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Did Guardians Do Well With Small Ball?
PLUS: GOOD RIDDANCE TO THE RIDICULOUS 'GHOST RUNNER'
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“He is baseball's oldest living MVP winner at 97. He played for the Yankees in three World Series and the Houston Colt .45s in their first year of 1962. He started and ended his career in Philadelphia, winning 24 for the 1952 A's enroute to the MVP. Ended with Phillies in 1964. Standing only 5-6, his record was 119-99 with eight Gold Gloves three 3 All-Star games. In 1952 ,he struck out Whitey Lockman, Jackie Robinson and Stan Musial. MLB should recognize Bobby Shantz during the Yankees-Houston ALCS.”
— Reader Dave Cohen, Atlanta, GA
Did the all-daylight menu of the NL Division Series doom the Braves? Atlanta went 24-27 in regular-season day games in 2022 . . .
Even if the White Sox re-sign first baseman 36-year-old José Abreu, how much longer can they rely on him as their primary offensive force? He posted career lows in homers (15) and slugging percentage (.446) over 157 games in 2022 . . .
Some club (including the Braves, his original team) could steal a four-time Gold Glove shortstop by signing veteran Andrelton Simmons on the cheap ($1 million or so) and vastly improve its pitching staff in the process . . .
JT Realmuto’s inside-the-park homer in the NLDS wasn’t his first one; the fleet backstop also had one as a Marlin on Sept. 9, 2015. No other NL catcher ever hit even one.
Small Ball Might Not Be the Best Fall Ball
By David Blumberg
Sunday, May 28, 2006: Nationals 10, Dodgers 4
Charlie Steiner: A hard-throwing right-hander by the name of Santiago Ramirez making his third appearance for the Nationals, in two innings he's given up a run and three base hits. Ha! It would be interesting if Russell Martin can connect.
Steve Lyons: Well, you know, this is one of those things that I've talked a lot about this. Some people disagree with the philosophy, but I always feel like if you're gonna hit a home run, it either needs to tie or put you ahead. I would love to see a double in the gap, and my reason for that is you're gonna score two or three runs, and you're gonna keep the defense in the stretch, and you're gonna keep guys on base, keep pressure. If you hit a home run right now, you're still down by a run and you sort of have to start your rally all over again.
Steiner: That's like me presenting you with a million dollars in brand new bills, and you're complaining that the serial numbers are out of sequence.
H/T Rob McMillin
Dusty Baker once said that walks clog the bases, an opinion he was rightly maligned for but that still exposed a fundamental divide between baseball schools of thought. Proponents of “old-school” baseball thinking bemoan the strikeout-driven, home-run- heavy sport baseball has become. MLB, for its part, seems to at least partially agree as it is banning the shift for 2023 in an attempt to generate more hits.
With analytics having exploded all over the sport, you might think this type of thinking would have faded into history, reduced to only a whisper. However, Dusty is still managing [in Houston] and the Cleveland Guardians social media team tweeted this out on October 15. That tweet is “cringe,” as the kids say.
While I am not saying a team’s Twitter account represents its entire organization, we can’t avoid it either. Social media posts reflect the values of a franchise, whether we want them to or not, and this tone from the Guardians is reflective of their organization
I personally have no problem with a team playing “small ball.” How you choose to define that is a personal preference, but I see small ball as the philosophy built around getting runners on, moving them over, and ultimately scoring them in a slow and methodical manner.
It seems indisputable to me that this is, in fact, the way the Guardians played on offense this season. Whether that was a good thing is where I disagree with the Guardians.
Cleveland had the lowest team strikeout rate in baseball at 18.2 per cent while slugging only .383, good for 21st in the league. The Guardians also stole 119 bases, which comes in third in baseball this season.
Some of that is good. I like stolen bases and don’t know many baseball fans who don’t. That being said, the Guardians rated as a very average-at-best offensive squad in nearly every other metric available to us.
The Guardians were a plucky unit in 2022, relying on excellent pitching from a trio of top starters in Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, and Cal Quantrill while getting standout rookie seasons from Steven Kwan and Oscar Gonzalez.
The former of those rookies, Kwan, became the avatar of this reliance on old-school small ball. Kwan, a 2018 fifth-round pick out of Oregon State, became a darling of baseball media earlier this season as his playing style became an example of everything most critics of the sport would like to see baseball move back to.
Kwan posted near-identical walk and strikeout rates of 9.7 and 9.4, respectively. He slugged just .400 while stealing 19 bases and accumulating an excellent 21 defensive runs saved in left field. His debut season amounted to 4.5 WAR, which makes him a borderline superstar.
Playing as well as Steven Kwan and doing it the way he did in 2022 is certainly difficult, but it seems to be an identity the Guardians take pride in.
Now, I would argue that this is more a justification for a Guardians ownership reticent to spend money on the major-league roster, but I know I don’t speak for everyone on that. Some find the low-payroll underdog status of the Guardians charming.
