AL East

Why The O’s Need Another A.J.

By: Action Jackson

The available starting pitching market is strangely strong this late in the offseason. While Masahiro Tanaka’s (inevitable?) signing with the Yankees took the final true ace off the board, and Matt Garza’s subsequent deal with the Brewers thinned the crop further, there are still solid, mid-rotation options available to the highest bidder. And while no team has pulled the trigger yet on either Ubaldo Jimenez or Ervin Santana, the addition of A.J. Burnett to the mix last week has only made the landscape more complicated, and more interesting for the teams with the most dire pitching needs.

One of those teams is the Baltimore Orioles. And they need A.J. Burnett more than anybody, even more than the Pittsburgh Pirates club that can’t afford to lose him. Let’s look at the Baltimore rotation as it stands today, with less than two weeks before pitchers and catchers report to Sarasota.

Will Burnett trade in his yellow for orange this season?

Will Burnett trade in his yellow for orange this season?

I wouldn’t even call Chris Tillman’s 2013 season a regression as much as normalizing, as he posted a 113 ERA+ and the highest K rate of his career (7.8/9.0 IP) alongside a 1.22 WHIP in his age 25 season. Miguel Gonzalez’s ERA leveled out to his FIP (4.38 in ’12, 4.45 in ’13), and it would seem foolish to expect any major jumps from him as he falls onto the wrong side of 30 in May. Wei-Yin Chen’s tick-above-average consistency through his first two MLB seasons has given us a reasonable expectation of the same for him moving forward. And after easily the best season of his career in 2012, Jason Hammel fell back to his career norms as a 30-year-old last season and, what’s that, he just signed with the Cubs? Ah, never mind.

However, outside of the rushed and wildly inconsistent Kevin Gausman (who probably profiles better as a back-end reliever), there is no other viable starter to speak of in Baltimore as the calendar flips to February. The four aforementioned hurlers (now whittled to three) each posted better than 2:1 K:BB rates, but none better than Chen’s 2.67. And Tillman’s career-best K rate was easily the highest of the lot, as none of the others broke 7. They are a crew of mid-rotation starters with no captain, no stopper, no ace.

Burnett has the potential to be all of those, albeit unspectacularly so. He whiffed a league-leading 9.8 batters per nine last season, topping 200 strikeouts for the third time in his career. And while he just turned 37, he has learned to accommodate his arsenal as he has aged, adding terrific secondary pitches to his once overpowering fastball to continue to pump out results. He has averaged 32 starts and 200 innings over his past six seasons, his numbers improving over the past two years.

There may be some concern that a return to the American League East might hurt his peripherals, which is certainly a valid thought. However, Burnett is 27-19 with a 3.94 ERA (190 ER/434.1 IP) in his career against the other members of the division (not to mention 12-6 against Baltimore), and is certainly no stranger to the opponents or the ballparks after three seasons apiece in Toronto and the Bronx. He was an emotional clubhouse leader for a Pittsburgh team that broke through 20 years of failure to make the playoffs as well, and would seem to be exactly the type of veteran presence Baltimore could use.

Especially because – like it or not, believe it or not, Orioles fans – Baltimore’s small window of contention is already closing. Adam Jones, Chris Davis and Matt Weiters alone just earned a combined $16.55 million in raises from last season, numbers that will only continue to climb in the latter two’s final year of arbitration following the upcoming campaign.

Plus, there’s this.

Free Agents after 2014:

J.J. Hardy

Free Agents after 2015:

Chris Davis

Nick Markakis*

Darren O’Day**

Steve Pearce

Nolan Reimold

Matt Weiters

*The club owns a $2.5 million buyout on Markakis after 2014, which they may well exercise if he doesn’t return to form following a negative fWAR campaign in 2013.

**O’Day has a $4.5/$400K buyout for ‘15, which seems an obvious pick-up considering he is the club’s best reliever.

That’s the sound of the window closing. A high-priced gamble on a large contract for Jimenez or Santana seems ill advised, and probably out of the Orioles price range if they want to lock up any of their existing offensive stars. But they could get away with a one- or two-year deal for Burnett at a reasonable cost, giving them a fighting chance in what promises to be another tough A.L. East.

