whose 2004 season irritates me to no end? (He was the ‘closer’ all right, 1-9 with a 7.11 ERA. Oh, yeah, he had 35 saves. Whooopee! He also had a -1.7 WAR. Batters had a .914 OPS against him. He had 9 blown saves. You telling me Steve Reed, Scott Dohman or Tim Harikkala couldn’t have done better as a ‘closer’?? Really? How about Marc Kroon down in Colorado Springs? Never gave him a chance in June, but he had a great year down in that launching pad an hour south of town. Grrrr….)

Oh, yeah, why on Matt Capps’ card? Well, next year, the Twins have a choice to make.

Joe Nathan comes back, hopefully, from surgery.

Jon Rauch did a heck of a job in the bullpen.

When the Twins got Capps, yes they got a closer, but they did it to shore up the bullpen from head to toe. Same with the acquisition of Brian Fuentes.

Jesse Crain can be infuriating, but he’s got a great arm. Jose Mijares needs to stop trying to look like Rich Garces and get in shape. Matt Guerrier is quality as well. Pat Neshek could come back (or be non-tendered).

Fuentes’ option did not vest, so he’ll be a free agent, so he may be out of the mix. But anyway, even without Fuentes that’s three ‘proven’ closers, and four pitchers with that ability to be the ace in the pen (or at least a main stopper).

A luxury. Gardenhire could probably not wear out Crain and Guerrier like he does every year with that cast.

So, mix-and-match, but pitch not by role, but by situation.

Unless they make a big trade, you will have a team with those pitchers on it. Make it an advantage. Make it a 6-inning game.

Just please…no more Randy Flores!

 

 

“Another One? Jeez!”

“Man, I’ve been standing out here for 15 minutes. Can’t you get a good shot? The rest of the team is waiting.”

“Yes, I’m grumpy. You would be too. My arm hurts. It hurt last year. It hurt in ’04 but I didn’t say anything.”

“COME ON DUDE!”

“You know, I’m sick of people reminding me how much money I’m going to be paid and that I shouldn’t whine. My friggin’ arm HURTS, dude.”

“That’s it, I’m done. Screw it. Give me four Advil and a six-pack.”