Wednesday, June 30, 2010

It's All Going Wrong...Right Now

Isn't it amazing how when a team is struggling- in baseball- NOTHING goes right. A flair hangs up for a player lumbering (slightly faster than Bengie Molina running downhill) but miraculously still manages to catch-up to the ball before it lands. Yet when a batter is hot that ball not only lands safely it BOINGS on by the fielder for extra bases. (Yes, even Bengie gets another 90 feet.)

Holy Cow!

And when you root for a team like the San Francisco Giants you pay close attention to the pitching, since it's the backbone of the club. While watching the game you can't help but notice how different umpires call balls and strikes. How it's the same strike zone in the rule book but every single umpire has his own interpretation of what he deems to be a strike. And that same umpire can change it batter-to-batter, inning-to-inning, gradually increase the zone as the game dictates or shrink it based on the amount of flak he may be getting from either or both benches. (Depending on their interpretation of the home plate umpire's interpretation of what a STRIKE is.)

Umpires aren't likely to admit this but they all see each pitcher differently. One pitcher is throwing the ball that is easier to read than the other, therefore that pitcher is likely to be the benefactor of more strikes called than the pitcher with the sweeping curve or nasty breaking pitch. In other words, each pitcher is likely to have his own strike zone which is something the catcher must detest. (Seeing as how when he squats down to receive a pitch the umpire sees the ball in a different manner than when he's up to bat.)

When you have a team built around pitching it's tough not to notice this because it's as commonplace as the peanut or hot dog vendor at the ballgame. It's well, in a word, inevitable.

What I have a problem with is this unwritten rule of the umpires. The don't show me up rule. It gives them carte blanche to do whatever the heck they want to do. It turns them into the abusive, power-starved want-to-bes all umpires must feel like since they weren't good enough to make a minor league roster, let alone a major league roster. (I apologize to those few exceptions who did crack a minor league roster.)

In the June 30, 2010 game between the Dodgers and Giants at AT&T, the home plate umpire was Tom Hallion. What is his deal? Does he like to see himself on ESPN's Baseball Tonight?

His strike zone is horrendous and his STRIKE THREE call is equally appalling. Just who in the hell does this clown think he is? He called Buster Posey out twice when neither pitch was at knee level. In fact, according to Giants' announcer Jon Miller, most of the strikeouts in the game were on called third strikes. This guy can't wait for ESPN's Baseball Tonight. This clown (peyaso to Gigantes fans) is going out of his way to make someone's highlight reel. And, quite frankly, for all the wrong reasons. Because upon further review you can see just how badly he missed the called third strike.

I know, the Giants are struggling mightily. And due to the fact they don't score many runs things tend to get magnified, but this bunk with the umpires elicits the heckler in me.

As long as the Giants continue to struggle you can expect a narrow-sighted fellow calling balls and strikes. Because that's just the way baseball is allowed to be played by the powers that be.
No fines for the men in blue, only those who make suggestions or remarks regarding those attitudes-in-blue.

In life justice is blind. It is especially short-sighted in baseball.

(Each Giants' game begins with Dave Fleming saying, "Now crack open a Bud, it's game time." But the baseball owners, managers, players and coaches don't believe in Bud Selig.)

Kevin Marquez

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

You Want to Know What I Think?

Pablo "the Panda" Sandoval is going through his sophmore jinx phase. Where the pitchers have found something that is working and everyone's exploiting these weaknesses.

That teamed with Pablo's trying too hard and you have a struggling Panda. Nothing Marlin Perkins ever saw, ya think? On the other hand, his partner, (Jim), may have (since he was doing all of the dirty work while Marlin was sipping a lemonade.).

Pablo just needs to go back to basics. Baseball is fun. Don't make it any harder than it needs to be because it will humble you and make you look like you never played before if you forget what got you to the big leagues in the first place.

Squeezing the bat tighter, throwing the ball harder, closing the glove with more authority...all of these are things that could lead to awkward activity between the lines of play.