NL East

Mad Dog World

By: Action Jackson

On Wednesday afternoon, at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, the Baseball Writers Association of America will release this year’s ballot results for the Hall of Fame Class of 2014. And while there will be plenty of controversy surrounding PED use, era to era comparisons, and some worthy omissions due to a loaded list of names, one player will quietly, and perhaps undeservedly, sneak his way into baseball immortality.

There are four notable starting pitchers on this year’s Hall of Fame ballot who are either first- or second-year nominees. Each of these four has an ERA+ of 123 or better, a WHIP under 1.20, no less than 80 bWAR, more than 2,800 strikeouts and a K/BB rate of 3:1 or better (save for one at 2.96). Those are all excellent, Hall-worthy numbers. Then there’s this guy:

ERA+: 118

WHIP: 1.314

bWAR: 74

Strikeouts: 2,607

K/BB Rate: 1.74

Compared to the first four, this pitcher is clearly inferior by just about any metric. And yet, only one of those first four is guaranteed to make the Hall of Fame (while at least one certainly won’t and the other two are longshots) this year, yet this fifth fellow is a stone cold Cooperstown lock. How could that be? Let’s really look at the numbers as they stack up once again.

HOFNoNames

I mean, this is a no-brainer, right? How could Pitcher Number Five possibly compare? Well, two reasons. One is the stupidest one, which you’ve probably already realized: wins. We don’t need to go into great detail (again) here to reestablish why wins are such an outdated statistic, especially when one pitches for a prolific offensive club, such as Pitcher Number Five did for much of his career. But there may be another reason in play here, a sort of association buoyancy taking place, by which the stone cold lock from the group above is lifting Pitcher Number Five to a status greater than he perhaps deserves.

Let’s look at that chart again, this time with wins added in at the bottom, and names at the top.

HOFNames

Ah, well then. Note that Greg Maddux ranks second in ERA+, third in WHIP, second in bWAR, second in strikeouts, and third in K/BB rate. Yet, he is (and deservedly so) undoubtedly heading to Cooperstown, and may well have as the first-ever, unanimous, first-time vote-getter (if it weren’t for this), a prediction I made when he retired.

Tom Glavine, though, ranks dead last among the five in each category, and really isn’t close in a couple of them. Except, right, wins. And while Roger Clemens will be kept out for other reasons, it’s hard to argue that Glavine was more effective at his craft than either Curt Schilling or Mike Mussina.

So what, then? Surely these numbers surprised some of you to look at. How was yours and mine and all of our perception of Glavine’s greatness so overly inflated?

Glavine and Maddux pitched together in the same rotation for 11 seasons, from 1993-2003. During that time, the duo led the Braves to a division title every year (save the strike season of 1994), topping 100 wins as a team six times in 10 full seasons. Perhaps the gap between the two was less noticeable then, leading us to see them as equals? Here are their numbers as teammates:

Maddux: 194-88, 2.63 (163 ERA+), 1,828 K, 1.051 WHIP, 4.77 K/BB (3 CY, 4 other top 5)

Glavine: 178-97, 3.35 (128 ERA+), 1,492 K, 1.137 WHIP, 1.75 K/BB (1 CY, 3 other top 5)

So, no. Maddux had seven top-five Cy Young finishes over that span, including three wins. Glavine finished in the top five four times, winning once. That happened in 1998, when Maddux led the league with a 2.22 ERA, 187 ERA+, 0.980 WHIP and five shutouts. He struck out 47 more batters than Glavine that season, amassing better than twice the K/BB rate (4.53 to 2.12). He won two fewer games, finishing fourth in the CY voting.

Maddux will be looking over his shoulder at Glavine Wednesday, when both are elected into Cooperstown.

