Saturday, May 23, 2009

Jays: NL rules, not so Fabio

Roy Halladay's pitching line last night in Atlanta was pure pro-DH dynamite.
7 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 0 R, 1 BB, 6 SO, 95 pitches, 63 for strikes
You know the rest: Halladay came out for a pinch-hitter with a runner on second and two out in the top of the eighth inning. The Atlanta Braves scored off lefty reliever Jesse Carlson in the home half for a 1-0 win on the first night of interleague play.

There isn't a manager alive who doesn't pinch-hit when the game is tied in the eighth inning. That is precisely the point. The self-described purists say they love all the strategy that goes on in the National League. It's not strategy when the decision is automatic. Praising the strategy in the NL is like praising an NFL coach who opts for a 99.9% automatic extra-point kick instead of going for a two-point conversation in the first quarter.

What happened last night also puts the lie to one of the big sells with interleague play. Major League Baseball, back when this contagion was introduced in the late 1990s, said it would help fans to gain an appreciation of the stars in the other league. Well, Roy Halladay, baseball's best right-handed pitcher, was removed through no fault of his own after facing only 26 batters and throwing just 95 pitches. They didn't get the full measure of the Good Doctor.

One objection here is that most of the people who were at the game barely noticed. Fans in Atlanta went home happy because their Braves won. That's fine and dandy like sour candy, but not addressing something just because most people wouldn't notice either way is kind of dumb. Why try to do anything better, in that case?

Maybe this was more irritating to a Jays fan since they lost the game. However, they could have won while removing a starting pitcher while he was still fresh, which is also wrongheaded on a certain level.

The National League dinosaurs have their conceits. Their league is the aggressive, get-after-'em brand of baseball. The average AL team this season has actually stolen more bases than the average NL team (31-25). It would be neat to know if that is a reflection of being able to have nine hitters in the lineup who have all learned to hit and run the bases (relatively speaking) instead of eight (two big reasons are the two most steal-happy teams, the L.A. Angels and Tampa Bay Rays, are in the AL, while the most station-to-station team going, Milwaukee, is a NL team).

Then there's the great double switch. Far be it to point out that it can often mean taking out either the leadoff or No. 2 hitter and at least ostensibly, that can mean losing a player who is good enough to hit higher in the lineup than all the other starters.

As previously noted, National League teams don't have a problem with their minor-league affiliates using a DH (the pitcher only bats in games between two NL-affiliated teams) in order to get their farmhands more at-bats. They don't mind using a DH in spring training games to get someone more chances to fine-tune his swing.

More strategic thinking goes on in the AL. The manager has to decide to change pitchers based on effectiveness, not when the No. 9 spot is due up in the order. Weighing the benefits of pinch-hitting one position player for another, or whether to pinch-run for the catcher and run the risk of an injury to the other catcher, that actually involves some thinking.

The NL rules are as dishonest as The Sporting News headline which says Atlanta's pitcher, Kenshin Kawakami was able to "outduel" Halladay. Kawakami was full value for the effort with eight shutout innings, but he would have come out for a pinch-hitter earlier if Halladay hadn't been so darned effective, or if the Braves hadn't had last bat.

At the heart of the matter is that the way baseball has evolved over time has gone against pitchers being able to swing the bat competently. The Blue Jays pay Halladay a pretty handsome salary to pitch. He still had another inning, maybe two in him last night, and he was denied that because one league, for whatever reason, doesn't half to play be late 20th/21st century baseball rules.

Point being, things change, people accept them, get used to them and move on. There is something disquieting about sports fans who can't accept the designated hitter almost 40 years after it was adopted.

(As sidebar, one idea that has been floated out for interleague play is to use the visiting team's rules. Let the fans see a different style of game. That's not a half-bad idea.

Speaking from self-interest, that would mean Matt Stairs would not get to start at DH when the Philadelphia Phillies come to Toronto for an interleague series in June. Nuts to that.)

The Vegas shuttle

The moves the Blue Jays made over the 48 hours reflect how they have a pretty sharp front office and less-than-swift ownership.

It is a wise move to ship out pitchers Brett Cecil and Bobby Ray, God's gift of sunshine Travis Snider and bring up Casey Janssen (who starts tonight vs. Atlanta), a rehabbed Ricky Romero and utilityman Inglett, who's good at being average at a lot of things. A key bit of understanding is that (unnecessarily) expanded pitching staffs lead teams to run a constant shuttle between the major-league team and Triple-A to effectively create what Bud Selig would never a allow: A 28- or 29-man roster instead of 25. Of course, that would be a lot easier for the Jays if their top farm club wasn't 3,597 kilometres away in Las Vegas.

Fabio Castro (pictured), as most diehard farm system-studying diehards know, had a 24-inning scoreless streak in Las Vegas. Castro, who was an Ottawa Lynx in 2007, is a curiosity since he's only 5-foot-7 (if that) and he's also on his fourth organization while still only being 24 years old. He might be good lefty-reliever timbre if Jesse Carlson falters.

MLB Trade Rumors figures Travis Snider might stay down in Triple-A until after the all-star break in July. It has to do with keeping him from becoming eligible for arbitration and free agency, all that fun stuff.

Drunk Jays Fans also laid waste to any notion of an attitude problem:
"(Assistant GM Alex) Anthopoulos also gave Snider credit, when the delightful Mike Toth threw down some hockeyish bullshit and asked if Snider's request to Cito to stop giving him so much information in-game suggested that maybe there was a problem with 'coachability,' saying that he did it in a very respectful manner, and that they thought it was a positive that Snider wasn't intimidated to go into the manager’s office."
Getting back to the point, Rogers should have tried a little harder to get a Triple-A team located in the Eastern time zone. It is tempting to point out there is a 10,332-seat ballpark located a 4½-hour drive away in Ottawa that was built for Triple-A and is less than 20 years old. That ship has sailed, though, since the International League just doesn't want teams to have to come to Canada in April and May.

It's convenient to point out the closest Triple-A team to Toronto, the Buffalo Bisons, are dead last so far in their first season as the affiliate of the New York Mets. (The Jays' farm club in Las Vegas is 10 games below .500, but that's neither here nor there.)


eyebleaf said...

Sager, I hate the National League, and I hate Interleague play. Make it stop.

Rob Pettapiece said...

Interleague play is pretty awful.

Easy fix for the DH problem: just make it home manager's choice. (If I'm managing against the Red Sox, and my DH sucks, do I want to make them sit Ortiz? Sit Youkilis and force Ortiz to field?)

Of course, this is a great idea, so it'll never be implemented.