Time to Go
May 27, 2006

Buddy Bell took Denny Bautista out after 74 pitches.  I understand Bautista wasn't pitching well, but the Royals had a lead and it's not as if the Royals pen has been overly effective or under-used.  How is a young pitcher supposed to learn how to pitch if he's not allowed to pitch.  As a matter of record, the Royals pen surrendered 8 runs over the next 5.1 innings, including 3 homers.  I understand that there are some health concerns with Bautista and he's probably on a pretty tight pitch count.  But his previous two starts start he threw 80 and 100 pitches, so it's not as if he had gone over his pitch count.  Bell should have let him try to finish the inning - he only needed one more out and hadn't allowed a ball out of the infield in four batters.  A strikeout, a bunt single, a foul out and a walk does not sound like a guy completely falling apart.  The guy who should have been his final batter, Carlos Guillen, was already 0-for-2 in the game with a strikeout and a ground out. 

I looked at Buddy Bell's record of success for developing young pitchers and it isn't good.  None of the pitching prospects developed into reliable starter with the possible exception of Shawn Chacon (and that occurred well after Bell's influence was a factor) and Jose Lima, who didn't discover that he was "Lima-time" until after he was traded to Houston.  Justin Thompson was promising in Detroit, but was done after two years under Bell.  It's not that any of them were stone-cold locks to be pitching studs, but at least one of Seth Greisinger, Felipe Lira, Clint Sodowsky, Todd Van Poppel, CJ Nitkowski, Brian Moehler, Brian Powell, Matt Anderson or Sean Runyon should have amounted to at least a useful innings eater.   Well, I guess Moehler did, but again that was well after (seven years) after Bell had any contact with him.  Whatever happened to Zack Greinke, who was one of the best young pitching prospects in baseball?  He had an ERA under 4 before Bell, an ERA nearly 6 under him.  True, the pitching coach has to take some of the responsibility, but isn't Bell ultimately responsible for what his pitchers are being taught?  And doesn't he have some say in who his coaches are?  I have no doubt that Bell is a knowledgeable baseball man and that there are situations where he would fit perfectly for manager.  But the Royals don't appear to be playing very good fundamental baseball in any respect - they are near the bottom of the league in turning balls in play into outs, stolen base percentage, walks, pitches per plate appearance... all things that can be taught how to be better at and don't necessarily require a great deal of talent to be competent - so whatever he is trying to do to make them better clearly isn't working.

Another manager who's overdue to move on is Dusty Baker.  Much has been said about how the Cubs futility to this point is not his fault, but that is really just a case of ignoring the facts.  Jerry Hairston hasn't exactly been smoking the ball, but Dusty Baker has played Neifi Perez almost as much at second base as Hairston.  At least Hairston still has potential to be better.  Currently, Perez is hitting .195 with a .220 on base and a .241 slugging.  If you can't recognize that there is no circumstance in which a player hitting that badly, with a track record of poor hitting as established as Perez', should not be in the everyday line-up, then you aren't qualified to be a manager.  That he has played in 34 of the Cubs' 48 games so far is testament that Baker does not realize how devastating Perez' bat is to his team's chance of scoring.  People may love his defense, but Perez would have to be able to play both short and second at the same time, allowing the team to play a fourth outfielder in order to justify the number of at bats he's getting.  You can't blame a poor offense on the injury of one player when the manager keeps putting his worst hitters in the line-up.

And let's not forget that Mark Prior's health problems, the guy with the perfect pitching mechanics, that his health problems began after Dusty left him on the mound for five 130+ pitch outings over seven starts at the end of the 2003 season.  He has averaged less than 150 innings pitched in a season since.  Kerry Wood has totaled a little over 200 innings since 2003, the year he topped 120 pitches in 6 of his last 10 starts, 13 overall that season.  Maybe those injuries aren't entirely Baker's fault, but he certainly didn't do anything to keep those guys healthy. 

He proved in the playoffs that year and in the 2002 World Series that he's a disaster as an in-game tactician, and the Cubs complete meltdown in 2004 when they lost seven of their final nine games to fall three games out of the wild card position when they led the Astros by four games with nine to go proved that he can't keep a clubhouse together when it's crunch time.  Even this year he can't temper the frustrations of normally staid players like Michael Barrett and Greg Maddux. 

So what is Baker's contribution?  How does he help the team win?  If he can't keep them positive, can't fill out a line-up, can't keep his team's most important assets healthy, can't manage a ball game, why exactly should the Cubs not run to the nearest employment agency to find a better guy to run the team?  Every day the Cubs extend his contract is another day of misery they completely deserve.