Maddux will be looking over his shoulder at Glavine Wednesday, when both are elected into Cooperstown. (USA Today)

Maddux was also the best defensive player at his position in his generation, possibly ever. While Gold Gloves have sometimes been awarded unmeritoriously over the years, Maddux’s 18 (!) victories in the category are no fluke. Even if he only deserved half of them (and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone to argue that point), he’d still go down as an absolute wizard with the glove.

And then there is Glavine, whose peripherals are head-scratchingly mediocre. His WHIP ranks right behind the likes of Ted Lilly (1.255), Ervin Santana (1.281) and Bronson Arroyo (1.292). His K/BB rate is lower than that of Darren Oliver (1.75), Barry Zito (1.78) and Dontrelle Willis (1.79), not exactly control pitchers. One of Glavine’s most fair, mid-career, contemporary comps is to C.J. Wilson, who shares his career ERA+ and K/BB rate to the hundredth of a point.

Just as there’s nothing wrong with Wilson, there’s nothing wrong with Glavine. He was a very solid number two starter for a very long time. He was never in any trouble off the field, nor linked to any of the scandals that tarnished the game in the past couple decades. He seems like a pleasant enough person, and that he has a sense of humor, from his unforgettable turn with Maddux and Mark McGwire in probably the single greatest commercial of the ‘90s.

But beyond the 300 wins, maybe it’s because of this association – that we rarely even speak of Maddux without mentioning Glavine, despite a clear disparity in their talents – that we’ll watch Glavine enter Cooperstown while more deserving candidates like Mussina and Schilling sit idly by, waiting their turn until a later date.

AL East Narratives

I Have a Problem with Chris Davis

I have a problem with Chris Davis.

It’s not the same problem some other sportswriters have with him. I’m not upset at his amazing breakout season, which has him on pace to accomplish what few in the sport ever have. I’m mildly skeptical of his ability to flip balls out of the park on off-balance swings the way that nobody else in the sport can at the moment, but I don’t adamantly believe him to be a user of performance-enhancing drugs.

No, my problem has to do with what Chris Davis says he wants. He says he wants to be a role model, to set an example of how to play the game the right way. In his own words, from an interview with the Baltimore Sun last week:

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture? (ESPN.com)

“It’s something that every guy should be aware of — what you’re portraying yourself to be, not only to the public, but especially to the kids…I want to be the guy that parents aren’t afraid to tell their kids to look up to and to model themselves after.”

That quote was displayed on the MASN feed the other day, one that MLB Network broke into coverage to show during his at-bat against the Toronto Blue Jays. He worked the count full, then did the unbelievable and yet expected again, sending his 36th home run of the season towering out to the opposite field into the delirious Camden Yards bleachers. And he did all of it with about the largest possible wad of tobacco jammed into the side of his mouth.

Now, Davis is hardly alone in his habit. Even in this age of nutritiously conscious clubhouse kitchens, obsessive workout routines, preventative and therapeutic body work, many ballplayers still indulge routinely in chewing tobacco. It is as ubiquitous in big league dugouts as sunflower seeds and bubblegum, just another habit to help ballplayers remain calm and focused throughout a game that requires both in order to be sharp for the short bursts of action amidst the resting tension each game provides.

Davis' perma-dip is as ubiquitous as his home run swing.

Davis’ perma-dip is as ubiquitous as his home run swing. (USA Today)

While tobacco is banned at the minor league level, it is rarely if ever enforced, and extends back to the amateur ranks in college, and even high school. And while the focus of baseball’s crackdown on performance enhancing drugs has taken center stage, that of its policy against tobacco has fallen by the wayside.

One man who needs no reminders of the perils of dipping is Brett Butler, the former Major League middle infielder who currently manages the Triple-A Reno Aces. With 2,375 career hits and over 550 stolen bases, Butler was one of the better leadoff hitters of his generation and probably deserves a place in the proverbial Hall of the Very Good. However, Butler is most famous for the 16th of his 17 seasons as a big leaguer, when he was diagnosed with a squamous cell carcinoma of the tonsils; cancer, for those laymen among us, caused by his years of tobacco use. And despite the fact that “it almost ate away my gums away at the bottom,” and that he had to undergo 32 rounds of radiation, Butler still doesn’t back a ban on smokeless tobacco at either the Major or minor league levels.

