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Spring, When a Young Man’s Position Players Turn to Pitchers April 22, 2014

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Last week was an exciting time, because it marked the first instances of the year of one of the World’s Worst Sports Blog‘s favorite situations – a position player taking the mound.

Position players are ordinarily called on to pitch under very specific circumstances: either the team is losing in a blowout (see, e.g., Jose Canseco‘s hilarious outing in 1993 – which resulted in Canseco having Tommy John surgery) or the game has gone on so long that no legitimate relievers are available to pitch. The best example of the latter was the April 17, 2010, game between the Cardinals and the Mets, in which the former team used two position players – Felipe Lopez and Joe Mather – in a 20-inning losing effort. (The Mets used another favorite trick, using starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey to close the game, as well as starters John Maine and Jon Niese to pinch run and pinch hit, respectively.)

The first appearance of a position player on the mound this year was similar to that 20-inning game. On April 16th, the White Sox’ Leury Garcia engaged the rubber in the top of the 14th against the Red Sox. Though he pitched a full inning, Garcia did allow two walks and a crucial double to open the game up, and ended up taking the loss. Starter-turned-long-man Chris Capuano got the win for the Red Sox with Burke Badenhop covering the last out to take the save.

The second was the blowout-type, in which the Yankees turned the final inning of a brutal loss over to middle infielder Dean Anna on April 19th. When Anna got up, the Yankees were trailing 14-1; Anna allowed two earned runs on three hits and no walks. Anna moved from shortstop to pitcher, so the Yankees gave up their designated hitter in the process. This triggered a fascinating six position changes to start the inning:

Dean Anna moves from SS to P
Kelly Johnson moves from LF to 1B
Scott Sizemore moves from 1B to 3B
Yangervis Solarte moves from 3B to SS
Alfonso Soriano moves from RF to LF
Ichiro Suzuki replaces Carlos Beltran (DH) playing RF batting 3rd

Still, the World’s Worst Sports Blog has a new spirit animal; although Don Kelly is still our favorite position player, he was outdone last season by the magical Jake Elmore, who played every position including designated hitter during his 2013 season with the Astros. Elmore played mostly middle infield and came in (mid-inning!) to catch on August 19 after Carlos Corporan was hit by a foul ball (catcher Jason Castro was serving as DH), and then was asked to pitch the final inning of that game. Oddly, even though pitcher and catcher are the toughest boxes to check off, Elmore’s last position? The innocuous center field on September 10th.

In any just world, Elmore and Kelly will end up on the same team at some point in the future and be batterymates.

Everybody’s Stupid Except Me April 21, 2014

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Or, why is there a guy being paid to manage the team when I already do it?

There have been quite a few extra-innings games this year for the Mets. The pitching situation has been stressed a couple of times; thankfully, yesterday’s 14-inning monstrosity against the Braves worked out okay. This is due almost entirely to Dan Uggla‘s status as one big walking, talking error. His Jeter-esque defense ticked me off in the All-Star Game a few years ago, but it’s been hilarious since.

Poor Gus Schlosser took a bullet for the Braves, pitching nearly four innings before giving up the game-winning sac fly to Curtis Granderson (who can’t even get a hit when he’s playing hero) after a previous career-high 1.2 innings earlier this year. Schlosser was the Braves’ sixth pitcher of the night. Jose Valverde got the win for the Mets, their seventh pitcher of the night. Valverde was an odd choice to go to in a high-leverage situation, since Jeurys Familia hadn’t pitched the previous day. Gary Cohen speculated that Familia was simply unavailable, meaning that we’ll find out today that he’s healthy as a horse but was getting a drink of water when the phone call came. Gonzalez Germen had a rough third of an inning, but Scott Rice cleared it up for him.

