Friday, June 19, 2009

Zen Dayley: Cito and the DH thingy

Plus more Vernon Wells vitriol and a short dissertation about tradition...

Just another day from the "Cito Gaston is not the brilliant tactician I thought he was" files. The same manager who complained about pitchers having to bat in National League parks after closer Scott Downs injured his big toe running out a ground ball almost ended up running out of pitchers on Thursday because he did not double-switch in the eighth inning in order to, wait for it, avoid the pitcher's turn in the order. As Mike Wilner put it:
"The Baseball 101, incredibly obvious, only correct move - especially since the Jays only had two pitchers left in the bullpen ... was to bring Rod Barajas in to catch as part of a double-switch, with (Jason) Frasor coming in to bat in the 8th spot and Barajas, the new catcher, batting ninth and leading off the ninth.

"Instead, Gaston only brought in Frasor, with the intention of having him lead off the ninth inning if he had been able to hold the lead." (The Phillies tied the game.)

" ... It was a ridiculous non-move to make, and almost cost the team the game. If Gaston didn't realize that the double-switch was the move, then one of former National League manager Nick Leyva or former National League coach Brian Butterfield should have been screaming in his ear. Just terrible.
You know the rest of the story. The Blue Jays ended up winning, 8-7, by the margin of Barajas' pinch-hit home run in the ninth inning (a fastball up and away that he hit over the centrefield fence 401 feet from home place). The dude who replaced the dude who was replaced by the dude who hurt himself running to first base (duuuuude, just say Jeremy Accardo got the save) ended up getting the save. The Jays won the damn game to complete a series sweep of the World Series champions (which was probably just an evenout since they could not be as bad as they were last weekend vs. the Florida Marlins), so what is it to anyone if the manager and his coaches flunked Baseball 101?

There is much less receptiveness for playing armchair manager when the team ends up winning the game. However, talk about a manager flirting with disaster The amusing part, speaking personally, was arriving at work shortly after 4 p.m., having forgotten the Jays had a day game and assuming it was over. It took all of 10 seconds to establish that the score was tied and, hey, what was regular catcher Barajas doing batting .in a day game after a night game? It seemed strange it had come to that point. It was even stranger that Gaston, after saying, "My pitchers don't take batting practice every day and don't run, so things like this are going to happen," would risk putting another pitcher in that situation only two days later. But hey, he is the manager.

To be fair, he did have a point

Gaston's rant did blow the dust off the DH debate. Whether it should be in both leagues, or just used for all interleague games (there is no political will to change it, since the AL is dominating once again in the interleague play contagion).

Not to over-intellectualize it, but one's position might hinge on a working definition of tradition. It seems like to some tradition connotes doing something the way you believe it's always been done just because. Tradition, though, means something is handed down, passed over to another generation. It's more like a trust to keep and if there's a way to improve on it without making a radical change, you do it.

Sun Media's Bob Elliott, to whom this author is very indebted, wrote a follow-up column on the skipper's comments. Elliott quite rightly pointed out that it was a bit of a CYA move to complain about Downs getting hurt. As he noted, the Jays knew interleague was coming. Downs had also hit before, plus running to first base should not be beyond a pro athlete's grasp. Plus, the Jays had left a lot of runs on the table.
"Gaston had every reason to be angry, but not at the National League designated hitter rules.

"He could have been angry at Alex Rios having a brain cramp and neglecting to tag with the Jays down 3-2 in the eighth when Marco Scutaro lined to left-centre.

"Or he could have been angry at the Jays hitting 2-for-17 with men in scoring position, or leaving 15 men on base in regulation."
Those were all good points. The rub is eight of those 15 stranded runners were a byproduct of starting pitcher Ricky Romero batting in a real game for the first time in his professional career. Romero struck out three times. On eleven pitches. José Bautista or Kevin Millar would have stood a far greater chance of driving in a couple of those runners.

The craw-sticker, though, was the closer, "Pitchers hit in the NL, and it's how baseball was created." That is very well and good. However, the counter to that is that the players would still go without gloves if everything was done according how baseball was created.

Games and sports evolve. Football pays a lot of lip service to tradition. However, with regard to specialized roles, they stopped asking the quarterback to double as a free safety generations ago. You don't see the starting split end (as wide receivers used to be called) coming off the field to get his kicking shoe on before he tries a field goal, straight-ahead style.

The best compromise as an American League guy is that the NL is free to keeps its antiquated rules. It's not necessary that the so-called senior circuit swings with the times. It just can't impact on any meaningful game affecting an AL fan's favourite team, or any game of significance. Sound fair?

P.S. ... about Vernon...