That’s how ingrained it is in the baseball culture. That’s how well accepted it is as simply part of the game. And its why, even if you’re no fan of Josh Hamilton (and this writer most certainly is not), you have to admire his decision to quit dipping, even if others vilified him for it.

Hamilton knew he was in the public eye, scrutinized for his habits on and off the field as much as anyone due to his personal history of drug and alcohol abuse. He realized, in his own way, that it was hypocritical of him to hold himself up as “clean” if he was still dipping every day. So, potentially at the cost of some level of personal success, he stopped. If Josh Hamilton, of all people, can kick that addiction, surely Chris Davis can do the same.

If Davis truly wants to be a role model, he should quit.

If Davis truly wants to be a role model, he should quit. (USA Today)

There’s nothing wrong with shunning the spotlight when attention is suddenly thrust upon you. Roger Maris, owner of the “legitimate” single-season home run record Davis is chasing, was infamous for his distaste of the sudden celebrity and fanfare surrounding his 1961 season. To do so in today’s world of ubiquitous media is certainly much more difficult; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa relished the attention lavished on them by a nation desperate to put the labor strike of 1994 behind them.

I don’t have any problem with Chris Davis hitting home runs and chasing history. I don’t have any issue with the way he carries himself, and I admire the fact that he wants to be a role model for the next generation. All of these things are good for the game of baseball.

But if he really wants to embrace his role in the spotlight, to show the way to play the game, he should kick that nasty habit. If he really wants to break the record “cleanly” for all the kids, he should quit the dip. Then he would really be someone to look up to.

Around The League NL West Season Previews

10&5 Official Team Preview: Bay Area Problems – The San Francisco Giants

A post-World Series offseason is a whirl. It makes Spring Training‘s attendant eternal promise feel almost diminished — it’s harder to imagine a best-case scenario when you’ve recently lived through one. Reminds me of the 49ers‘ glory years. I’d file that feeling under Bay Area problems.

image

* Biggest Strength: Pitching. Of course. With determined lead horse Cain, a re-tooled Bumgarner, and the constant vengeance-against-the-past of Vogey, the top three SFG starting pitchers are steady, unsparing, and ferocious mow-’em-down competitors. Zito is entering both one of the strangest contract years of all time and odd local folk hero status, having ridden in cavalry-style to save the Giants’ 2012 postseason multiple times. And whither Lincecum? There’s no telling how effective he will be, though Bochy now has a blueprint of how to leverage a struggling Tim, we’d all prefer if he didn’t have to put Lincecum in the bullpen again.

* Biggest Weakness: Everything involving batting. Yes, the Giants could use more contact and power. There are now basepath threats, but that doesn’t matter when guys can’t get their bat on the ball. Pagan is coming off of a career season. Scutaro played at a level unforseen. Pence still hasn’t hit the ball consistently while wearing orange and black. Belt has shown flashes in Spring Training, and we’ve all been watching for him to make steps. Buster can only do so much. All of this adds up to a mixed bag of inconsistent variables leading to that most San Francisco of tragedies: a Cain Game. A Cain Game is when a team’s starter throws a quality start yet still loses the game due to a lack of run support. When the variables miss the saving throw, a Cain Game is what occurs.

* Players to Watch Out For: Not so much a player to look out for, the left field slot will be one to watch. How will Blanco‘s streakiness keep him in the field? And for how long? Will Andres Torres be able to provide impact and OBP against left-handed pitchers? After a scorching Spring Training, will Peguero force his way into the lineup? How much time might Giraffe spend here? Remember (dimly), the Giants were so hard-up for left-fielders that Xavier Nady spent time there in 2012. Somewhere in America, OF prospect Gary Brown awaits.

* Best Case Scenario: Hardened by a season-long duel with the Dodgers, the Giants pull away in the stretch run, bulling through the playoffs with a velocity outsized from their parts and making their playoff opponents look like the 2012 Detroit Tigers. Another trophy is hoisted. Vin Scully continues broadcasting for at least another decade.