Terry Collins did a few very strange things. First, he pinch-hit Andrew Brown for Omar Quintanilla and immediately used Ruben Tejada to pinch-hit for the pitcher, apparently counting on Brown to get on base and planning to use Tejada to bunt him over. Of course, using a pinch-hitter for your shortstop counting on the pinch-hitter to get on base is risky, and Brown didn’t, leaving Tejada to pinch-hit when Travis d’Arnaud and Kirk Niewenhuis were still sitting on the bench. Granted, it worked out okay, since Tejada hit a nice single to get on base, but Quintanilla has had a .375 OBP this year; unless he was injured or something, using Brown to hit for him is weird. Forcing Tejada into the game was weirder, since letting Quintanilla hit and then allowing the game’s situation to dictate the double switch would have allowed Terry a bit more control over the situation. As it is, Terry used Quintanilla in the top of the ninth, Brown to hit in the bottom of the inning, and then Daisuke Matsuzaka in the same slot to start the tenth. Considering that the Mets were at the end of their bench by the end of the game, keeping Brown around to hit for someone later in the game would have been a more conservative move with no smaller an upside.

Second, and much less sinfully, he benched Anthony Recker as part of a double switch in the 13th to 14th to make room for Papa Grande. Recker was exhausted, certainly, and was in the ideal spot to allow for the double switch. However, suppose Granderson hadn’t hit his sac fly but had grounded out to leave Eric Young and Kirk Niewenhuis at second and third, respectively, with two outs. That requires David Wright to get on base, and then (if Schlosser made the reasonable decision to walk Wright and pitch to Daniel Murphy) you’re counting on Murphy to make a clean hit. At that point, you have a choice – either you ask Valverde for a second inning, you ask Familia to pitch even though he seemed to be unavailable, or you ask a starter to pitch. Leaving Recker in at first base and removing Lucas Duda would have put Valverde in the #4 slot instead of the #5 slot, but would have maintained Recker’s eligibility to pitch. Granted, that still involves moving an outfielder to first and having a starter play the corner a la Kyle Lohse and Roy Oswalt a few seasons ago; on the other hand, if Quintanilla had been allowed to bat for himself, you then also have either Ruben Tejada or Andrew Brown on the bench, in which case Brown has experience at first and Tejada has experience at second, allowing Daniel Murphy to take over at first.

I did, however, love using DiceK in the long-reliever role in extra innings. I’m glad Terry had him on hand, and I’m thoroughly impressed with Matsuzaka’s ability to adjust to the relief role.

Side note: the Mets have actually been outscored game for game in extra innings, 23-22, leading to a weird .480 Pythagorean expectation. Small sample sizes and walkoffs make that a bit difficult to draw real conclusions from.

Conflicts April 14, 2014

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You’re trying not to smile, aren’t you?

- My wife on Saturday morning

Although the Dodgers are currently my favorite California team, it’s tough – I’m a huge Angels fan. It all started in 2004, when Josh Paul forgot to tag A.J. Pierzynski …. but I prattle on. Suffice to say, I was a terrible Mets fan this weekend.

Bartolo Colon took one for the team yesterday, going 5 innings but allowing nine earned runs (four of them home runs). After two extra-inning games, it was nice to get some length out of Colon, even if it will destroy his stats for the rest of the month. Although this would have been an excellent time to allow professional pinch hitter Ike Davis to show off the stuff that made him Arizona State’s closer, Terry Collins opted to allow Scott Rice, Jeurys Familia, and John Lannan each toss an inning. Familia was a bright spot, since he doesn’t seem to be taking his loss on Saturday too hard.

I was really pleased to see Lannan used as a potential long man on Saturday night. Although both Lannan and Rice pitched in the night game Saturday and the day game Sunday, Rice had been used in the left-handed specialist role before being asked to eat up an inning on Sunday. Lannan was finally used in extra innings as a second starter; he ended up only needing to go two innings, but I’m sure Terry was glad to have a sixth starter on the bench for his second straight extra-innings game. Gonzalez Germen is also doing some excellent work these days. Hopefully we won’t be on the hook for Kyle Farnsworth in the setup role for too much longer. I’m not sure what kept the Professor out of the high-leverage game on Saturday night – I’m glad, don’t get me wrong, but he had only tossed a third of an inning the night before, and Terry seems to think he’s useful.

Jose Valverde finally blew a save. It’s been almost a year since he did – he blew three saves in 2013 for Detroit, all within a one-month span starting on May 12th. Of course, June 12th was his last save opportunity.

