Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Thoughts on Tommy John Surgeries, Scoring, Strikeouts and Shifts

If you have been watching baseball this season, you may have noticed a couple trends.  One is the increase in number of pitchers who are having Tommy John surgery and the other is the amount of defensive shifts.  More unnoticed is the fact overall scoring continues to be down and strikeouts, up.
I am going to give some random thoughts on these topics and give a factor that is never discussed that may also be a reason in all the surgeries and strikeouts.  And shifting may be a good thing.  Like I said some thoughts only. I could be way off,  Just thinking out loud.

In the first two months of 2014 MLB season, there was been as many pitchers who are having Tommy John surgery as all of last season.  What is the cause of this epidemic?  No one really has the one right answer.  But experts believe the increase number of pitchers throwing harder at a younger age and them pitching year around are the biggest factors. Added weightlifting is also a factor. The more muscle tends to strain the ligaments more.  I don't know what can be done about preventing future surgeries.  MLB is studying this problem and hope to find a possible solution(s),  Logically, if we can make a mandate on number of pitches thrown a week and year and number of teams a pitcher plays on a year for the youth sounds like a good start.  But. what about Latin American kids? Hard to regulate there.  Speaking of international pitchers, there have been very few Japanese pitchers getting the surgery done.  Is the problem in Japan also? If not, should MLB look into their throwing programs?

MLB scoring is down to the lowest in almost 40 years.  That is before the designated hitter became a part of the league.  One reason, of course, is the number of specialized pitchers.  More relief pitchers are coming in for one inning at a time with harder and nastier stuff than ever before.  Thus making the job of the hitters much more difficult.   End result is more strikeouts, less scoring and pitchers give max effort all the time, which means Tommy John surgery is more likely.
Another factor in the high number of strikeouts is that we are coming out of the steroid era.  During this era, hitters no longer became embarrassed by striking out and went for home runs even on 2 strike counts.  Also, just about every batter now has a stance that can produce a home run more.  If you look at games from the early 80s and earlier, you will see many more opened, closed and crouched stances which results in more singles than home runs.
One possible factor that is never mentioned for these trends is that the ballparks are smaller than they were decades ago.  In present day baseball, just about every lineup has seven of the starting nine that are home run threats.  So, more hitters are going for home runs, striking out more and pitchers are using maximum effort more often.  What if the fences were moved back so far where only three or four hitters per lineup would be home run hitters?  Would the batters go for more single base hits? which could cut down on strikeouts and pitchers going under the knife.  Moving fences back and reducing home runs could hurt the game's popularity and it is not really feasible in actually getting done physically.

But one possible solution is being used already, the defensive shift.  Shifts are so common now that is used not only for the big sluggers but for everyone  Shifts are being used even with runners on base and changes from pitch to pitch.  Frankly, I think they have gotten out of hand, but if the numbers tell you something, it would probably be bad not to follow them.  It is now up to the batters to adjust to the shifts.   The hitters need to use all parts of the field and not just blindly hit into the shift every time.  When the hitters try use more of the field, they will become more disciplined.  This will likely reduce the number of strikeouts and scoring could possibly go up also.   I don't think it will have any affect on number of Tommy John surgeries. Two out of three ain't bad though.

It would be interesting to see how this shifting will play out.  At the end of the day, the ridiculous number of defensive shifts could be a good for the game.  Forcing the players to become better overall hitters and bringing some fundamentals back in the game.
I hope MLB finds some good data in the epidemic of Tommy John surgeries.  Even though most of the surgeries are deemed successful, it is never a good thing when a player has a surgery of any kind, especially the stars of the game.  Along with all the other baseball fans, I will be watching.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Martinezes of Baseball

One of the more recently acquired Detroit Tigers is outfielder J.D. Martinez.  When Martinez joined the Tigers he became a teammate of Victor Martinez(no relation).  It got me thinking of the number of MLB players in the past and present with a surname of Martinez.  And how a good number of them turned out to be very good players.
So,  I will take some time and mention some of the more notable Martinezes in MLB history.  There has been a total of 44 players in MLB history with a last name of Martinez and here are my top nine:

9) Dave : Outfielder(1986-2001). He played for several teams, most notably with the Cubs, Expos and Giants. He once played for four different teams in one season(Devil Rays, Cubs, Rangers and Blue Jays in 2000). He has been the bench coach for Tampa Bay since 2008 and could be a future manager.

8)Buck: Catcher(1969-1986). He had a very average big league career as a backup catcher mostly for the Royals and Blue Jays.  He did become a manager for the Blue Jays for a brief time.  Buck has had most success as a broadcaster. He has worked for ESPN, TBS and does Blue Jays game full time now.

7)Tippy: Pitcher(1974-1988). He spent most of his career with Baltimore. Was an All Star and World Series Champion in 1983.  He is once picked off three runners off at first base in one inning.

