Friday, June 21, 2013

My Suggestion For Fixing the Tigers' Closer Situation

Anyone who follows baseball regularly and the Detroit Tigers specifically knows that the Detroit closer situation is in a bit of a mess.  Jose Valverde once again has shown that he can't be counted on for finishing games out on a regular basis. Thursday, manager Jim Leyland named reliever Joaquin Benoit as the closer, but we all are not sure how permanent this will be.
The prevailing thought in baseball is that the Tigers will go out find a closer in a trade before the July 31 deadline.  The current rumors are that the Tigers are one of the teams who are interested in Philadelphia Phillies' Jonathan Papelbon.  He has been one of the top closers in baseball since 2006 and is currently signed thru 2015, so this could solve the problem for the next few years.  The drawback, of course, is that Detroit will likely have to give up something high in the deal.  Phillies, who has all the leverage here, will be asking in return for some of the Tigers' top prospects such as outfielders Avisail Garcia and Nick Castellanos and pitcher Jose Alvarez. 
These young players are the future of the Tigers and should not be readily available in a trade.  At some point, current players such as Austin Jackson, Max Scherzer and Doug Fister will be getting high salary offers on the free agent market and the Tigers will not be able to afford to keep each one.  They will need some players within the organization be ready to replace the departed. Tigers may also lower their payroll in the future and will not want to resign all of their players or afford comparable free agents during the offseason.   Detroit could also go after a lesser name in a trade and give up less, but they will still give up somebody and not be guaranteed winning a World Series.

My suggestion would not cost Detroit any current prospects and not require an acquisition of any kind.  I think that Detroit should de-emphasize the closer role and use the pieces that currently own.  Right now, the Tigers have five legitimate starters with Justin Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello and a sixth who is ready to be a part of the rotaion in Drew Smyly.  Plus, Jose Alvarez has shown he is capable in his two spot starts subbing for the injured Sanchez.
I believe Smyly and Alvarez(once Sanchez is back as a starter) both could finish out games in two or three inning stints twice or so a week each.  The current usage of the bullpen in baseball that a team needs one person each for the seventh and eighth and another one for the closer role for the ninth is excessive in my eyes. I think the teams are putting unneeded extra pressure on each pitcher to get three outs to maintain a lead and also are relying on too many pitchers for each game.  The manager doesn't know that each reliever will be as effective as the last one and should not have the mindset of using a pitcher for one inning apiece. He should be able to use a pitcher longer when he is pitching well in a game.
I think a Benoit and a lefty specialist like a Phil Coke could still be used effectively whether getting out of a jam in a sixth or seventh inning and have Smyly or Alvarez finish the games or be used to close games out as is it usually done now on occasion as Smyly or Alvarez can not pitch every game.  I also believe that Smyly and Alvarez, who are both are trained starters, are most effective when starting an inning for themselves as opposed to putting out fires during innings.  Let the pitchers be used in situations that their most comfortable in and good results should follow.
An added bonus of using Smyly and Alvarez in these roles is that in case the Tigers lose one of their starters to an injury or free agency, one of these two will be ready to step into the rotation.  They would be accustomed to pitching several innings at a time multiple times a week at the big league level.   This "extended closer" role would also be great for a rookie pitcher on an innings limit like Stephen Strasburg of the Washington Senators last year or for a current closer who may become a starter like the Cincinnati Reds' Aroldis Chapman.
There are many teams that have solid bullpens as they are currently used and should not be messed around with, but if you are favorite team is having the same problem as the Detroit Tigers, they may have to try something new like putting less emphasis on the closer role to finish games more successfully.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Historical Father/Son Moment

Just about every boy is introduced to the game of baseball through their father.  Whether it is going to their first game together or just playing catch with each other in the yard.  There is some fortunate ones that have their dads as professional players.  These kids get hang to out at a professional stadium and learn the game from the best players and coaches.  Many of these follow in their dad's footsteps and become big league players also.
There is literally dozens of current major leaguers that are sons of former big leaguers and even a third generation family of major leaguers in the Hairstons(Sam-Jerry,  Johnny-Jerry Jr. and Scott).  Here is a complete list of father/son tandems in baseball history:
There has even been a couple big leaguers who played along with their fathers on the same team.  One is Tim Raines Jr and his dad who played together for the Baltimore Orioles in 2001.

