Thursday, July 05, 2007

Short Hops

Some interesting tidbits caught my eye this morning as I perused newspapers and web sites:

This one was from Buster Olney's ESPN column:

The Reds already have been in contact with Joe Girardi, writes John Fay, about their managerial opening. But the team probably has the sense already that some managers will shy away from this job because of Reds' offense-generating home ballpark. "Pretty tough to develop pitching there," one GM said Tuesday. "If you can't develop pitching, you can't win."

We in Philadelphia know all about this problem. The only time the Phillies have been able to attract a free agent pitcher is when they gave away ridiculous millions to Adam Eaton. All the other "vaunted" starters who have come here since the Bank opened arrived via trade and departed as soon as possible.

As for Girardi, if the rumor cited above is true, that will mark the second time a team going absolutely nowhere has approached him about their managerial vacancy. Other rumors suggest Girardi is one of two leading candidates -- Don Mattingly is the other -- in line to succeed Joe Torre in New York if, indeed, a succession is imminent. I can understand how Girardi turned down the Orioles' offer of a few weeks ago; bad team, worse owner. Cincinnati appears to "only" be a bad team. New York? They still are owned by George Steinbrenner & Sons, last time I looked. As for the bad team part, they are on their way with an aging pitching staff that continues to falter and the possibility that A-Rod will opt out at the end of the year. Maybe Girardi is holding out for an offer from the Phillies. Nah. They have their own problems with current ownership, which isn't necessarily bad, just inept.

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Old friend Randy Wolf is scheduled to have an MRI on his ailing shoulder. Wolf, 9-6 in his first season with the Dodgers, suspects the problem stems from pitching more innings this season than he has in a few years. Let's hope all that he needs is to just shut down for a while to regain his strength. Wolf is one of the good guys in baseball.

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Ryan Howard has begun to sprinkle in the occasional single and double with all those home runs and strike outs that mark his play over the last month or so. If he continues in that direction he is going to stage a pretty dramatic comeback in the second half of the season. Look for Howard to end the year batting near or above .300 with forty plus home runs and over 100 rbi's. Also look for him to whiff at least 150 - 180 times.

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Word in the Inquirer is that Brett Meyers is going to test his arm with a "good bullpen workout" in Colorado this weekend. Does anyone really have a clue regarding the extent of Brett Meyer's injury? That fifteen day trip to the DL has moved beyond a month now and still there is no word on when or if he is coming back. All that the Phillies say is that he hopes to come back after the All Star break. Could Meyers be out for the entire year? Yes, indeed.

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Apparently umpire Lance Barksdale, who cost the Phillies a win Tuesday night in Houston when he clearly blew a call, apologized to Charlie Manuel during yesterday's game. As infuriating and painful as his mistake was, I remain opposed to any use of instant replay in baseball including decisions about balls in play as opposed to on-field judgment calls. I like the human fallibility factor in baseball umpiring and hope it resists the movement toward video rulings in major league sports. And if baseball were to cave in to the trend, we might be deprived of great lines from or about arbiters such as the following:

They expect an umpire to be perfect on openning day and to improve as the season goes on. (Nestor Chylak, AL umpire 1954-78); or

I occasionally get birthday cards from fans. But it's often the same message: they hope it's my last. ( Al Forman)

One day in a tough game I was passing Lonnie Warneke and he said, "Preach, I may have my superiors on the bases, but when it comes to balls and strikes, I'm second to no man." And I commenced thinking careful and when I was done I told him, "Horseshit, Lon." (Preacher Roe)

Why, they shot the wrong McKinley! (Dizzy Dean, on umpire William McKinley)

Once when the Yankee's Lou Pinella was batting he questioned a Palermo strike call. Pinella demanded, "Where was that pitch at?" Palermo told him that a man wearing Yankee pinstripes in front of 30,000 people should not end a sentence with a preposition. So Pinella, no dummy, said, "OK, where was that pitch at, asshole?" (George Will)


David said...

I enjoyed your post, Tom. One thing I'm wondering about Girardi is how one season with a sub-.500 team qualifies him as this hotter than hot commodity for all teams with managerial vacancies. Teams seem to fall into the same trap as fans, thinking the manager really has a chance to make some kind of big difference...look no further than the Phillies, eternally left scratching their heads as polar opposite managerial prototypes parade in and out while the orgainizational non-philosophy remains stagnant.

Howard will hit 40 homers and drive in 125, but I don't see him hitting anywhere close to .300 unless he starts going with the outside pitches to left and center field more often. Howard looks like he doesn't even want to swing at anything that's left of the center of the plate. He's still a huge presence, obviously, but he was an unstoppable force last season due to his plate coverage - which to me entirely explains the difference between last season and this one.

I'm not sure I understand the defense of umpires' errors by endorsing the 'human element'. The human element is what's done on the field by the players. If they make errors, it's part of the game. But why should the outcomes be affected so extremely by these inactive anachronisms? I take a contrary perspective here. If there was a way to instantly determine balls and strikes, fair/foul calls, and force plays - and technologically, there almost has to be by this point - I would rather see the games determined as accurately as possible. Too many games are influenced by arbitrary and erratic strike zones, let alone egregiously bad calls like Barksdale's. Umps might still come in handy on tag plays, and occasional enforcements of more arcane rules, so they could keep their jobs, but on the whole - if their determinations aren't absolutely necessary, who would miss them? (And this even coming from a guy who decries the presence of automated check-out machines at supermarkets...)

Tom Goodman said...

David: Your analysis of Howard's problems to date is spot on but I sense watching him he is beginning to adjust, finally, and look more comfortable at the plate. True, he has to go the other way more, but I have a gut feeling he is beginning to do that based on the direction of a number of his foul balls (in an entirely unscientific reading by yours truly).

The human element on the field has always included the umpires and the last thing I want to see is something like in tennis, where the fault lines are read by some sort of machine (though I assume those readings can be overruled by the umpire and/or lines judges). Remove the umpires in baseball and we will have machines making roughly 250 - 300 decisions a game and even then, imperfectly. What vantage point should a machine take for balls and strikes when no television camera has ever been able to take a pitcher's , catcher's or, for that matter, umpire's perspective without interfering with lines of sight?

Tom Goodman said...

As for Girardi, it is fascinating that his name comes up immediately with every opening given his limited experience. He got a lot of credit to taking a team loaded with rookies and making a decent show of it in Florida, but in the end, they came in fourth anyway so what is the big deal?

David said...

In answering your question about balls and strikes, don't they already do this on most national telecasts - show with a graphic the exact strike zone and then the location of the pitch in relation to it? It's probably done as instantaneously as the radar guns measure the speed of a pitch. It can be done, but I'm sure it won't ever be. It's just something that's long been an annoyance to me - that individual umpires have their 'own strike zones' that everyone has to 'adjust to' from game to game. The game should be meted out as justly and as accurately as possible. It's one thing if broken-bat hits land safely and screaming liners are magnetized into infielders' gloves. That's unavoidable. But Lance Barksdale getting caught up in the crowd noise in the ninth inning - that's 100% avoidable.

Tom Goodman said...

I don't know how accurate the hot and cold zone grids are, but in the end it doesn't matter. Umpires rarely affect the outcome of games yet when they do, such as the other night, the whole idea of getting rid of them comes up again. In the end, how many times do we post about the umpires? Very rarely. We might say such and such a pitcher got squeezed or an ump missed a call, but for the most part these guys with dark suits and feet of clay are crucial but nearly invisible. They rarely affect the outcome of a game as far as I can determine.