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.