Angels Win via Plunk-Off April 12, 2014

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Let’s just get this out in the open. The Angels won last night when Jeurys Familia hit Hank Conger with a pitch, forcing DH Raul Ibanez in. It’s a shame, since it unfairly reflects on Jeurys – the bases were loaded because he allowed Ibanez to single and followed up with a wild pitch, sure, but Familia tossed a groundout that was unfortunately productive when David Freese moved Ibanez over to third. The two walks that followed were Terry Collins managing from the Joe Maddon book, intentionally loading the bases to keep a double play available with a force at any base. (I’m surprised he didn’t bust out a five-man infield to guard against grounders.) It was also Familia’s longest career relief outing and his longest outing in the majors since he started on October 1, 2012, and went four innings.

The Mets have benefited from the occasional plunk-off in the past; current Dodgers utilityman Justin Turner led the Mets in HBP in 2011 with ten savage beanings, including a walk-off plunk from Oakland’s Brad Zeigler on June 22.

There were some odd moves made in the dugout. Kyle Farnsworth, who Collins is treating as a reliable veteran, pitched only a third of an inning. Jose Valverde was of course left in the bullpen in order to keep him fresh him for a save situation, although the utility of that going into extra innings is debatable. Valverde and Farnsworth had each pitched a full inning the previous night in Atlanta. Long man Carlos Torres was used early in the game. That meant that the only arms left in the bullpen were Familia and John Lannan, who last pitched to a single batter on April 9th, before Collins would have to go to a position player or starter. It’s up in the air whether Collins made the right decision, but it’s questionable to me why Terry is using Lannan in a left-handed-specialist role; Lannan’s splits are worse against lefties than righties. Lannan is a career starter and should be treated as a long-relief man. To my mind, Familia hasn’t shown he’s ready for long outings, because he’s still a young pitcher, and Lannan would have been a better choice to start the eleventh inning.

The Vultures of Capistrano April 10, 2014

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As with the swallows returning to Capistrano, every April brings the return of the Vultures to Major League Baseball.

A vulture win is a special kind of decision for a reliever. In its purest form, it occurs when a pitcher enters the game in a save situation – usually, a lead of 3 runs or fewer, although a larger lead is allowable if the tying run comes to the plate no later than two batters after the batter currently at the plate – and promptly blows the save before the team takes the lead back to win the game. Some commentators require that the pitcher then leave the game, allowing the win to occur through no fault of the pitcher’s own; others will allow a pitcher to acquit himself by closing the game and still call it a vulture win – that is, any game in which a pitcher has both a blown save and a win is a vulture win. The World’s Worst Sports Blog follows the latter convention, due to it being easier to find in stat sheets.

The first vulture win of the season was picked up by Kansas City’s Wade Davis on April 5th. Davis entered the game in the 8th inning to a 3-1 lead and promptly allowed a single to Marcus Siemen before hitting Jose Abreu with a pitch. Dayan Viciedo then walked to load the bases. Conor Gillaspie singled to bring Siemen home, and Paul Konerko hit a sacrifice fly to score Abreu. Magically, the lead was gone; having blown the save, Davis promptly struck out Alejandro de Aza and coerced a line out from Alexei Ramirez. In the next inning, Salvador Perez scored Alex Gordon to re-establish the lead, which was finally saved by Greg Holland.

The second was another pure vulture win by Tony Watson on April 8th. Watson came in to pitch the 7th for Pittsburgh; ahead 6-5, all it took was a single and stolen base by Emilio Bonifacio (plus a sacrifice from Ryan Kalish) to set up Anthony Rizzo‘s tying RBI. Hilariously, Watson then struck out Nate Schierholtz and got Luis Valbueno to line out, having summarily blown the save. In the 8th, Russell Martin sacrifice-flied Starlin Marte home to take back the lead, earning the W for Watson. Mark Melancon got the hold for the setup, and Jason Grilli saved the game for the Pirates.