* Worst Case Scenario: The old guys get hurt. The outfielders fail to produce any baserunners, repeatedly squandering sterling pitching performances. Panda eats himself out of a job and out of the city. And Buster snaps his ankle irreparably.

Narratives

Fryer’s Arc

He named the bat Fryer.

Exactly as he spelled it out:

“F-R-Y-E-R,” [Hunter] Pence said. “Whatever word comes to mind, I just write on it. If I know I’m going to use ‘em in a game, I’ll name ‘em.”

Fryer's final hit(s)

Fryer broke, and then slung the ball on off an incredible spin.

Fryer's final issuance

Nothing like this has ever happened before. Pence and Fryer made it happen.

Fryer's route

And though this was his glorious last at-bat,

“He will always be Fryer to me,” Pence said.

(GIFs via mlbgifs.com.)

Narratives

Someone goes in the ground today.

Let Hunter speak.

No more need to catch up. This is the chance that was hoped for — a last chance.

Someone’s season ends today, guys.

Make it theirs.

Around The League Narratives

Premium Ice Cream Price Wars

Bryce Harper this, Bryce Harper that. I’ve got other things on my mind.

As I reflect on an already fascinating season in MLB, I think of the stories that have brought me to closer to you, the home viewer:

Philip Humber, who recovered from Tommy John surgery to throw MLB’s 21st perfect game. Never you mind the check-swing end to the story. Check swings are and always have been highly arbitrary. (The sci-fi part of my brain is wondering if we will one day live in a world where pitchers have Tommy John surgery without first injuring themselves. It’d be like a toddler with a tiara going to Argentina for an eyelash extension!)

Eddie Murphy on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Has nothing to do with baseball, but watch it anyway.

Matt Kemp has morphed into baseball’s Michael Jordan. What will a Kemp slump do to Dodgerland? He’s all those fans have to hope for at the moment. Yes, I understand that we just saw a sweep of the first-place Nationals, but James Loney has to do better than .230, or this club will not maintain relevance past the All-Star break. I hang it all on Loney and I always have. Andre Ethier too.

Tom Hanks, as Jimmy Dugan (who was modeled after Hack Wilson), reminded us that “there’s no crying in baseball.” I’m trying to remember the last time I cried about baseball. It was probably the day I was cut from the high school team.

The Red Sox will be fine. Too much talent. Teams have played well with managers they don’t like, all throughout history. You think those hard men in the early days loved John McGraw, man for man? I doubt it.

Those of you who know my play-by-play work know that I am given to flights of fancy, as the inimitable Bob Uecker displays here in giving us some revisionist history about Western Metal Supply Co.

I’m watching Jay Leno’s first stand-up performance on “Carson” in 1977, the year my parents met. Judge for yourself.

The day after we watched Barry Bonds tie Hank Aaron’s home-run mark in San Diego, we took in a 14-inning game at Sam Lynn Ballpark. Sergio Romo tossed 2 2/3 scoreless relief innings in the 9th, 10th, and 11th; Pablo Sandoval went 2-for-7.

More tomorrow! Maybe we’ll even do a podcast.

Narratives

On Facing Anxiety

Aubrey HuffAubrey Huff is on the DL with anxiety.

Anxiety is a difficult thing to grapple with. At times, fighting anxiety can feel like trying to handcuff smoke. You can’t directly lay your hands on it and “fix” it. You can’t slice it out of your body like a tumor.

And in a sport as dependent on confidence as baseball is, anxiety can be crippling.

Huff was brave enough to talk about what he was dealing with in his statement to the fans and the team:

Thank you to the fans, media and Giants organization for the outpouring of support during this very difficult week. I’m especially grateful for the texts and calls from my teammates, who are like my brothers and have let me know they’re here for me.

My goal is to get back on the field as soon as possible. To do that, I have to focus completely on getting well. I know I’m in a public job, and I’ve been one of the more open guys. But sometimes you have to pull back and work on things in private. This is one of those times.

I appreciate your understanding and patience.

