Thursday, November 27, 2008

Maple Not Ash, Not Lately

Terminology for a baseball bat.

The barrel is the thick part of the bat, where the bat is meant to hit the ball. The part of the barrel best for hitting the ball with, according to construction and swinging style, is often called the sweet spot.

The bat drop of a baseball bat is the difference of its weight (in ounces) to its length (in inches). For example, a 30-ounce bat, 33-inch long bat has a bat drop of minus 3 (30-33=-3). Larger bat drops help to increase swing speed. Bats with smaller drops create more power.

Supposedly the first player to use a maple bat was Joe Carter. The former Cub and Toronto Blue Jay hero, who ended his career wearing orange and black as a Giant.

Barry Bonds used the bat the season he passed Mark McGwire for the single-season record of home runs, when he hit 73 to McGwire's 70. And during that devastating year, 2001, when you think of the rubble and smoke where the Twin Towers stood a short while ago on 9/11, and someone speaks of maple bats, you might think of flying chunks of wood. But when number 25 stepped into the batter's box, you saw nothing but a ball taking a ride or lots of pitches out of the strike zone.

Recently, Major League baseball has debated whether maple bats are safe to use, due to the tendency for them to shatter into pieces. And this is where the major leagues is at. MLB needs more information before a decision on maple bats can be made. What are their limitations, as far as the adjustments made to the bat by the player who purchases them.

Some good information on this subject was received by reading John Donovan's article in on June 17, 2008. He starts out the piece with: In the parlance of batmakers, it's not the species, it's what you do with the species.

Maple bats are generally considered denser, heavier and less flexible than their ash counterparts. "Maple bats break much more dramatically because of the shorter grain structure. When they break they explode, " says Rick Redman of Louisville slugger, the biggest supplier of bats to major league baseball (mlb).

Louisville slugger, the imprimatur (license to print) of batmaker Hillerich & Bradsby, now makes more maple bats for big leaguers than ash bats.

Jim Sherwood, who runs the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, has done research for MLB into how maple bats break. The league, too, has started to compile some information on its own. But no data has been released.

Jim Anderson says his company (Max Bat's) would welcome revised regulations on bat specifications. The current rules, he says, allow for barrels that are too big (up to 2 3/4 in diameter) and handles that might be considered by some as too skinny (and sometimes are made even skinnier when players shave them to cut down on weight.) The relationship between the size of the barrel (Anderson says they should be no bigger than 2 1/2 in diameter) and the size of the handle (regulation states it can be no skinnier than 16/19 of an inch), if too severe, may well cause bats to snap.

The rules on the relationship between the length of the bat and the weight of it also should be revised, he says. Anderson's company, for example, would like to see a limit of what he calls "minus -2" between the length of the bat (in inches) and its weight (in ounces). "It's not the wood species. It's the profile."

All of these changes would presumably enable the companies that make maple bats- there are more than 30 (no exact number was given) registered batmakers with MLB, all of whom must carry liability insurance- to use better wood stock to produce safer, more dependable bats.

Tom Verducci (of Inside Baseball) wrote a piece that appeared in on June 17, 2008. Verducci mentions how commissioner Bud Selig has expressed his concern about the maple bats and will have his major league baseball officials meet. This date was set at June 24th. According to Verducci, doing nothing no longer is an option. Well, nothing has happened yet and we're just about to enter December of 2008.

The league has to look at all the facts and establish guidelines every bit as important as the steroid policy because these bats are a threat to someone's safety.

You need to go all the way back to 1893- when flat-sided bats were banned with a rule stating "bats must be completely round" -to find a change to hitter's equipment as the one that might be forthcoming.

Baseball will NOT be able to claim, in court, that it was unaware of the hazards caused by maple bats, which routinely break apart in large jagged pieces that put players and, most especially, fans in harms way. Major League Baseball has been collecting breakage information for years from club equipment managers and, most obviously, seen the scary highlights nightly.

Approximately 55% of major leaguers use maple bats.

"I'm not so much worried myself," Blue Jays third baseman Scott Rolen said. "I'm locked in and concentrated on every pitch and every swing. I can see the ball and the bat. But I don't want my family sitting near the field unless they are behind the (backstop) screen. The bats are a hazard for fans more so than players."

Rolen said he tried maple bats briefly, but gave them up when two of those bats exploded even though he made contact with the baseball on the sweet spot of the barrel, a common complaint among maple users.

Players who prefer maple bats note that they do not flake like ash bats can and tend to maintain their hardness longer-as long as they don't bust in half.