Squeezing the bat tighter won't make the ball go farther, quite the opposite. Because you are putting so much attention on your grip you are liable to forget the main thing about hitting and that is making solid contact. When you're gripping you aint hitting, you're missing (the sweet spot). Throwing the ball harder makes your throws less likely to be accurate. What good is it to catch a ground ball only to throw the ball away from a teammate who could tag the base for a force or tag the runner for an out? And closing the glove with more authority could cause you to close your glove too soon. Now that's embarrassing.

Relax. Exhale. Inhale. And play ball.

Kevin Marquez

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Looking for the EDGE

ESPN mag had an article I have to share with a fan of any sport. Because the World Cup is happening and we fans, new to watching soccer, are learning the nuances of this game and along the way are discovering a familiar theme, something referred to as flopping.

Alyssa has some good takes I'd like to share.

"Everyone lives by selling something." When Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson spoke these words the game of basketball had yet to be invented. Yet he might as well have been giving a pregame speech to an NBA playoff team.

Selling a foul, in any sport, is no different from selling a Ford. Whether it's pass interference, a double-play tag or straight-out World Cup flop, sales is a professional athlete's side job. And any great salesman will tell you that the art of selling is in the details: subtle yet persuasive body language, the fostering of relationships, building a reputation.

"...Qualification. Where a salesman finds out what a person needs and will say yes to.
Tom Hopkins, author of how to Master the Art of Selling says, "Refs, like all people, are influenced by the way they feel about the person who is selling to them, by their reputation and by whether they like and trust the person. As a salesman it is important to know the people who can affect your long-term success, and that means knowing every ref in the league."

In the end, you can't stop players from trying to sell. All you can do is try to keep them from being successful.

I especially like the 'knowing every ref in the league' because I have always felt pitchers and catchers need to know an umpire's tendencies. Since it is they who have to adjust to the umpire I always wanted to know what each and every umpire preferred to call.

J.T. Snow, doing a Sunday broadcast with David B. Fleming, mentioned how the Giants began the game pitching to an umpire's tendencies. Saying the scouting report on this umpire is exactly how they are pitching. The umpire is known for calling the "high" strike and that's where they are going with it and darn it, it's working!

Back when Dusty Baker was managing the Giants I emailed KFOG a question that the KFOG deejay asked Dusty. It was, do you have a scouting report for the umpires and do you pay as close attention to it as you do the scouting report on your opponent and he answered emphatically, Yes, we do.

He didn't want to give away any trade secrets but sport is all about finding a way to get an advantage over your opponent and if knowing a home plate umpire's tendencies is a way to score runs or prevent the opponent from scoring you have your edge.

(thanks again to Alyssa)

Kevin Marquez

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Rob Drake and the Mistakes

Before Giant fans hit the panic button on Tim Lincecum, one more time, let me do some 'splaining about yesterday's 6-3 Giants victory over the Orioles.

Tim Lincecum over the past couple of seasons has gone to the change-up as his "go-to" pitch and has had very good success when changing speeds. But yesterday, home plate umpire, Rob Drake, refused to call Lincecum's change-up a strike. Therefore, in trying to work around this "non-call" he had to throw the ball over the middle of the plate and because the Orioles are still in the major leagues, their batters made solid contact.

Lincecum's 10 strikeouts was a testament to his determination and refusal to let some attitudinal person, in-charge of calling balls and strikes, be the difference in winning or losing the game. And fortunately for Tim Lincecum, Aubrey Huff and Jose Uribe hit back-to-back homers to seal the deal on Tim's 6th victory in 2010.

Too many times a home plate umpire will make up his mind what is and is not a strike without letting the pitcher prove to him he is capable of throwing that pitch for a strike. Yesterday was a day when Rob "the Mistake" Drake chose not to call Tim Lincecum's change-up a strike. Drake didn't mind calling the Oriole pitcher's (Guthrie) pitches strikes, even if they were at knee level or lower.

