Monday, July 16, 2018

Baseball Squads Feature a Closer...and an 'Opener'

In baseball parlance, an "opener" was historically the season's first game, or maybe the first game in a series against another team. Ya know, I'm skipping work to hit the opener at the Stadium, or, Kershaw is pitching in the opener against the Giants.

These days, opener probably refers to the Tampa Bay Rays' intriguing experiment of going with a cadre of relief pitchers every fifth time through the rotation, with an "opener" starting the game and offering a couple innings, and giving the opposing hitters one less look at the guy picked to hurl most of the innings.

The first true opener, according to The Ringer, was Sergio Romo:
The new terminology itself indicates the novelty of Romo’s weekend role. He started two games after making his first 588 career appearances as a reliever. But he was doing so on consecutive days, with the express purpose of clearing the top of the Angels’ lineup before making way for pitchers—normally starters—who would give Tampa Bay more innings. Romo was technically starting, but not in the traditional sense of the term. He was opening—the games, and, perhaps, a futuristic path to ordering a pitching staff.

The blog Rays Colored Glasses applauded the Tampa Bay squad for upending baseball tradition, only to question, a week later, if it was "Closing Time on Openers." 

The first story--the complementary one--read:

Give Kevin Cash and the Rays organization credit for again trying something different.  There’s no doubt that the Rays must be different to compete.  They will never have the payroll as many other teams in baseball.  But, they seem to have taken an aggressive approach to numbers.  Statistics.  And, that cannot be overlooked.

The whole opener debate took off in a Reddit post May 22. Reddit defines the opener as:

The Opener is basically a relief pitcher used at the start of the game. Like many standard relievers, the Opener has a limited, but important role to play in how teams could win games.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Mets Manager Introduces New York to 'Dirtball Read'

During the Mets game last night, the broadcast shifted to a taped interview with manager Mickey Callaway, who addressed a question about the Mets' general lack of speed, and said that savvy and aggressive baserunning can make up for the mostly old, mostly slow runners on the Mets squad.
Callaway talked about a ball in the dirt, and how a smart baserunner can make a good "dirtball read" and bolt to the next base.

In fact, he said "dirtball read" twice.
And when the interview ended and things went back to the booth, Gary Cohen was delighted to share the new baseball term he'd picked up.
Yes, dirtball read. How well you pick up on a pitch in the dirt.
Ron Darling offered his own take on "dirtball read," saying how his parents would advise him to stay away from a "slovenly person" when he was a kid.
The guys sensed they were on to a cool, funky term. "It may be viral," they said. "It may be a t-shirt."
Googling "dirtball read," I see the term has been around for a bit. Here's Pittsburgh City Paper last month:

On March 19, Gerrit Cole had his best spring-training outing to date. The Pirates pitcher struck out five and gave up only one run, and the control on his fastball was pretty masterful. But when he met with reporters after the game, it was his other performance that started the conversation.
Cole went 1-2 at the plate with a two-run single, and almost a stolen base. He took second on a pitch in the dirt; the official scorer didn’t award him the steal, but he wasn’t discouraged.
“That’s all right. I’m not chasing stolen bags, I’m chasing stars,” Cole said referring to the “Stargell Stars” that coaches hand out for standout performances. He was looking for one from Kimera Bartee, the Bucs’ first-base and base-running coach. “And what we say in here is the fastest way to get a star is to get 90 feet. KB’s real generous with those stars, so I’m hoping I get my first one.”
Cole even impressed his manager, Clint Hurdle. “It’s called a dirtball read,” Hurdle said with a smile.

And here's the Boston Globe four years ago, when Mike Napoli dislocated his finger. 

“Good dirtball read like that, I was digging myself, and then I looked at my finger and it’s freakin’ sideways so it’s good news it’s not broken,” Napoli said. “I know I hit the bag pretty hard and I looked and it was right there in front of my face, then I saw it and I went, ‘oh, God’ [umpire] Jim Joyce was going ‘oh my God,’ calling for the trainer. It’ll be all right.”

