Weekly Pepper - Week 22

by Gregory Pratt, BaseballEvolution.com
September 1, 2008

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Gregory Pratt is working very, very hard.

Couldn't Say It Better Myself -- This is why baseball is a great game (8/24): "Colorado beats Cincinnati 4-3 in 12 innings. This despite having 34 individual baserunners stranded and 18 LOB as a team (not sure I've seen numbers like those before). The Rockies had zero RBI's in the game, only to see their first come on a home run by Omar Quintanilla, who had 1 home run in 426 career at bats coming into today."

The Making of an Ace Starting Pitcher -- I won't lie: I wonder how Ryan Dempster has been able to transform himself from shaky closer to ace starting pitcher this season, and I have been wrong (so far) in thinking his success temporary. He's going to wrap up a great year, and whether or not it is a career-year that he'll never replicate or a sign of things to come is up in the air. But he's certainly worked hard to achieve what he's achieved this season, and the New York Times has all the details. Excerpt: "Dempster spent his off-season outside Denver training with virtual masochism. At 7,200 feet altitude, he would run up mountains with a resistant harness. He outfitted his garage with new equipment. And he would wake up at 7 a.m. to run one, two and then three steps at a time up the rows of the nearby Red Rocks Amphitheater."

A Great Series on MLB.com -- Don't know how many people have noticed, but MLB.com is running a "Where Are They Now?" series, with one former player spotlighted for every organization. The first I read was on Ron Karkovice but there's something for everyone, from Andre Dawson to Fred McGriff to Kevin Ritz to Steve Sax. Tangent: Sax is the main character in one of my all-time favorite baseball anecdotes. From here:

Los Angeles third baseman Pedro Guerrero committed several hard-to-believe fielding errors during one game. This was during the same time that Dodgers' second baseman Steve Sax was undergoing his horrendous and well-publicized fielding slump in which he couldn't throw the most routine ball to first without trouble. In the post-game meeting, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was at a loss with Guerrero. "What are you thinking out there," Lasorda asked. "Two things," Guerrero said. "What's the first thing?" "God, don't let them hit the ball to me." "And what's the other thing," Lasorda said. "Don't let them hit the ball to (Steve) Sax."
Boy Among Children -- This story about a nine year old kid who isn't being allowed to pitch in his baseball league because he's "too good" saddens me. The story is simple: Jericho Scott throws a forty mile per hour fastball and some kids are afraid to face him (though he's never hit anyone) and now the parents and the umpires refuse to let the other children take the field against him. It is often said that highly-talented Little Leaguers are like "men among boys" but now it's more appropriate to note that Scott is a boy among children, adults included. Whether or not he should be moved to a higher league or kept in the one he's in is not clear to me, but I do know that the parents have an obligation not to humiliate a child by ostracizing him for his fastball.

On Guardado! -- The Minnesota Twins have brought Eddie Guardado back to the organization to help lead them over the Chicago White Sox in baseball's tightest divisional race. A couple of outings after his arrival, Guardado's ERA has ballooned from 3.65 to 4.18, highlighting the Twins' greatest weakness: the bullpen, which even Ron Gardenhire is thought to be growing tired of. Through my teenage years, it always seemed as if Minnesota's starting pitching was always so-so, on the whole, and their offense filled with slap-hitting nobodies, but the bullpen was always lights-out. I can't find the exact numbers, but I think they only lost one game in 2006 when leading after seven innings. Now they're turning to a man who used to be "Everyday Eddie" but can now be described as "Sometimes Eddie." Sort of like cookies are a sometimes food.

Random Note that Might Not Interest Anyone But Me and Peter King -- "[Josh] Fogg hasn't won in six starts since he was hit in the mouth by Joey Votto's line drive during batting practice on July 22. Fogg needed 30 stitches to his upper lip." His "dragon slayer" nickname last season was one of the many memorable minutiae of last season, and I still follow him this season, even though he hasn't been very good.

Case of the Red Ass -- Coming into this season, I expected Aaron Harang to have a Cy Young caliber season in continuing his three consecutive years of quality pitching and growth, but he has instead turned in a 4-14, 5.27 ERA fiasco. He's been injured this year, and I suspect that to be the cause of his decline. I'd buy low on him in keeper leagues, as I suspect he'll be closer to four than five next season.

Contender's Luck -- Grant Balfour has been a stud in middle relief for the Tampa Bay Rays this season, his first good season in five years as a major league pitcher. Balfour has struck out 64 in 43.2 innings with a 1.44 ERA and a .89 WHIP, and it is most interesting to me because this is the sort of season that every contender seems to have out of a relief pitcher. Reminds me of Cliff Politte and Neal Cotts for the White Sox in 2005, two players who had never before and haven't since found as much success as they had back then (and might not ever). Balfour and Tampa's fans had better enjoy it while they've got it.