Nimbleness and responsiveness never have been part of baseball's strong suits. But the danger of maple bats is unmistakable.

And as a reminder, Verducci adds...

Baseball players gradually have moved toward light bats with thick barrels and thin handles, in part because they have learned to hit with metal bats. For instance, Babe Ruth, in 1927, wielded a 35" bat that weighed 40 ounces while becoming the Father of power hitting (I like Dad of Dong). But Ruth probably didn't need such weight, or mass, in his bat. Because the bat already has so much more mass than the ball, bat speed (velocity) is much more significant than the mass.

(thanks to Tom Verducci, John Donovan, and Baseball-Reference)

Kevin Marquez

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lineup Cards

Inspired by a Steve Wulf article in the October 20, 2008 issue of ESPN magazine, entitled Between the Lines, I wanted to share some of his insights and hopefully they'll make your own imagination runneth wild with the way it used to be...between the lines.

Historically, Henry Chadwick is listed as one of baseball's first real chroniclers, I guess that means other writers were sent on baseball assignments but Mr. Chadwick took them more seriously because the game had a place in his heart and he felt the game deserved more than a piece written by someone "on the outside looking in."

In 1867, Chadwick advised, "Let your first striker always be the coolest hand of the nine." And in this simple sentence Chadwick may have hit upon the ideal leadoff man. As records are, Mr. Wulf was able to come up wasn't until 1908 that the fourth-place hitter in the lineup was called "the cleaner-up."

In the early days of baseball, batting orders were in the hands of the team captains, not managers, and captains were not averse to such chicanery as changing the order during the middle of the game. Because such behavior was not exhibiting the integrity of the game the National League (Senior Circuit) adopted a new rule in 1881 that required "the captain of each nine to furnish the entire batting order by nine o'clock on the morning of each game." Thus the lineup card became an official document.

(According to Steve Wulf) Science: Baltimore Oriole manager, Earl Weaver, was one of the first managers to rely heavily on statistics. He would use index cards prepared by Orioles statistician, Charles Steinberg. But in the 1979 playoffs against the California Angels, recently acquired John Montague was warming up in the bullpen and Weaver didn't have a card for him. So he called Steinberg in the press box and asked him to look up Montague's stats. Weaver then sent his daughter, a stadium attendant, to retrieve the data. She came running downstairs, through the Orioles' clubhouse and past a naked Jim Palmer (she says she shielded her eyes) and handed the card to her father. Upon seeing that John Lowenstein owned Montague, Weaver said, "LOWENSTEIN, GRAB A BAT." He homered to win the game.

(According to Steve Wulf) Dumb Luck: Joe Morgan (not the Hall of Famer) once filled out his Red Sox lineup card after confusing White Sox starting pitcher Shawn Hillegas, a righty, with Paul Kilgus, a lefty. As Joe Castiglione, the longtime Boston announcer, recalls, "We're scratching our heads upstairs, wondering why Rick Cerone, the righty-hitting catcher, is in the lineup instead of Rich Gedman, the lefty-hitting catcher. Lo and behold, Cerone hits a home run to win the game. So much for managerial genius."

(According to Wulf) Protocol: Doug"Rooster" Radar, when he was managing the Texas Rangers in the 1980s, once gave the umpire a card on which the other team's lineup included the names of the umpires. His point, of course, was that they were favoring the other side anyway.

Retired-Umpire Bruce Froemming, whose sense of humor is the antithesis of his body type, which is to say, undernourished. He had a Pacific Coast League memory. "Portland. One night, Joe Adcock got really mad at us, and the next day, he brought out the lineup on a roll of toilet paper. Had to throw him out right there." My question for the calorically challenged Froemming, "Did you laugh?" Because if you did, throwing him out only proves what a lunkhead you were. Ya gotta have a sense of humor if you're an umpire. And not one that requires a surgeon's ability to find the ticklish spot by way of deep tissue massage.

(the last insert about Bruce Froemming came by way of Steve Wulf but it was I who felt the need to add everything after...Had to throw him out right there.)

(thanks to Steve Wulf of ESPN magazine for his insights)

Kevin Marquez

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Getting Ready for 2009: Your San Francisco Giants

The shuffling of players began in October. Brian Sabean and gang have their work cut out for them and they will provide the effort necessary to rebuild the San Francisco Giants back into a contender.

Oft times it is those questions nobody can answer that makes for our toughest choices in life. Fortunately, for this up coming 2009 season, the Sabean Gang has the experiences of the 2008 season to help them make the right choice(s).