The Guardians and especially Steven Kwan do show that a small-ball philosophy can win games in Major League Baseball if paired with enough high-caliber pitching. But at the end of the ALDS, it was the homer-mashing Yankees standing tall.
So maybe small ball isn’t the best fall ball after all.
David Blumberg is a long-suffering Cubs fan. You can find his baseball opinions on Twitter and other musings on Medium at DGBlog. Follow him on Twitter @DGBlumberg.
Glad to See ‘Manfred Man’ Disappear During Postseason Play
By Dan Schlossberg
The best thing about the baseball post-season is the disappearance of “the Manfred Man” — the free runners placed on second base at the start of every extra inning if a game goes past the usual nine.
In the 53 years I have covered Major League Baseball, it is by far the most idiotic rule I have ever seen — and a strong contender for the worst in baseball history.
Ostensibly designed to shorten games, it merely creates false finishes, like putting falsies on Marilyn Monroe.
The Manfred/Selig regime — we have to remember that the current commissioner was literally handed the baton of the last one — has given the game lots of wrong-headed ideas that have hurt both integrity and tradition, not to mention baseball history.
They include three-divisional play, wild cards, additional wild cards, postseason tournaments, inter-league play, seven-inning games during doubleheaders, advertising on player and umpire uniforms, and — coming soon to a theater near you — “balanced” schedule where every team plays every other team. That means even more inter-league play at a time less is needed and none would be even better.
The Rules Committee rules the roost, voting to add a pitch clock and eliminate the shift next season but also to enlarge the bases in an effort to boost the offense.
But nothing was said about the Manfred Man, which survived until the end of the regular season and could also raise its ugly head when the bell rings for 2023.
That rule needs to be revoked. It shortens games, depriving fans of the 15-inning nail-biter played between Seattle and Toronto in the second game of the American League Division Series (the M’s won, 8-7) and the 18-inning, 1-0 ALDS win in Seattle that gave the Houston Astros their sixth straight ticket to the American League Championship Series. Free baseball, as Skip Caray used to say when a game went past the regulation nine innings.
The automatic runner also shortens games the wrong way, favoring home teams and penalizing pitchers who could easily lose without yielding a hit or a walk.
With division races undecided before the last few days this year, it’s obvious how influential the Manfred Man can be. One game often makes a huge difference.
At least the seven-inning rule for doubleheaders has disappeared. Remember when Madison Bumgarner pitched a seven-inning hitless game in Atlanta, getting credit for a shutout and complete game but not a no-hitter? That’s another rule that needs a rewrite: crediting no-hitters even when they occur in games shortened by weather or pre-nuptial agreement. Bumgarner wasn’t the first pitcher to be denied.
Major League Baseball has an official historian in John Thorn, the studious, thoughtful, and knowledgable author of several terrific books. It should lean on him to provide the best path to the future.
From this perspective, that path should begin by rolling back the rules clock — not just wearing old-time uniforms for a few games.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is a baseball purist who likes day games on natural grass, eight-team leagues, and the sports sections of tabloid newspapers. He’s author or co-author of 40 baseball books and answering messages to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“He has so many different pitches. Even at the end of the season, he wasworking on a few different types because he was facing teams in our division multiple times and wanted to give them different looks.”
— Padres manager Bob Melvin on Yu Darvish
The Phillies were 21-29 after 50 games — worse than Pirates, Rockies, Rangers, or D’backs. In the wild-card era that began in 1995, only 3 teams that reached playoffs (2003 Marlins, 2005 Astros, and 2019 Nationals) were same or worse at same stage but the 2022 team went 23 games over .500 under Rob Thomson, then held Braves to a .180 average in the NLDS while Fried/Strider/Morton posted a composite 16.43 ERA . . .
Braves starter Charlie Morton was hit by line drive in consecutive postseason starts: Game 1 of the 2021 World Series (Yuli Gurriel broke his leg) and Game 4 of the NLDS 2022 (Alec Bohm hit liner off his arm) . . .
Spencer Strider or Atlanta teammate Michael Harris II will earn an $750,000 bonus by winning the Rookie of the Year award, with second place worth $500,000 — both part of MLB’s new pre-arbitration bonus pool . . .
Former pitcher Joe Blanton on Houston manager Dusty Baker: “If he had a dream about a situation and in the game a similar situation would come up, he would make a change based on that.”
The superstitious, toothpick-munching Baker still wears full-length long-johns from when he played; he said he never went on the DL so he was going to keep wearing them.
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HERE’S THE PITCH is published daily except Sundays and holidays. Brian Harl [email@example.com] handles Monday and Tuesday editions, Elizabeth Muratore [firstname.lastname@example.org] does Wednesday and Thursday, and Dan Schlossberg [email@example.com] edits the weekend editions on Friday and Saturday. Readers are encouraged to contribute comments, articles, and letters to the editor. HTP reserves the right to edit for brevity, clarity, and good taste.