Friday, August 4, 2017

Dellin Betances Is Immaculate

Football may have the Immaculate Reception, as the fabled Terry Bradshaw-to-Franco Harris pass from 1972 is known. But baseball has the Immaculate Inning, which sees a pitcher strike out the side on nine pitches.
Dellin Betances did it for the Yankees this week, throwing nine by the Detroit Tigers to earn his place in the record books. It was a rare highlight for Yankee fans on a rainy day.
Said the NY Times, "Those who stuck it out to the bitter end — there weren’t many — were rewarded with Dellin Betances’s best work of the season, a so-called Immaculate Inning in which he struck out the side – Jim Adduci, Justin Upton and Miguel Cabrera — on nine pitches in the eighth." and Deadspin were among the media outlets also using the phrase this week to describe Betances' rare accomplishment. 
Betances became the sixth Yankee pitcher to attain Immaculate status, said the Times, after Al Downing, Ron Guidry, A.J. Burnett, Ivan Nova and Brandon McCarthy.
Wikipedia has a dedicated section on the Immaculate Inning, and those who have thrown them. (The entry's title is a not very flashy "List of Major League Baseball pitchers who have struck out three batters on nine pitches."
Wikipedia says 82 pitchers have done it, and that includes Lefty Grove, Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson doing so twice, and Sandy Koufax three times.
The first hurler to do it was Boston Beaneater John Clarkson, who did so against the Philadelphia Quakers back in 1889.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Andrew Miller Holds Cubs Hitters' Feet to the Fire

The 2016 World Series is a throwback, not just because it's Indians versus Cubs, but because of the way a fireman has been used to snuff out trouble. Indians skipper Terry Francona has been deploying almost unhittable reliever Andrew Miller as his fireman--the guy you call on to stamp out trouble with his mighty rubber galoshes, whenever that trouble surfaces. Sixth inning? Sure. Fourth inning? Could be.

It's a job that was much more common before the save became a major stat, and a high number of saves meant big bucks in salary.

As noted near the beginning of the season, the sabermetrics geeks have been pushing the fireman model for some time. Writes R.J. Anderson:

For years, devout sabermetricians have urged teams to eschew the traditional closer approach and return to the fireman model -- that is, a roving reliever who checks in during the game's most crucial moment (as opposed to only the ninth inning), and who is able to throw multiple innings per outing. Maybe it's too early to declare Erasmo Ramirez the game's present-day fireman, but he's the closest thing going.

Joe Posnanski delves deep into the return of the fireman on NBC Sports, noting how John Hiller may have been the first of his kind back with the Tigers in the mid '60s. Posnanski gives then-Tigers manager Billy Martin the credit for using his ace reliever in what later became to be known as high leverage situations.

In many ways, Hiller was the first “Fireman,” a term that gained much more popular usage in the 1970’s. He was called to put out fires. And over the next decade or so, the fireman reined. Goose Gossage in 1975 was an extraordinary fireman. Bruce Sutter threw 107 innings in 1977 and had a 6.5 WAR, which would have led the National League this year.
Jim Kern in 1979 for Texas … Doug Corbett for Minnesota in 1980 … Willie Hernandez in his 1984 MVP season … these were firemen. In 1983, Dan Quisenberry set the record with 26 saves pitching at least two innings. The next year, he had 27, which remains the record. Bill Campbell in 1977 had 11 THREE inning saves. Gene Garber (remember him?) had 13 career FOUR inning saves. Rollie Fingers got to the Hall of Fame as a fireman; he had 131 career multi-inning saves, which is the most all time. Lee Smith was a fireman early in his career (though he morphed later into a more modern closer) Kent Tekulve was a fireman. Sparky Lyle … Jeff Reardon … Gary Lavelle … Roger McDowell, among others.

In fact, adept relievers were saluted as firemen years before Hiller took the hill. The Sporting News used to honor the "Fireman of the Year", with the best reliever in each league given the trophy. The award began in 1960 and was renamed Reliever of the Year in 2001. 

Cleveland's Plain Dealer opines that the fireman name, like so much from the '60s and '70s, deserves an update. How about, posits Doug Lesmerises, the Super Reliever?

Francona acknowledges that it's much easier to have a fireman do his thing in the post-season, when everything is at stake and there are several months to rest starting in a few days, than in the regular season. "I guarantee you everyone would like to have Andrew Miller. There's only one," Francona told the Plain Dealer. "There's not many. This isn't really rocket science what we're doing, and we're not reinventing the wheel either."