Beginning in October this is what the Giants have done so far (as seen on the San Francisco Giant website under transactions):

- Sent Tyler Walker (RHP) and Eliezer Alfonzo (C) outright to Triple A Fresno. Walker refused the assignment and therefore will become a free agent.

- Sent Kevin Correia (RHP), Geno Espineli (LHP), Brad Hennessey (RHP), Scott McClain (INF) and Ivan Ochoa (INF) outright to Triple A Fresno.

- Signed Ivan Ochoa on 10/30/08.

- Activated Noah Lowry (LHP) and Merkin Valdez (RHP) from the 60-day disabled list.

- Invited Justin Miller (RHP) to Spring Training.
- Invited Josh Phelps (1B) to Spring Training.
As for Miller, I thought he pitched for the Astros. But there were four(4)Justin Millers listed in Baseball-Reference and the first one, who pitched for the LA Dodgers, is 20-years old with a combined 6-12 record in the minor leagues. The second Justin Miller, pitched for the Tigers' farm system and the third Justin pitched for the Texas Rangers farm system. Then there was a Justin Miller, simply listed as Justin Mark Miller - Minors.
This Justin Miller had some major league experience and is a right-handed pitcher. His last 2 seasons were with the Florida Marlins, where he posted a combined W-9 L-2 record while totalling 107-innings pitched. In those innings he allowed 9-HR. Walked-44 and Struck out-117. His career numbers are 21-W 11-L with an ERA of 5.16. He does have 33 games started. But honestly, I couldn't tell you which Justin Miller the Giants invited to Spring Training. I'm thinking it was the one who played his last two seasons with the Fish in Florida. Because the other 3 are not over 22 years of age.

Josh Phelps is a little easier. It's not likely there are too many major leaguers named Josh Phelps. From 2002 to 2008 he has 1394-AB and in those at-bats, has 64-HR. His batting average over that span is .273.

I recall the 2007 season when he finished his season with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Having come over from the New York Yankees where he was batting .263 he lit it up. Batting .351. He had a combined 157-AB 21-R 48-H 7-HR 31-RBI that season. 13-runs, 27-hits (including 4 doubles, 2-triples and 5-homers) and 19-RBI came while with the Pirates.

He was on the Cardinals roster last season. Phelps turns 31 on May 12, 2009.

On November 17th, the Giants signed Jeremy Affeldt, a left-handed specialist whose career began in Kansas City and was dealt to the Colorado Rockies before last season where he posted respectable numbers for the Cincinnati Reds.

In his career, pitching for less than .500 teams he has a 26-W 28-L record (8-5 with the Rockies in 2006-07).

As per the Associated Press...The San Francisco Giants signed Jeremy Affeldt to a 2-year contract at $8 million. The article said the Giants had wanted Affeldt for the past two years. One of Brian Sabean's off-season priorities was to bolster the club's inconsistent bullpen. The Giants often had problems in the middle innings between starters and closer Brian Wilson.
Affeldt can pitch multiple innings. Affeldt, 29, pitched for the Reds last season with a 1-1 record and an ERA of 3.33. He led the Reds with 74 appearances. Struck out 80 and walked 25 in 78 1/3 innings.

The Giants roster has a quality group of left-handers reporting to Spring Training. With the signing of Affeldt, he and Alex Hinshaw, Pat Misch, Jack Taschner, Jonathan Sanchez and Barry Zito round out the staff of southpaws.

(thanks to Associated Press, San Francisco Giants website and Baseball-Reference.)

Kevin Marquez

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Day in Baseball...Always keeping former or current Giants in mind

This day in baseball is seen daily on the website,
I will throw a few out there about players who either played or managed or coached for the San Francisco Giants.

These truly are fun facts.

On November 4th...

1976: The first mass-market free agent re-entry draft was helt at New York's Plaza Hotel. Among those available are: Reggie Jackson, Willie McCovey, Joe Rudi, Gene Tenace, Don Gullett, Nate Colbert, Rollie Fingers, Don Baylor and Bobby Grich. McCovey and Colbert are the only two (2) players not selected, but McCovey will catch on with the San Francisco Giants in spring training and have a banner year as first-baseman for the Gigantes at Candlestick Park.

McCovey's 1977 offensive numbers: AB-478 R-54 H-134 2B-21 HR-28 RBI-86 AVG.-.280

1987: Benito Santiago, San Diego Padre cather, who ended the season with a 34-game hitting streak, is the unanimous selection as National League Rookie of the Year.

November 7th...