1991 Score

The other pair, Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr,  did something so unique that it would be difficult to duplicate ever again in baseball.  Ken Griffey who already had a distinguished career in the big leagues as a part of three All Star games and winning two World Series titles with the Cincinnati Reds, signed with the Seattle Mariners in August of 1990.  When he did this he joined his son who already had been with Seattle since 1989.
On September 14, 1990 against the California Angels history was made.  Ken Griffey Sr. came up to bat in the first inning with one runner on and hit a home run over the left centerfield wall off of Kirk McCaskill.  Griffey Jr due up next, greeted his dad at the plate and promptly did the same thing-hitting a home run to left centerfield.  Thus becoming the only pair of father/sons to hit home runs in the same game and obviously only ones to go back to back.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Baseball Card of Week: 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes Jimmie Foxx

1983 Donruss HOF Heroes
One of the more underrated baseball card sets of my childhood is perhaps the 1983 Donruss Hall of Fame Heroes set. It consists of 44 cards and were sold in packs that included puzzle cards that made up a Mickey Mantle photo.  Each card depicts members of the Hall of Fame including a couple Negro League stars in Josh Gibson and James "Cool Papa" Bell.  Also significant about this set is that each player's photo is from the artistry of Dick Perez. Perez created original artworks for Donruss each year for its popular Diamond Kings subsets during the 1980s and 90s.   His complete work can be viewed on his website here:

Why I am mentioning this set today and Jimmie Foxx specifically is that today is anniversary of an unique event in MLB history.   On June 11, 1927 Mickey Cochrane entered the game as a pinch runner in ninth inning and when he did this, the Philadelphia Athletics fielded seven different players in the lineup that would eventually become members of the Hall of Fame.  They include: in right field Ty Cobb, centerfielder Al Simmons, leftfielder Zach Wheat, firstbaseman Jimmie Foxx, secondbase Eddie Collins, pitcher Lefty Grove and catcher Mickey Cochrane.
Obviously not all these players were in their prime in 1927.  Cobb, Wheat and Collins were nearing the end of their careers while Foxx and Cochrane were at their beginning.   Philadelphia ended up finishing second in the American League standings to the New York Yankees and their Murderers' Row which included hall of famers Earle Combs, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri.
And also, the 1927 Philadelphia Athletics was managed by Connie Mack, who also is a member of the Hall of Fame. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Star is Born in Yasiel Puig

The Los Angeles Dodgers placed outfielders Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp on the disabled list this past week.  This made room for the team to call up their top prospect, 22 year old outfielder Yasiel Puig.  Puig(pronounced "pweeg") was originally signed by the Dodgers for seven years and $42 million in 2012.  Puig was the talk of this past spring training as he displayed his talents as a 5 tool player - hit for average, hit for power, speed, field and throw.  He did not make the big league club out of spring training and everyone has been anticipating his MLB debut ever since.

2013 Bowman Chrome mini refractor
The wait came to an end last night as he started in right field against the San Diego Padres.  Dodgers manager Don Mattingly made Puig his leadoff hitter in the batting order, which is a rarity for someone in their major league debut.  Mattingly wanted to generate some excitement at the top of the order that has been lacking production much like their crosstown Angels did with Mike Trout a year ago.  
Puig did not disappoint. He got his first major league hit as he looped a ball to centerfield in his first at bat and later had a seeing eye single to right field.  He did not look overmatched at all during any of his at bats as he finished with the two hits in four plate appearances.  Puig also showcased his speed as he ran the basepaths.
In the field, he showed off his arm twice as he made strong throws to 2nd base and home plate.  Both base runners were called safe despite Puig's well thrown balls.  It was Puig's third and final throw that people will be talking about.  With one out and one man on in the ninth inning, Puig caught the ball at the warning track and threw to first in one motion to double off the baserunner, Chris Denorfia to end the game, a 2-1 Dodger victory.
Puig displayed four out of the five tools all in his major league debut.  I know this is just one game, but I am sure the rest of major league baseball took notice. Especially made a note not run on Puig's arm.  Puig will eventually have bad games and struggle as everyone else.  He would have to make adjustments to their opposition's gameplans, but I have no doubt he will as he showed maturity and athleticsm to do so.  He also may be back in the minors soon when Crawford and Kemp are ready to play again.  But right now, Yasiel Puig made his major league debut one that will be remembered for awhile. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Hoping There is No David Clydes in this year's MLB Draft