Not sure why people keep calling Barry Bonds an "alleged steroid user".  Bonds is an admitted steroid user.  He confessed to using steroids to a grand jury.  His closest confidants - his mistress for whom he was buying a house in order to hide cash income from the IRS, and his close friend and personal trainer - are both on record as saying Bonds used steroids.  One witness testified in an affidavit, the other was recorded crowing about it on tape.  Other players approached Bonds' trainer to "get what Barry was using" and were given steroids.  One of these players, Jason Giambi, testified in a court of law that the stuff he was given by Bonds' trainer was steroids.  Bonds' numbers fully support the assertion from numerous sources that Bonds began using in 1999.  At this point you have to be totally unwilling to accept the facts in the case and/or be disconnected from reality to believe that Bonds did not use performance enhancing drugs.  Of course, there are still plenty of people who believed Pete Rose didn't bet on baseball even after he admitted it in his own book.  What can you do?

That fact that his admission became public from leaked grand jury testimony is irrelevant.  Obviously in a court of law it's not irrelevant, but his confession was given willfully under penalty of perjury and it's highly doubtful anyone would willingly admit breaking a federal statute just for grins.  The notion that we can't call Bonds a cheater or a steroid user because it hasn't been proven in a court of law is laughably absurd.  We don't refer to Al Capone as the famous tax cheat.  We refer to him as the famous gangster, or murderous crime boss even though the only thing he was ever convicted for was tax evasion.  Does anyone seriously think that Nixon had nothing to do with the Watergate break-in or OJ Simpson had nothing to do with his wife's death.  Neither guy was convicted in criminal court yet the public perception is totally justified by a mountain of evidence.  What does it say about Bonds' "feats" that there are hardly any press covering his next home run which would break the tie with Ruth.  If the statistical and anecdotal evidence weren't compelling enough, the general lack of interest in Bonds' "chase" is telling. 

As for the fantasy impact of Bonds this season, I don't want to hurt my arm patting myself on the back quite yet because we still are just two months into the season, but if you bought my book you would have known that Bonds was going to struggle this year.  It's not the "weight" of pursuing Ruth that has depressed his ability to hit like he did in 2004; it's the actual weight of his steroid-inflated body crushing his knee joints that keeps him from hitting anything except meatballs over the heart of the plate and has decreased his ability to handle almost everything outside and most stuff inside.

If you're interested in reading more about Bonds, or about a thousand other players as well as a study showing how Leo Mazzone was not going to save the Orioles rotation, the book is still available.  And I've dropped the cover price to $10 + shipping. 

Felix Hernandez is giving up too much.  True, he's had more than his share of balls in play turn into hits, but I have two thoughts on that. 

The first is and it can't be overstated, he's only 20-years old.  How many 20-year olds do you know have control of their emotions?  If a guy makes an error behind him or a bloop single falls in, does he just shake it off or does it eat at him.  Hernandez, like most athletes with great talent is highly competitive and wants to win all the time.  He's said more than once that he's not fond of pitch counts - does he feel hand-cuffed by them? - and by an edict that limits the number of sliders he can throw.  From the Mariner's perspective, they realize he's the centerpiece of their franchise for the next decade and don't want to jeopardize his health.  But is Hernandez thinking along those same lines long term?  Or is he thinking "geez, if they would just let me pitch the way I'm capable of, I'd shut all these teams down".  So when things start to unravel a little in a game, is he thinking "oh, that's just a little bad luck", or is he muttering in Spanish about indescribably unnatural acts.    Of course the talent is certainly there to turn things around, but is he emotionally mature enough to not let a few bad breaks snowball.  Much older pitchers have succumbed to frustrations so it will truly be a testament to his greatness if Hernandez can keep things on track without losing his cool.

The second part about batting average on balls in play is that they are not overly reliable.  Or should I say that the assumption that all pitchers will revert to close to .300 is false.  Tom Tippett proved as much several years ago, and there are a number of pitchers who consistently hold BABIP well under .300.  Sure, they'll have an occasional anomalous year where they don't, but the guys we all recognize as really good pitchers - the Randy Johnsons, the Pedro Martinez, etc. - consistently post BABIP well below .300.  So when you look at Jose Contreras' or CC Sabathia's numbers and think that the hitters will be catching up with them soon, or look at Josh Towers' or Kyle Lohse' "bad luck" this season and say those guys have got to get better... look at their previous numbers, and think again.