1957: Philadelphia Phillies pitcher, Jack Sanford, who posted a 19-8 record with 180-Ks and an ERA of 3.08 is named National League Rookie of the Year. Sanford beats out his teammate, first-sacker, Eddie Bouchee.
(Sanford played for the Giants from 1959 to 1965. On December 3, 1958 he was traded by the Phillies to the Giants for Valmy Thomas and Ruben Gomez. On August 18, 1965 the California Angels purchased the contract of Jack Sanford from the San Francisco Giants.

Sanford was a significant contributor during the 1962 season when the Giants fell to the Yankees 4-games to-3 in the 1962 World Series. His World Series numbers were:
G-3 Games Started-3 ERA-1.93 W-1 L-2 CG-1 IP-23.1 H-16 ER-5 BB-8 Ks-19.)

1963: Elston Howard, New York Yankee catcher, becomes the first black player to win the American League MVP. Howard beat out Al Kaline. Howard had 248 votes and Kaline 148 votes.

1967: Orlando Cepeda, first-baseman with the St. Louis Cardinals, becomes only the second National League player to unanimously win the MVP. Cepeda, who was traded by the Giants on May 8, 1966, batted .325 with 25-HR and 111-RBI, as he led the Cardinals to a World Series championship. Not exactly stellar in the post-season but his regular season number got 'em there!
New York Giants pitcher, Carl Hubbell, swept the NL MVP voting in 1936.

Note: It may have been Cepeda's post-season numbers that had the Giants' brass choose him to be traded vs. Willie McCovey.
Cepeda in 1962 with SF vs NYYanks: AB-19 R-1 H-3 RBI-2 AVG.-.158
Cepeda in 1967 with STL vs Boston: AB-29 R-1 H-3 RBI-1 AVG.-.103
Cepeda in 1968 with STL vs Detroit: AB-28 R-2 H-7 HR-2 RBI-6 AVG.-.250
Cepeda in 1969 in NLCS with ATL vs NY Mets: AB-11 R-2 H-5 HR-1 RBI-3 AVG.-.455

The only year his team won was in 1967.

November 8th...

1966: Frank Robinson is the American League MVP. He is the first player to win the MVP in both leagues. (Robinson was a manager for the San Francisco Giants from 1981 thru 1984 inclusive. He was also the first black manager ever in major league baseball when he was player manager for the Cleveland Indians in 1975.)

(hats off to Baseball-Reference. Thank you Baseball-Reference for these neat little ditties of baseball facts.)

Kevin Marquez

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Crop Dusting

How umpires are judged begins and ends with the home plate umpire and how he differentiates between balls and strikes. Because from this comes the pitcher's need to make adjustments and the batter then is able to see this and make his own determinations of what he will be doing when it's his turn to step into the batter's box.

In the October 6, 2008 ESPN magazine, Buster Olney, seen regularly on ESPN's Baseball Tonight, described umpire Tim McClelland as deliberative and his strike zone as 'consistent but confined, in keeping with his reputation.' Like it's okay for McClelland to have this kind of strike zone because that's the way he's been doing it for years. So because it has been accepted by his bosses that's it end of story!

This is where I say ask the umpire about his strike zone. By explaining to the umpire that when you put his strike zone up against the rulebook definition and diagram of what a strike is, 'How did you come up with this as your strike zone?'

Olney then has a list of 6 umpires and their strikeouts per 9 innings in 2008. The 3 most generous umps were inserted under the heading of Pitcher's Friend and the 3 stingiest are under the heading of Pitcher's Foes. (It's based on a minimum of 350 innings behind the plate. The source:

Pitcher's Friends

  1. Phil Cuzzi 7.64
  2. Dan Iassogna 7.56
  3. Tim Tschida 7.47

Pitcher's Foes

  1. Jerry Crawford 5.91
  2. Ed Rapuano 6.18
  3. Tim McClelland 6.19

Of course, those under the heading of Pitcher's friends are the umpires whose actions are telling the batter that he had better be up their swinging while those listed as Pitcher's Foes are making it more difficult to hit the corners by taking that part of the plate away from the pitcher. Therefore, more often than not, the pitcher has to groove one over a fat part of the plate and the fans get to see a mammoth home run or a ball hit into the gap for extra-bases.

Umpiring home plate is the stigma of umpires. And the majority of these men in blue are merely crop dusting when it's their turn to call balls and strikes.

Crop dusting (as defined by the Urban dictionary) is: farting while walking or walking while farting.

(thanks to ESPN magazine and the Urban dictionary)

Kevin Marquez

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Way We Were (by Sporting News magazine 9/29/08

Elroy Face, a pitcher from 1953-1969, was a union carpenter (one year); self-employed handyman; tire salesman. Pay: $2-4 an hour.