The major league baseball draft is this week.  Many young men will take the first steps in realizing their boyhood dreams.  As for the number one overall pick, this year's selection is still up for grabs with University of Oklahoma pitcher Jonathan Gray and Stanford pitcher Mark Appel as the top candidates.  History has shown us that this honor is no different than any other pick in terms of major league success.  One could become a future hall of famer like Ken Griffey Jr.(1987-Seattle) or Chipper Jones(1990-Atlanta) or not make the major leagues at all such as Steve Chilcutt(1966-NY Mets) or Brien Taylor(1991-NY Yankees).
1974 Topps
The most infamous overall draft pick in MLB history is perhaps David Clyde in 1973.  Clyde was a dominating left handed pitcher at Westchester High School in Texas.  He had 18-0 record while only given up three earned runs in 148 innings pitched during his senior year and was considered to having the best arm of any high schooler in the nation.  Texas Rangers selected him as the top pick and gave him $125,000 signing bonus, a record at the time.
Rangers who were in their second year in Texas after moving from Washington had poor attendance.  Rangers owner Bob Short decided to use Clyde as a draw and named him a starter just 19 days after graduating from high school and without any minor league experience.  He was a  box office success, For his debut, Texas sold out the 35,000+ seats in Arlington Stadium. 
As for the game itself, Clyde beat Minnesota 4-3.  Clyde pitched five innings, threw 112 pitches, struck out eight batters and walked seven others.   Clyde stayed in the big leagues and drew big crowds for the rest of the year.  He finished the season with a 4-8 record and an ERA of 5.01 in 93 innings pitched.
By 1975, Clyde developed arm problems due to the stress on his arm at such a young age. He was traded to Cleveland and out of baseball in 1979.  Clyde's first big league manager, Whitey Herzog later stated in his book, "White Rat", that he regretted using Clyde so much and should have not gone along with Short's desire to use him.
So before the rise and fall of pitching phenoms Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, there was a David Clyde.  Clyde should always be remembered as the posterboy for mismanaging young pitching arms in baseball.  When you see a ballclub like the Washington Nationals put an innings limit on a Stephen Strasburg, think of Clyde.  I am a firm believer in not rushing a player to the majors.  Let him experience the ups and downs of professional ball in the minor leagues.  Failures will often occur more when a player debuts in the majors too soon rather than too late. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Baseball Card of the Week: 1975 Topps Mini Herb Washington

Former Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley was always looking for a marketing edge for his club.  Whether coming up with orange baseballs, flashy nicknames and uniforms, bonuses for players growing mustaches, ball girls or having a mule as a team mascot.  Finley was one of major influences in getting the designated hitter established and playing World Series games at night and Herb Washington was also beneficiary of another one Finley's grand ideas.

Herb Washington was a world class sprinter during his days in college at Michigan State University where he was a four-time NCAA All-American, won one NCAA title and seven Big Ten conference titles. He also broke world records in the 50 and 60 yard dashes.  Despite not having played organized baseball since junior high, Finley signed Washington as a "designated pinch runner."
Oakland hired former stolen base champ Maury Wills to tutor Washington in baserunning. Washington got off to a slow start in the 1974 season as he was caught stealing in four out of his five attempts. Oakland also struggled early, but both the team and Washington rebounded nicely. Oakland did end up winning the pennant and Washington ended the season with 29 stolen bases and 29 runs scored in 92 games.  Washington became known for being picked off as a game tying run in Los Angeles Dodgers lone victory against Oakland in the 1974 World Series.  He did not steal a base in the playoffs and was released by Oakland early the following year.
A's manager Alvin Dark did offer Washington to go hit after Oakland clinched the division in 1974, but Washington declined the offer as he knew one plate appearance would ruin his significance in baseball history.  Washington is the only person to play in 100 or more games without going in the field or up to bat.
After his playing days, Washington used his baseball salary for buying franchises in the McDonald's fast food restaurant chain and later became one of the first minority owners in professional hockey as he founded the Youngstown Steelhounds.

As for the card itself, Topps test marketed a miniature version of it's regular set in 1975 in several markets including California and Michigan.  The 1975 mini set is the exact same set as it's standard counterpart and is the only year Topps produced it.  Even with the scarcity of the mini set compared to the regular, there is minimal added value between the two.  The Herb Washington card is the only one ever to designate the position as "pinch runner."