6)Ramon: Pitcher(1988-2001). One time ace of the Los Angeles Dodgers. He was an All Star in 1990 and pitched a no hitter in 1995.

5)Victor: Catcher/DH(2002-present) The current Detroit Tiger and former Indian and Red Sox has developed into one of the finer hitters in the game. He is 4x All Star and has won a Silver Slugger in 2004

4)Tino: First Base(1990-2005). Former World Series hero of the Yankees also played for Mariners and Cardinals.  Tino won four World Series championships while in New York and has been named to two All Star games. He also won a Silver Slugger and won the HR Derby in 1997.

3)Dennis: Pitcher (1976-1998). Most notably with Orioles, Expos and Indians. He is the all time winningest pitcher in MLB history for Latin Americans.  He was a four time All Star, a World Series Champion and pitched a perfect game during his career.

2)Edgar: DH(1987-2004) Spent his entire career with Seattle and mostly as a DH, He is regarded as one of the all time best designated hitters. The DH of the year award is named on his behalf.  Edgar's accolades include: 7x All Star, 5x Silver Slugger and 2x Batting champion. He also won the Roberto Clemente award in 2004.

1)Pedro Pitcher(1992-2009) younger brother of Ramon is a sure fire future Hall of Famer. Pitched for Expos and Red Sox most notably. He was a 8x All Star including an MVP in 1999 game. 3x Cy Young Award winner,  Led league in wins once, ERA-five times and strikeouts, three times.  He won a World Series with Red Sox in 2004.

One honorable mention to the list is Reginald Martinez Jackson.  That is the full name of none other than Mr. October himself, Reggie Jackson. 
Couple sidenotes on my list of Martinezes.  Pedro and Ramon are the only ones above who are related to each other.  Also several of the above players were teammates with each other: Pedro and Ramon both with Dodgers and Red Sox, Tippy and Dennis with the Orioles and Tino and Edgar with the Mariners.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