This is the same Elroy Leon Face who in 1959 had an 18-1 won/loss record. Nowadays that year would have netted him an insurmountable contract. Unfortunately for Elroy, things didn't work that way when he was playing. He was a relief specialist, maybe the first successful one in National League history.

Vernon Law. Hauled milk from farmers to the dairy processing plant in Meridian, Idaho; bank teller at Meridian First National Bank. Pay: $200 per month for delivering milk; $350 per month working at the bank. Law was 17W 9L in 1965, 18W 9L in 1959. Won 20 (20-9, ERA: 3.08) in the Pirates' championship season (1960). Had a career of 162W 147L, 119-Complete games and 28-shutouts. A starter with his success, one wonders how much he could have made in today's market. And, he was the Cy Young winner for 1960 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.

Monte Irvin. Hall of Fame inductee in 1973.
Two years into Irvin's career with the New York Giants, Brooklyn-based Rheingold Brewing Company signed Irvin as a representative. Pay: $5,000-plus expenses-for a gig that lasted from October 1 to February 1 from 1951-1955. Seems someone reached out to a guy who didn't get to play major league ball until he was 30 years old. Monte's best season was 1951 when he belted 24 homers, had 121-RBI and batted .312.

Carl Erskine. Major League pitcher 1948-59. In 1953 he posted a 20W 6L record with a 3.56-ERA. Was 122W 78L in a career spent entirely with the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Stints: Carpenter's helper; delivery truck driver.
Pay: $50 per week. Per Erskine, "Enough to buy the groceries during the offseason."
Once Erskine fell but was not injured. It did convince him to do other work and he became a salesman for Sears during the Christmas season.

Miltiades (Milt) Sergios Pappas. Pitcher from 1957 to 1973. He was the first pitcher to win 200 games without a 20-win season. Won 209 games in his career with 164 defeats and a career ERA of 3.40. He belted 20 career homers.
Stint: Bowling instructor at Fair View Lanes in Baltimore,MD.

Al Kaline. Outfielder, 1953-1974. Elected into Baseball Hall of Fame in 1980. Career: 3007-hits, 399-HR, 1583-RBI, .297-AVE., 1622-runs. In 1955 he became the youngest player in major league history to lead the league in hitting. He led the AL with a .340 average at age 20.
Stint: Salesman at a sporting goods store.
Pay: $150 per week

Dick Groat. Shortstop 1952-1967(ended his career with San Francisco Giants).
Career: 2138-hits, .286-AVE. Named NL MVP for World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
Best individual season: 1963 when he had 201 hits for St. Louis Cardinals.
Stint: Salesman at Jessop Steel Co, Washington, PA.
Pay: $12,000 an off-season.
On the job: "I grew to love the steel industry," said Groat. "Growing up in Pittsburgh, you better like steel people. I was with Jessop 17 years, even after I retired from baseball."

Bill Mazeroski. Second baseman, 1956-1972. Elected to Hall of Fame in 2001. Career: 138-HR, 853-RBI, .260-AVE. Game winning HR vs. Yankees in 1960 World Series, a series in which the Yankees outscored the Pirates 55-27.
Stint: Roofing/siding salesman.
Pay: $400 per month.

Don Larsen. Pitcher 1953-1967. Career: 81W 91L. (Pitched for SF Giants in 1962, 1963 and 1964, compiling a 12W 12L record.) And this obscure hurler in major league baseball is the only pitcher to throw a perfect game in a World Series, doing so against the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956.
Stints: Went back home to San Diego and got right to work every off-season except 1956, the year of the World Series perfect game. Larsen sold insurance, farmed and worked at the post office, among other gigs.
Pay: $35-40 per week.
On the job: "It was all hard labor. And if we were late getting home, some of the positions were unavailable!"

The boys, who play the game nowadays, should learn about how it was back before free agency and maybe then some of them won't be so content to go through the motions once they've signed the big contract. All the work they put into their game and then as if relieved of having to go through the intense training they choose to play it safe, never giving it their all and falling well short of ever becoming the ballplayer they would have had they kept up with the work ethic that got them their big payday, in the first place.

Once again I choose to go to the trump card, which in my mind is BARRY BONDS. This guy returned the favor of the San Francisco Giants for their having signed him. And to those who choose to hate him for the way he behaves, regardless of why he does, you should at least have all of your facts right before you verbally assault the man. Because the man was well worth evey dollar he was paid.

(thanks to the Sporting News and Baseball-Reference)

Kevin Marquez