What was that about how Vernon Wells' production (his OPS is down to .676) might be about as good it gets?
"Of course, there was no mention of something most sentient Jays fans have already contemplated, that maybe this is as close to as good it gets for Wells. Five minutes of reading The Hardball Times or FanGraphs combined with a willingness to reason will show anyone that 40% of the way into a major league baseball season, a player's production has usually close to finding its own level, just like water."
Take it away, Fangraphs:
"ZiPS doesn’t see Wells improving all that much this season with the bat, ultimately finishing with a .254/.310/.400 line. The projected 15 HR and 18 SB help elevate the wOBA to .316, but a below average rate like that coupled with a UZR perhaps on pace to be worse than -15 runs makes Wells a replacement player. In a full season in 2007, Wells produced just 1.2 wins. He added another 0.8 more last year albeit in just 108 games. This year: -1.0 wins. Rios is proving that he can be a good, not fantastic player, while Wells is showing that he does not deserve a starting spot in the big leagues, let alone one at such an important position." (Emphasis mine.)


Rob Pettapiece said...

Easiest way to fix the DH thing, and it's so simple and so logical it will never be implemented: just make it home manager's choice.

Ian Gray said...

Yeah, I don't get Cito's tactical moves either, and I'm not sure anyone does. He's got to be the game's most bizarre tactician, at least when in it comes to the lineup and its permutations like pitch hitting and so forth-he never does anything at all, and when he does he botches it half the time. Pinch-hitting Barajas for Chavez the other day against Florida is a case in point-Barajas singled, and now you have the slowest man on the team on first base, and you can't pinch-run for him. It's like he's incapable of thinking two moves ahead.

That said, this is what you get when Cito Gaston is your manager, and I've seen the before and after routine with him twice now. I tend to be skeptical, to put it mildly, of explanations relating to the clubhouse in any sport, and baseball most of all. Cito, however, has got this team playing significantly better than it did under Gibbons, and while I don't think the Jays have the horses to contend I do think he's getting everything-or at least everything that doesn't involve shrewd tactical moves-out of his roster. There was a line I read earlier in the season that Cito is the best manager in the game between the last out of the game and the first pitch of the next; tactical screw-ups aggravate me as much as the next guy, but in the long run I don't think they matter too much.

I'm not entirely sure that football is the best example for your argument regarding the DH; I can't think of a sport that's less reverent of tradition than football. Maybe basketball, I guess. Hockey, conversely, does harken back to its past quite a bit-look at the names of the NHL's awards, for example-and you see things like shootouts and five rather than six skaters there. The closest analogy I can think of is goalies not having to serve their own penalties anymore-I personally don't like this rule, but I'm a bit of a hockey anarchist. I'm not a fan of the DH, but even I can see that the ship has sailed-I suspect the NL will change its rules within the next twenty years or so.

Finally, Vernon's probably going to be better than this over the next few years, but he's a guy who could easily have a terrible year all year, because he's so streaky and never walks. That contract is possibly the worst I've ever seen, and we're going to spend the last four years of it, at least, cursing Paul Godfrey and J.P. Ricciardi.

Big V said...

Maybe Cito Gaston is actually psychic and knew that if he did the double switch, things wouldn't have worked out right then... and he knew that the third pitch to the second batter in the 9th would be high and away which was Barajas favorite at the time.

That being said... Cito is GOD

Go jays

Anonymous said...

AL fans need to back off on this. These guys are professional athletes, and good teams simply PREPARE. The DH has plenty of inherent flaws of its own (ie: running the same nine out to the plate ad nauseum when they ain't hitting, at least the necessity to pinch hit for the pitcher can sometimes shake things up a bit rather than the lemmings-over-the-cliff approach to losing a ballgame in the AL). I'll watch either, I'm not sure why they didn't just bat 8 players. I'm not sure why you couldn't say the DH is eligible for 3 times around the order, after which he either enters the field (eliminating the pitcher AND the complaint that DH's aren't complete ballplayers never having to wear a glove), or the pitcher hits - but has been spared the bulk of these "death-defying" plate appearances. I'm not sure the #8 hitters in the NL don't out-hit their AL counterparts, last I heard, balancing things out. The DH has had a few greats as was promised (Edgar, Ortiz pre-2009, Sizemore), but there's been a lot of no-glove, medium-power .250 hitters too, which ain't that exciting.

I think it depends on what you've grown up with. I say leave it alone. Get rid of interleague, at least in it's current form. Let's face it, Cubs/Sox is great, but who cares about Toronto vs. Miami/Wash/Philly (though can you imagine how many LESS fans there would have been in Skydome than there was in Philly yesterday?). Make up some sort of thing where the crosstown rivals play each other, and where true rivalries don't exist, make it a small in-season interleague "tournament" whereby the best team in either league (vs. the other league) snags an additional wildcard which could play a one-game playoff with the regular wildcard to see who goes on. They've been talking about knocking down the "wildcard" advantage for years, this could do it. Or do a quicky back to back day wildcard playoff. One game in the "interleague wildcard" city, travel back to the "regular wildcard" city for a potential doubleheader (2 of 3 series, game 3played only if necessary). That'd be fun.

Leave the NL alone.

eyebleaf said...

Cito is a genius, the National League is full of shit, and I believe in Vernon Wells ...