Finally, Dan Otero of the As just last evening picked up a vulture win of the “kept pitching” variety. Otero relieved Jim Johnson in a 4-3 game in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded, then allowed Brian Dozier to sacrifice-fly Kurt Suzuki in to tie the game. Nonetheless, Otero pitched a clean tenth; in the top of the eleventh, Derek Norris homered himself, Daric Barton, and Alberto Callaspo in. Otero allowed two hits and a walk, but no runs, in the eleventh for the win.

No earned runs to start the season April 9, 2014

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Fernando Rodney saved his second game for the Seattle Mariners last night, after being set up by the combined efforts of Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen in the 7th and 8th innings. What really looked interesting about this box score is that all three relievers have yet to allow an earned run this year – Rodney (2 2/3 innings pitched) and Farquhar (4 1/3)  have each appeared in three games without allowing a run, and Wilhelmsen has appeared in four (3 1/3). (In the interest of fairness, Wilhelmsen was credited with an unearned run.) Mets closer Jose Valverde is in the same position, having pitched in four games and 4 1/3 innings without allowing the opposition to score. The Dodgers’ J.P. Howell has appeared in six games, mostly in the 8th inning setup role, without giving up a run in 5 1/3 innings (and in fact earned the win in extra innings last night), and he seems to be sharing that role with teammate Chris Perez, who matched that six-game streak over four innings. The two Dodgers share the longest streak, counting games; Chris Withrow (5 games) and Zach Britton (3 games) each have fewer games played but more innings without surrendering a run.

Last year’s mark was set by Arizona’s Matt Reynolds, who opened the season with 19 games and 17 2/3 innings of scoreless relief; Alex Torres (20 innings in 10 games), Louis Coleman (21 innings in 18 games) and Juan Perez (22 innings in 14 games) each had more innings but fewer games.

Though he looked shaky last night in his non-save situation, we can all hope that Jose Valverde outdoes himself from last year – only five games and five innings before giving up his first run.

Tejada leads the team in OBP April 9, 2014

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Moneyball was an influential book for two reasons. First, it described the process by which a GM can attempt to min-max a winning team every year. That’s interesting. Second, it showed a lot of the fans – not the front offices, who had already corrected the inefficiency by the time the book was published, but the fans – about the importance of walking and generally getting on base.

I never thought last year that I’d be typing this sentence, but Ruben Tejada is leading the Mets in OBP for qualified players (3.1 plate appearances per team game). Two players outstrip Tejada’s .400 mark – professional pinch hitter Ike Davis and starter Jonathan Niese, each at .500 – but neither has enough plate appearances to be on pace to qualify for rate stats. In retrospect, it shouldn’t be surprising that Tejada’s eye is developing. As a 21-year-old in 2011, Tejada had an OBP of .360 in 376 plate appearances over 96 games, walking 35 times – that’s one walk every 10 3/4 plate appearances – and striking out 50, for a K/BB ratio of 1.42. Last year, Tejada went pear-shaped, walking only one out of every 15 plate appearances, but he still only struck out 1.6 times for every walk he took – which is hardly the mark of an inconsistent hitter. Last year, it looks like Tejada just got really unlucky, batting .228 on balls in play versus a team average of .291. This year, he’s swung all the way to the other side of the pendulum – so far, his BAbip is .400 versus a team average of .241.

Tejada may never be a brilliant shortstop like Jose Reyes was, but his batting is gaining in consistency.

Bartolo Colon, plus the Bullpen April 8, 2014

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The Mets were idle yesterday; after going 2-1 against the Reds this weekend, they’ll face Atlanta tonight with Bartolo Colon starting. I was a Bartolo skeptic at first, but having done a bit more deep diving on his statistics, I think he’s likely going to be a strong anchor in the rotation and I’m happy to see him coming up tonight.

Colon averaged 6 1/3 innings per start last year; his two nine-inning complete games came late in the season but his seven- and eight-inning games were sprinkled relatively evenly throughout the year, and he was hooked early (in the fourth) only once (as well as one 5-inning start). That’s comforting considering the Mets’ bullpen issues, assuming a rested Jose Valverde does what he does and we get the Dr. Jekyll version of Kyle Farnsworth tonight. Depending on the game situation, I’d like to see Jeurys Familia given an opportunity to push that 20.25 ERA down by a couple of points, assuming Colon pitches 6 innings; Gonzalez Germen seems to be the other single-inning option for the Mets. I like John Lannan off the bench as a long-relief option, but hopefully Bartolo won’t require that.