Groupthink -- I was reading this Sports Illustrated article on "The Freak," Tim Lincecum and his mechanics, which I would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the biomechanics of pitching a baseball, Lincecum's mechanics, and the general art of pitching. But what stood out to me was the "groupthink" the article demonstrates in baseball organizations, especially in regard to mechanics. Everyone condemns Lincecum's mechanics and praises Mark Prior's, which are dealt with in what I think is the most interesting paragraph of the piece: "Mark Prior is a classic example of a high-performing pitcher who was permitted to break down because of poor mechanics. Ironically, Prior was often hailed for his "flawless" mechanics when the Cubs drafted the right-hander out of USC with the No. 2 pick in 2001, though that assessment seems to have been influenced by scouts' preference for his 6' 5", 225-pound body type. Studied closely, his mechanics included two severe red flags: 1) Prior lifted his throwing elbow higher than his shoulder before reaching the loaded position, increasing the stress on his elbow and shoulder; and 2) unlike Lincecum's dynamic late torso rotation, Prior rotated his hips and torso before getting to the loaded position. With the letters of Prior's jersey already facing the target, his arm could not simply "go along for the ride" -- the ride was over, so his arm had to generate all of its own power." People fell in love with his size and forgot all about basic scouting principles, and my question is, "How does that happen?" How can you pull the wool over that many people's eyes?

National League Cy Young Race -- Brandon Webb's case for a second Cy Young Award took a hard hit this week as his ERA jumped from 2.74 to 3.19 over the course of two starts. Tim Lincecum now stands at 15-3 while Webb is stuck on 19-6. Lincecum's ERA is 2.43 and he's struck out 210 batters, compared to Webb's total of 160. Lincecum's BA against is twenty points lower, he's allowed .01 more baserunners per nine innings than Webb, and is beating Webb in ERA+ with a 177 mark to Webb's 143. You'd have to give some heavy "ballpark credit" to Webb or credit him extravagantly for his extra wins to consider his season better than Lincecum's. I even think I'd be inclined to give my second place vote to CC Sabathia for throwing a near no-hitter on Sunday and going 9-0 for the Milwaukee Brewers in eleven starts with a 302 ERA+ and 85 strikeouts in 88 innings, sub-1 WHIP and 1.43 ERA, although I'd like to see what he does for the remainder of the season before I put him over Webb. Relatedly, this SI article attempts to refine the "quality start" statistic and makes an interesting statistical read, for all you statheads.

Love Stories -- I want to briefly touch on two stories. The first involves the evil Scott Boras and his lackey Pedro Alvarez, the first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Pirates who is supposed to be the next great left-handed slugger. Alvarez signed a country with the Pirates organization late on August fifteenth, the deadline for draftees, and MLB approved it as being timely.  Later, Boras claimed that they didn't, that Alvarez is not bound to his contract, and that they want more money. MLB is prepared to defend the Pirates' investment, and the saga is ongoing, almost comical for the depths to which Boras will stoop for an extra dollar or two. The other story is Jay Mariotti's resignation from the Chicago Sun-Times after seventeen years of writing for them. "Awful Announcing" said it best when they wrote, "Chicago wins but America loses," though that has not stopped other people from adding their two cents, including Roger Ebert, Rick Telander (whom Mariotti once ran away from and called security on, only to be laughed at by the whole world) and Sun-Times editor Michael Cooke, who wrote, "We wish Jay well and will miss him -- not personally, of course -- but in the sense of noticing he is no longer here, at least for a few days." Mariotti is reasonable on Around the Horn but an embarrassment to read. He isn't a chronicler or protector of the game in print, nor is he a man of conviction and genuine belief or passion in analyzing the events of the week. He takes contrary positions and insults everyone but refuses to face them, whether it's Ozzie Guillen or his fellow columnists (whom he, again, ran away from and was heavily criticized by even while he worked there) and claims to be a man asking "tough questions." If there were any justice in this world, he'd never find journalistic work again, because he is not a journalist, and no one in journalism respects him as such. I'm just glad he's gone, and the manner in which it all ended is incredibly funny. Mariotti often sent "letters" of resignation to his boss when he did not get his way and on this occasion, he fired off a simple email that read "I Quit" because he didn't get to write about Barack Obama before Rick Telander did (that saga is chronicled here) and that's where it gets funny: Mariotti resigned, and then headed to the Sun-Times office to tape his Around the Horn segment, only to find that his security pass had been deactivated while the paper was deciding whether or not to accept the resignation.

History of the Week -- In history, there's a sub-field called "micro-history" devoted to individual experiences in broader eras. A good example would be the experiences of an Illinois Farmer during the Great Depression. Well, Rick Reilly has written a solid micro-history of minor league baseball players screwed by the steroid era, and I hope you "enjoy" it.

Gregory Pratt is a political science and history double-major at the University of Illinois at Chicago. His political commentary can be found at the Office of the Independent Blogger, and he can be reached at gregory@baseballevolution.com.