We all get so caught up in a team's won/loss record and forget that these players are major leaguers. I mean there are hundreds, thousands of players in the minor leagues busting hump to make this league and are apparently not as gifted as the players in this league, regardless of a player's team's won/loss record.

Give a major leaguer enough of an opportunity to succeed (hitter's strike zone) and see the underdog snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

Don't worry about Tim. He's got what it takes to make Giant fans very happy they ARE fans of the Gigantes.

Go Giants/Gigantes!!!!!!

Kevin Marquez

Monday, June 14, 2010

Back in the Days of No Agents

According to an article in the Sporting News dated 4/26/2010, a half century ago, baseball belonged to the owners. When players signed their contracts there were no agents and few, if any, negotiations.

Ralph Kiner: First contract: 1941 Pittsburgh Pirates.
The only problems I ever had were with Branch Rickey who was very stingy with money to ballplayers. I had seven years that I led the National League in home runs, in succession. My seventh year we had a terrible year with the Pirates. We finished dead last with 112 losses. Rickey said to me, "I'm gonna have to cut your salary 25 percent," which was the maximum cut. I argued for many weeks with him through the mail and telegrams. He said to me, "Son, where did we finish?" I said, "We finished last." He said, "We can finish last without you," which meant I had to take the 25 percent cut or not play baseball.

Mike McCormick: First contract, 1956, New York Giants.
With the Giants, my first salary was $6,000 which was the major league minimum plus my bonus. Coming out of high school, that's all the money in the world. I was 17, living in New York city and scared to death. We didn't have agents. We represented ourselves. The environment was threatening for most guys because you were dealing with educated lawyers who were general managers.

Denny McLain: First contract, 1962 Chicago White Sox.
The Yankees guy came in, and he had a check for all the money. When he crossed his legs, he had a hole in the bottom of his shoe. My mother told him, "We will call you." The White Sox guy comes in. When he crossed his legs, he had no hole in his shoes. My mother being a Polish Jew from the old country-what is the most important thing to someone who came out of Europe at that time of their life? Shoes. My mother said, "You're not signing with the Yankees, if their cheap scout can't afford a pair of shoes, what do you think will happen to you?" I was 18. I was dying to go to the Yankees. My idol was Mickey Mantle.

Dick Groat: First contract, 1952 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Between my junior and senior year at Duke, had worked out with the Pirates. Mr. Branch Rickey Sr. said, "Son, if you sign a contract tonight, I'll start you against the Cincinnati Reds tomorrow night." I said, "Mr. Rickey, I owe my senior year to Duke University. If you make the same offer to me when my eligibility is up I promise I'll sign with the Pirates." A year later, I signed my first contract for $5,000 a year. He lived by his word.

Kevin Marquez

All Giants. All of the Time.

Tom Glavine, a 305 game winner in the major leagues has some thoughts on pitchers he considers to be 5-multi tool starters.

Location, stuff and preparation are just as important as velocity.
Tim Lincecum: Even though he is defined as a power pitcher, he still locates and changes speeds pretty well.

I found it interesting, after Lincecum's 6th win of this 2010 season he said he had to stop doubting himself.

Billy Wagner, the Atlanta Braves' closer says he will hang up the gear after this season. Says his most memorable save came in 1996. 'I had the bases loaded and struck out Barry Bonds and Matt Williams. That pretty much put me on the map."
Tim Alderson, the pitcher the Giants sent to Pittsburgh for Freddy Sanchez, has lost some velocity on his fastball. Dropping from the low 90s to the high 80s. Never a good sign. He's now at Double-A.

Yesterday, 6/13/10, there were 7 players who hit two homers in a game. When's the last time that happened or was that in fact a record? Aubrey Huff joined the club going yard vs. the A's twice. The ball darn near landed in the same spot! Holy Huff Daddy!!