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Horse, a Stud, The Man, The *Guy*

Decent player. Not a 'guy.'
The team with the most "guys" will almost certainly contend for the World Series trophy come fall.
While every team has 25 guys on its roster--and more guys when rosters expand in September--no team truly has 25 "guys."
Why the quotation marks on "guys," you ask?
Because there are guys. And then there are guys.
According to the Twins' interim GM, Rob Antony, several of his players need to step up to guy level.
Goes the NY Times:
These Twins still believe they have elite young talent, including third baseman Miguel Sano, center fielder Byron Buxton and starter Jose Berrios. But all have disappointed this season.
“I think they want to be guys; I don’t think they know how to just yet,” Antony said, using baseball shorthand for impact players. “Sometimes you’ll see them and they kind of try and put on the facade or act like they’re guys. They’re not guys yet. So it’s going to take some time for them to mature and become major leaguers and be able to perform on a consistent basis. But we do believe that they’re going to be part of our core as we put this thing back together.”
Being a guy, or even the guy, looks like an offshoot of being the man
In Players Tribune last month, Mark DeRosa and Sean Casey, both former players and current MLB Network analysts, played around with the newish lingo. 
Casey said of Nomar Mazara:
He’s legit. I covered the Rangers during spring training and I remember talking with Guillermo Mercedes, who I played with in the minors, and we were on a side field and Mazara was hitting and Guillermo says, “Case, you see this guy right here? This is the guy! This guy is a stud!” He pulled him out of the cage and introduced me to him — really nice kid. A little bit later, I’m talking to Joey Gallo, another top prospect, and he points to Mazara and says the same thing, “This guy’s a stud.” And I’m like, “Wait, but everybody’s talking about you.” And Joey shakes his head. “No, man. This guy. He’s the guy.”
Added DeRosa:
Guys know when a guy is the guy.
Well said, guy. 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Game 7, 1986: Darling Meets Doubleday, Mets Score a Willie

Mets TV analyst Ron Darling has a new book out, looking back on his career, and one game in particular. Game 7, 1986 is a detailed account of his substandard pitching performance in the final game of the '86 Series--following standout showings in Game 1 and Game 4.
The Mets, of course, went on to win the Series, but Darling's shoddy Game 7 stuck in his craw for years and years.
Darling dishes a bit about that colorful Mets squad, and some of the baseball language of the time.
A pitcher getting a win--a W, in common parlance--was also known as getting a Willie.
Conversely, a pitcher getting the loss picked up a Larry.
And what of the dreaded No Decision? At least in Metsland, it was a Nelson Doubleday. (See, ND!), after the publishing magnate who bought the Mets before Darling's time with the club--and the grandnephew of Abner Doubleday.
While it's no Ball Four, Darling does talk a bit about the chemical enhancers that helped players get from Game 1 to Game 162. The failure to launch was the name given to pills that did not do their job.
"You'd lay in just the right cocktail of pills, and time it just right, and still the body would fail to respond," writes Darling. "You'd see guys walking around the clubhouse with this panicked look in their eyes, because they'd done everything they could to get up and ready for the game, never counting on the fact that the physiology of the human body can change from day to day."
Meanwhile, the pre-launch was when the body peaked too early before a game, the pills doing their thing during BP, or in the clubhouse, way before first pitch.
I had a chance to interview Ron about the book, and found him astute and entertaining. He said he had three options for dealing with his frustrations from the fall of 1986--see a therapist, write a book, or indulge heavily in scotch.
I'm glad he chose option 2, as is his liver.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sanchez, With a Twist of Tiant

Aaron Sanchez was doing his thing against the Yankees the other night, hurling pitches on behalf of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Yanks appeared somewhat befuddled by his delivery.
"Sanchez does that Tiant Turn," said announcer Michael Kay. "It's a little disconcerting."
He was, of course, referring to Luis Tiant, who would spin toward second base before dealing a pitch. The Cuban Tiant won 229 games, many of them for the Red Sox, in the '60s, '70s and even into the '80s, generating extra power with his distinctive twist.
A discussion on Baseball Prospectus regarding Tiant mentions the "Tiant Twist". Said Doug Thorburn:
I wish that I could say that I had seen every manipulation of the Tiant twist, but I have only seen a handful of clips. But I dig it.
Perhaps Johnny Cueto of Cincinnati is the best known practitioner of the Tiant Twist. Here's what the Red Legs Baseball blog said on Opening Day last year:
Johnny Cueto looked great, but still uses the Tiant-twist. He'd better be right that the twist isn't causing his injuries, because we can't afford another oblique strain.
Tiant Twist seems more popular a term than Tiant Turn, but I do see a cocktail out there in the webiverse called the Tiant Turn. It's made of Brugal Anejo, Sherry, Mezcal and Orange Bitters, and garnished with an orange twist. 
I shall now raise a glass of Tiant Turn, and perhaps one of Tiant's trademark El Tiante cigars, to that colorful old pitcher.