60 Ways Baseball is Better than Football

It is that time of year that the NFL draft is upon us.  It always reminds me why baseball is a better game.  It also makes me recall an article  by Thomas Boswell in the Washington Post from back in the mid 80s where he gives his reasons why baseball is better than football.  Since his Post item is roughly 30 years old, I thought I would give a more up to date version.
My 60 ways why baseball is better:
1) Baseball has no halftimes
2) Baseball has no halftime performances by bands or anybody else.
3) Baseball has innings vs. time clock.  You have to get all the outs no matter the lead.  No milking of clock to ensure a victory and comebacks are always possible.
4)In football a coin flip decides who gets ball first, in baseball home team always has last chance. True home field advantage
5)Each baseball stadium has it's own unique dimensions.  Another home field advantage. Plus the different ballparks allows each team to be built differently.  Unlike in NFL, everyone runs the seem to run the same offense because all the fields are the same size.
6)Baseball has the near elimination of domes and astroturf.  Much more common in NFL.
7)Baseball fans are closer to the field, easier to interact with players and not be 10-20 yards away from the field of play.
8) You can get a baseball as a souvenir from the game, in football they put a net up so you can't get to the ball after extra point and field goal attempts.
9)Baseball stadiums are appealing to the eye and have history to them, football stadiums all look the same.
10) If you go early you can watch batting practice at a baseball game, in football you get to see the stretching and warmups.
11) Baseball has free giveaways and promotions at games and post game fireworks.
12)Baseball is more enjoyable to watch at the ballpark where football, the tv is a better option.
13)Almost on any given day, you can decide midday if you want to go to a ballgame, you have to wait a week for each game.
14)Because it is played daily, you only have 24 hours of hype and second guessing opposed to a week or more of senseless talk
15)In baseball, you have an option to keep score of the game.
16)The next day you can see the boxscore of a baseball game and fully understand what happened during the game. you can't do that in football.
17)Baseball is easier to follow by everyone even the manager/coach. Ask the manager what happened on a play after the game, he would say pitcher hung a pitch or outfielder missed the cut off guy.  Ask a football head coach, he says he has to check the game film before knowing what exactly happened.
18)Baseball games are not decided by kickers while rest of game is played by some of the best athletes in the world.
19)Football players are too specialized. There is very little amount of players playing multiple positions.
20)In baseball every batter has a turn at bat no matter what, you can't feed your star running back or wide receiver the ball every play.
21)In baseball, umpires are full time employees and in the NFL, the referees are part time employees while they have normal full time jobs.
22)Baseball allows individualism in uniforms: high socks, flatbilled caps,etc. In football, players get fined for not abiding by the strict dress codes.
23)In NFL, you have parity scheduling. The bad teams get an easy schedule to increase competitiveness.  Unheard of in baseball.
24)In the NFL draft, a player is picked heavily on the combine and individual workouts. 40 yard dash, strength and agility drills.  Baseball draft is decided more on what the player does on the field.
25)In baseball, you don't have to be a certain size to play a position. If you can hit or pitch you will have an opportunity. In football it is much more about measureables.
26)A player doesn't have to fit in a certain scheme of a football coach. Like an offense who doesn't utilize the fullback or tight end. Imagine a baseball team without a second baseman?
27)Once drafted, the pay scale is more aligned to way it should be. Unproven draft pick makes as much or more than Super Bowl winning quarterbacks in the NFL.  Rookies are least paid in baseball.
28)In baseball you have longer careers and guaranteed contracts.  Players have better opportunity to make a living and fans get follow their favorite players more.
29)In baseball, you don't have players quitting midcareer and in their prime because of fear of injuries like concussions.
30)MLB takes care of former players with pensions much better than NFL
31)You have less protective gear like helmets, it allows fans to see the individual player more like Max Scherzer's dual colored eyes or Rollie Finger's handlebar mustache. Football players are covered in helmets and pads and look almost unhuman.
32)The crime and drug rate in baseball is more comparable to society where as in football, it is more comparable to the inner city gangs and Hells Angels.
33) Baseball has been virtually unchanged over it's history which makes it easier to make comparisons between players from different eras.
34) Baseball celebrates all parts of it's history.  NFL seems to only talk about the Super Bowl era. 1972 Dolphins are not the only team to finish season undefeated(see 1948 Cleveland Browns). Why isn't Willie_Thrower a household name among football fans?
35)The baseball Hall of Fame is in a small village in upper New York and the local economy is dependent on. While the NFL Hall of Fame is just two buildings and a field right off the highway in middle America.
36)The World Series is differentiated by the year its played not by Roman numerals. Easier to remember who won the 1984 World Series more than Super Bowl XXIV.
37) The World Series is played on the homefields of the participants thus rewarding the teams and fans. Not a rotating group of neutral sites.
38) The MLB All Star is played on rotating MLB parks which rewards the fans and not played in a far off warm weather locale after the season is done.
39)As a part of All Star activities, MLB has the Home Run Derby, football has nothing comparable.
40)Even though baseball is "America's Pastime", it is played internationally and players come from all over to play in the majors.
41) There are international tournaments in baseball such as the Little League World Series and World Baseball Classic.
42)Baseball has Take Me Out to the Ballgame during the 7th inning stretch, NFL has?
43)Baseball has Who's on First? and Casey At the Bat. Football has ..Super Bowl Shuffle?
44)Baseball means spring is here, football... winter is coming.
45)Baseball looks easy yet it is very difficult. The best hitters fail roughly 7 out of 10 times.
46)Because the game has much more failure, it humbles the players more. See Adam Jones of Baltimore Orioles vs NFL's Adam "Pacman" Jones.
47)In baseball you have an option of finesse(knuckleball, slow curve, bunt, etc). football is all harder and faster.
48)Baseball is so unique, no matter how many times you have watched. A play can still make you say "I've never seen that before", football is much more limited.
49)Baseball has the minor league farm system, it allows players to become better players over more time, chase their dreams longer, mature later.  Not every player is ready right out of college to play among games best.
50)In the NFL, if your favorite team struggles, you are stuck with the players all year. In baseball, you can make a trade midseason to improve your favorite team in the now or future.
51)Baseball's ceremonial first pitch is better than the honorary coin flip.
52)Baseball allows players to use their own individual batting stances and pitching motions.  Football teaches one way to play.
53)Baseball stats and records are more cherished and remembered than in football.
54)There is many more rule changes in football vs baseball
55)If you collect the sport's trading cards, In baseball if a player reaches the majors he is almost guaranteed to be on a MLB baseball card. A player in the NFL can play 5+ years and still have no trading cards.
56)Overall, baseball make better movies
57)Quarterbacks ask the crowd to quiet down, pitchers never do.
58)Baseball is more enjoyable on the radio if you can't make it to the game or a television.
59)There is no penalty flags that disallow plays. No touchdown called back because of an unnecessary illegal block 40 yards away. Or even worse, a player getting hurt on a play that officially never happened.
60) Baseball's audience is not largely based on gambling habits like in football where weekly bets are made and fans hang on to every game just because of their fantasy team. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Baseball Lexicon: Can of Corn

I haven't done a baseball term or phrase in a long time, so I feel I should do one.  Recently, I have been hearing baseball announcers use "can of corn" several times.  It is a old term and I don't really know how many baseball fans actually know what it means.

Can of corn means an easy fly ball out to an outfielder.  It was first used by longtime Brooklyn Dodger radio announcer Red Barber.  How did this grocery item become a part of the baseball lexicon?  In grocery stores of many years ago, cans of corn were placed at or near the top shelf .  In order to get a can, a grocery clerk had to use a stick or pole and knock it off gently.  It would then softly fall into the hands of the clerk.