And in writing about Huff’s fight, as he broke the news in SFGate’s The Splash blog, San Francisco Chronicle SFG beat writer Henry Schulman revealed that he also struggles with anxiety and depression.

Before I continue this story, I need to disclose something. I have struggled with whether to say this publicly, and how to do it, but this gives me a good opening. Since 2009 I have been treated for depression, in therapy and medicinally, and continue to be treated. Many awful things happened to me and people around me in a very short time, and my mental health was affected. Anxiety and panic attacks were part of it.

I say this, then, from experience. Everybody will have an opinion about what set this off, but you can’t know, and it’s possible Huff doesn’t know. Sometimes a panic attack just happens.

Oh Henry!

Pictured: Hank Schulman's perennial Twitter icon.

Schulman is brave and gritty in his own disclosure. Writing is also deeply rooted in confidence, and when a writer can’t write, it is a difficult, claustrophobic feeling.

I speak from experience as well: This past year has felt like a running battle for me with anxiety and with my own perfectionism. It has slowed down my output and it made everything much more wearying, including writing for and coding for TenAndFive. I sought help with how I was being unkind to myself, made adjustments to what I was doing, and make headway each day. This article is proof of that.

My way of facing it is to write about it and to laud these two men who face similar difficulty in their everyday lives. And also to pass along the information of how to get help if you or someone you know is having a problem with anxiety.

If you feel anxiety and need to get help, here are some contact numbers:

National Institute of Mental Health Information Center
1-866-615-6464
8:00 AM to 8:00 ET, Monday through Friday
http://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml

National Mental Health Association Hotline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week
http://www.nmha.org

National Suicide Hotline
1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433)
Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week
http://www.hopeline.com

If you’d like to send a letter of support to Huff, you should. Here’s the address:

Aubrey Huff
c/o San Francisco Giants
AT&T Park
24 Willie Mays Plaza
San Francisco, CA 94107

If you’d like to send a note of support to Schulman, that would also be nice of you. His Twitter account is @HankSchulman.

What else can help against anxiety? Baseball helps. Writing helps. Everyone faces anxiety differently. There is no need to face it alone.

Thank you Aubrey, and thank you Henry.

Narratives

Can I Borrow A Feeling?

Some of my favorite intro music for batters and pitchers – and ballpark music at large – is presented here without embellishment. Go download it at your leisure, for sadly I am not made of iTunes gift cards. You have to attend Fishbowl trivia night to have a crack at those.

Ryan Cavan – Citizen Cope, “Bullet and a Target

Tim Lincecum – MGMT, “Electric Feel

Paul O’Neill – The Who, “Baba O’Riley

Joe Sanders – Aloe Blacc, “I Need A Dollar

Randy Winn - Common, “Universal Mind Control

Logan Wood - Nate Dogg, “Nobody Does It Better

My favorite pre-game tune as a child at Candlestick: Roy Orbison, “You Got It

My favorite pre-game tune as an adult at the Coliseum: The Rolling Stones, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Honorable mention: Bob Marley, “Buffalo Soldier” – it should have been Barry Bonds’ music, like, all the time

Narratives NL West

DM @BrianWilson38, Re: Mid-Season Form

To the detriment of blood pressure throughout The Bay Area, Brian Wilson‘s pitching stuff is in mid-season form.

Witness the play-by-play from yesterday’s stress-tastic final inning from Colorado against the Rockies where Wilson entered with a three run lead:

 

Bottom 9th: Colorado

- B. Wilson relieved J. Lopez
- T. Tulowitzki doubled to right center
- M. Cuddyer singled
- W. Rosario struck out swinging
- J. Giambi hit for R. Betancourt
- J. Giambi singled to shallow right, T. Tulowitzki to third, M. Cuddyer to second
- J. Herrera ran for J. Giambi
- T. Helton hit for C. Nelson
- T. Helton lined out to second
- T. Colvin walked, T. Tulowitzki scored, M. Cuddyer to third, J. Herrera to second
- M. Scutaro flied out to right

 

Yup, that’s a familiar pain.