But what about Carlos Torres? Carlos appeared in 24 games and pitched 36 2/3 innings last year as a reliever, in addition to his 9 games and 49 2/3 innings pitched as a starter. The splits are huge here – Torres’ ERA as a starter last year was 4.89, compared to 1.47 as a reliever. This isn’t entirely due to Torres facing the same batters more often during starts, since his batting average allowed in his first time pitching to an opponent as a starter (.267) is still significantly higher than the same stat as a reliever (.200). Torres’ best innings are 4-6, allowing opposing hitters to hit only .188/.250/.267 – the mark of a great mopup man. He actually pitched better (.167/.200/.167) in extra innings, but there were some sample size problems there (only 26 plate appearances). That said, Carlos also pitched pretty well (.220/.238/.317) in the 8th inning, despite a total turn for the worse when he pitched in the ninth. Torres may well show up as a more reliable setup man than Farnsworth, and although Familia and Germen need the time in the 7th inning for development purposes, I’d like to see what Torres can do in higher-leverage situations.

The Jordan Lyles Show April 8, 2014

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Jordan Lyles put up a great line for the Rockies against the White Sox last night. Lyles threw 6 2/3 for the Rockies, striking out four, walking two, and allowing one run (which didn’t come until the seventh inning). Although he was hooked for throwing a wild pitch while striking out Paul Konerko, allowing an RBI double to Alexei Ramirez, and then walking Tyler Flowers, Lyles had more than earned the extra slack that manager Walt Weiss gave him. Lyles hit one of the team’s three doubles (the others were hit by Troy Tulowitzki and Michael Cuddyer) as well as two singles of his own, including two runs batted in. That gives Lyles a pretty nice season line: 2-0, 3.86 ERA, .600/.667/.800.

It’s almost a shame to see Troy Tulowitzki‘s performance lost in the shuffle. Troy was 3 for 3 with a walk, a double, and a home run; late in the game he came out to allow Charlie Culberson some time in the field.

Though Lyles hasn’t shown this sort of consistency yet, last year marked Adam Wainwright matching his three-hit, 2-RBI feat twice. Micah Owings and Chan Ho Park have each had two 3-hit, 2-RBI games in a single season as well.

The Three-Inning Save is an Endangered Species April 7, 2014

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Yesterday, Manny Parra pitched two perfect innings to pick up the save against the Mets. It was a natural save situation – the Reds were leading 2-1 and used their best reliever to maintain that lead. Usually, saves are only one inning, but two-inning saves aren’t unusual.

The save rule (Rule 10.19) does, however, allow for a less-common type of save:

  1. He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his team;
  2. He is not the winning pitcher;
  3. He is credited with at least ⅓ of an inning pitched; and
  4. He satisfies one of the following conditions:
    1. He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning
    2. He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, at bat or on deck
    3. He pitches for at least three innings.

Brad Hand of Miami picked up that sort of save on April 4th, saving starter Tom Koehler‘s win in a rout of the Padres. It was Hand’s first career save; he’s in his fourth season with the Marlins and has been excellent from the bullpen, but this was his first save opportunity. It was also the first three-inning save of 2014.

The king of the three-inning save last year was Brett Anderson, then of Oakland and currently of Colorado. Anderson recorded three of the long saves – coincidentally his only three career saves. He’s starting for Colorado this year, so his days as long man are probably over. These long saves were more common in the past, when starters finished games far more often and specialized relievers weren’t used; the all-time leader for this type of save is Hoyt Wilhelm, who notched 53 of them between 1952 and 1971, often pitching four full innings. Bob Stanley, Dan Quisenberry, and Bill Campbell share the single-season record with 11 three-inning saves in 1982, 1983, and 1977, respectively. Since 2005, only Anderson and John Wasdin of the 2005 Texas Rangers have had three of them in a season. Don’t expect many more this year.

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