Notes from Around Baseball
April 15, 2011

Honestly, I don't think I've ever used that title before.  I've been writing observations about baseball since 1997 and never have I just come right out and titled a column as simply "notes".  It's both liberating and, frankly, a little underwhelming.  OK, I've done it once... never again.

I didn't write up any team previews this year but if I had I would have guaranteed that the Mets finish in 5th place in the NL East. It's not because Johan Santana is on the shelf and their rotation isn't that great anyway.  Nor is it that that they have so many question marks about health with their regulars - Jason Bay, Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran - or who will eventually play second base for them.  No, it's because for some inexplicable reason the ownership and front office chose Terry Collins as their manager.  Collins is wound about as tight as any manager ever and has zero tolerance for anything that lies outside his imagination.  It's not a coincidence that the Angels won 12 more games the first year after he departed and won the World Series two years later.  It's also not a coincidence that the Killer B Astros never won as many as 85 games under his guidance (which is the number of wins Art Howe was fired over in order to be replaced by Collins) or that they won 20 games more just two years removed from his departure in Houston.  Evidence of his ridiculous standards were on full display when after only 11 games into the season, he was complaining to the media that his team should be 9-2 and that he fully expects them to go 9-2 in their next 11 games.  It's simply not possible to harangue over every mistep and mistake to the degree he does over a 162-game schedule and not severely annoy everyone on the team.  The New York media will only feed on this kind of negative atmosphere.  It would not surprise me at all to see the Mets fail to top 70 wins this season.

Don Baylor is as good a hitting coach as Dave Duncan or Don Cooper are pitching coaches.  And his prize pupil this year, Justin Upton, is already showing signs of a big season.  To date he has as many walks as strikeouts which is huge because if anyone else on that team starts to hit, Upton will see a lot more hittable pitches.  In previous years, pitchers could count on Upton getting himself out with bad swings on pitches out of the strikezone.  This year, Baylor has him swinging only at pitches within his comfort zone.  The numbers don't shout it right now, but they will.  This is the year Upton becomes the hitter everyone has projected of his prodigious talent.

The preseason sleeper that has me concerned is Jay Bruce who is starting his swing as soon as he steps out of the dug-out.  I'm hoping this is nothing more than a bad run where he's not seeing the ball well and that at some point in the next few weeks he'll start being more selective.  But for now this is definitely something to monitor.

I watch a lot of college baseball and Trevor Bauer, who is not quite as highly prized as Gerrit Cole at UCLA, but still potentially a top 10 pick, threw 134 pitches in his last start, and has averaged 122 per outing this year.  I asked Aaron Fitt of Baseball America if that kind of workload would affect his draft value it and he suggested I needed to get a life. "Too much gnashing of teeth over pitch counts".  To put this in context, the average college starting pitcher throws about 105 pitches an outing these days.  And perhaps Fitt's comment is true...  except that the coach at Rice University, Wayne Graham, has been raked over the coals for leaving his starters out for high pitch counts for much of the last decade and despite having 3 guys taken in the top ten picks in 2004 from his staff - Jeff Neimann, Philip Humber and Wade Townsend - all have struggled through arm/shoulder injuries and surgeries since being drafted.  Only last year did Niemann finally start living up to his potential.  Humber has been middling at best and Townsend never made it past AA and is pitching somewhere in the independent leagues these days.  Likewise, Josh Geer, Joe Savery, Ryan Berry and Eddie Degerman have so far failed to become major leaguers despite consierable success at Rice.  Augie Garrido at Texas also came under considerable criticism for high pitch counts with his pitchers (although he has been more restrained in recent years) as did Skip Bertman at LSU.  With as much talent as those programs have been handed over the last decade or so, to have turned out so few legitimate major league starting pitchers should give one pause.  But back to Bauer, it's true he has similar mechanics to Tim Lincecum, and while at Washington Lincecum threw a lot pitches, especially his last season, averaging more than 120 per start with a high of 145 in his final start there.  That said, he was 22 years old his junior year whereas Bauer is only 20.  It might not seem like a big deal but two years is a huge deal in the develoment of a prospect.   However, Bauer, like Lincecum, might be an outlier when it comes to high counts as both use an unorthodox delivery that is surprisingly mechanically sound.  And both pitchers are astute students of mechanics so if they both continue with their current rate of success, we could start to see a wave of young pitchers taking their mechanical cues from the Freak, and the Freak Jr. 
On the Southside of Chicago, I don't think Matt Thornton is the solution at closer.  The bigger problem for the Pale Hose is that they don't really have a ninth inning guy.  There's no question that Thornton, Chris Sale and Jesse Crain have the velocity to close but none of them appear to have that killer outpitch to get the crucial outs when they need it most.  You'll hear a lot of people say that anyone can be a closer, and I guess technically that is true: any pitcher can record the final out of a game.  The odds are on their side.  The irony is that those same people claim that Mariano Rivera is not only the greatest closer ever, but that he has been as valuable as some of the best position players in the game.  So if anyone can close, how can one make the claim that something anyone can do is that valuable?  Anyone can be a back-up catcher so should we expect a spate of lists naming the greatest back-up catchers ever?  Or the best utility infielders?  Or 5th outfielders?  You can't have it both ways.  Either a closer is special and does a job that only a few can do, or there can't be any closers who are as valuable as some of the great everyday players.  My view is that even for a season, a pitcher has to have something special going for him to be a closer and I just don't think the White Sox have such a guy.  Maybe Sergio Santos will surprise.  Whoever it is better emerge failry quickly or my preseason pick to win the AL Central, the White Sox, will miss the postseason. 

If I have one rule in fantasy baseball as well as life in general, it's never panic.  There's almost always time to survey the situation, assess the alternatives and make an informed decision, or at least one that has a reasonable foundation.  It used to be in fantasy circles that information was rare, that most moves were made on gut feeling.  Nowadays, there are literally more statistics than one can reasonably assimilate.  You want to know a guy's average velocity on his change-up?  It's available.  You want to know the ratio of fastballs he throws?  It's there.  You want to know the exact number of swings he induced over the last three seasons on sliders outside the zone?  Yeah, you guessed it. 

So why does it seem that people are more panicky than ever?  The amount of articles cautioning people that it's still early in the season, that there no reason to worry about Albert Pujols' slow start, that you will regret dropping him in favor of Willy Aybar... that number has increased 1000% or so it seems.  With all the information out there that can be used to allay irrational fears, why are people even more prone to making stupid decisions?  I suppose the same can be said of voters... and yet that is exactly what we're seeing.  There's more information available than ever so that one should be able to make smarter, more informed decisions.  Yet people are acting more and more like panicky sheep, making dumber and dumber decisions regarding their own fortunes.  Why?   I'm sure someone will win a Nobel Prize when they figure that one out. 

Look, your team couldn't be any worse off them my XFL team, which currently has more salary on the DL that it has active. And yes, they are in last place.  But seriously, we're just finishing the second week of the season... that's a little more than 7%.  No one (except for maybe Wisconsin) would call an election with only 7% of the precincts reporting.  Trust your draft for at least a month and take advantage of all that information.  Find out why your players are underperforming before jettisoning your master plan.  Far more leagues are lost in the first month of the season from panic than are won in the draft.