(thanks to ESPN mag and The Sporting News for the factoids)

Kevin Marquez

Monday, June 7, 2010

Baseball Stuff

In the April 26th issue of Sporting News magazine there was the question What's the biggest hindrance to 100 stolen bases? Jimmy Rollins, Phillie shortstop said: "Most guys are coming up out of high school and college already having a slide-step, so it's not like they have to learn it or they're giving up anything.

When you're picked off, how often is it your mistake? Said Rollins: Most of the time, it's you. Sometimes anticipation takes over for your reads. You're thinking the first thing you see, you're going. You jump, and by the time you recognize what's happening, you're a half-step late. There are pitchers with great balk moves, and the umpire doesn't call it.

What do MLB hitter's bat on average after facing each of the 12 possible pitch counts? The chart, based on the 2009 season reveals all. For example, hitters are a collective .293 after reaching on a 2-0 count, just .203 after a 2-2 count.

Count: 0-0 Average: .262
Count: 0-1 Average: .232
Count: 1-0 Average: .278
Count: 3-0 Average: .288
Count: 3-1 Average: .286
Count: 1-1 Average: .246
Count: 1-2 Average: .186
Count: 3-2 Average: .233

Listening to Dave "Soup" Campbell on the ESPN Sunday night broadcast recalled a story told to him... Back in the day, Pedro Guerrero, Dodger third-baseman, said, "I hope they don't hit it to me." Tommy Lasorda replied, "Hey Pedro, what else are you thinking?" To which Pedro says, "Don't hit it to Sax either."

Giant fans should keep both eyes on their own Panda because it may not be coincidental how Pedro's career took a sharp decline after having some solid seasons. Guerrero did play 15 seasons but when he first broke into the majors he was the one all eyes were on. Me being a Giants' fan surely remember #28 in Dodger blue. And since those late 70s and early 80s teams the Dodgers had were almost unbeatable a lot was expected of Pedro Guerrero. Perhaps it's my memory of Guerrero that faded but it seems like he disappeared from the spotlight at a time when he should have been a stone cold lock for the Hall of Fame. (In 7 of his 15 seasons, he played in less than 100 games. Longevity, a key factor in Hall of Fame voting, was a non-factor.)

In 1982 and 1983 Pedro belted 32 homers. In 1985 he hit 33 and in 1987 he hit 27 more. In '87 he batted .338. In 1982 he batted .304 and in 1985 he hit .320. A career .300 hitter with 215 homers, Guerrero rarely struck out. For a slugger he struck out over 100 in 1983 and 1984 but his career walks vs. strikeouts was 609/862. That's what he had in common with Pablo "Panda" Sandoval, his lack of discipline or the discipline to swing at something in the strike zone. But as I say, per season, Pedro Guerrero usually hit the ball. He was not a batter that struck out very often.

Kevin Marquez

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Okay, Ubaldo Jimenez was Good but...

Yes, the Colorado Rockie right-hander was better than the San Francisco Giant two-time Cy Young winner, Tim Lincecum. But did any of you SEE the game?

The Giants hit several smashes that just happened to find leather. All except Pablo Sandoval who finished the game with 3 hits, including a double.

When you have numbers like that of Ubaldo Jimenez, 10-1 won/loss record with an ERA of 0.78 it's due to a lively ball and a fortuitous flight of the pearl if and when it makes contact with the bat.

Perfect games are gems. Heck, there's only been 20 of them in the history of baseball but don't you think a pitcher has to be awfully lucky that all of the balls hit were at one of his fielders? I mean 20 in the history of the game.

And don't give me that residue of hard work baloney, when you think of luck. It's a fact of life, baby, that it's better to be lucky than good. Those who think otherwise probably have a very high opinion of themselves or the player/team in question.

Finally, doesn't it itch in places you can't reach to scratch, when somebody raps a line drive right to someone and then in the next inning some free-swinger hits a swinging bunt and the rally has just begun. Then a bloop and a ball called fair that could have went either way and before you know it all hell breaks loose! Doesn't that stink?

It does to me and that's how I felt about the Giants 4-0 loss to the Rockies on Memorial Day 2010.

Kevin Marquez