Daily Archives: May 6, 2011

Jeter vs. Swisher: Love and Baseball – Friday Faceoff

MLB reports:  This week’s edition of the Friday Faceoff was originally scheduled to be a battle between the Cincinnati Reds top catching prospects or two of the Oakland A’s mega hitting prospects.  We get many requests for stories and updates on prospects on MLB reports and try to accommodate whenever we can.  We love the MLB stories but stories of up and coming players always carries a soft spot for us.  But then an e-mail came through this morning from Jenny in Texas as follows:

” Derek Jeter should have never gotten engaged.. Since his engagement he has been in a slump…. Ha .. Happy Friday.”

Simple and to the point, a classic message.  It got me thinking about Derek Jeter and his love live vs. his baseball performance.  I had read before that Jeter was engaged to actress Minka Kelly sometime during the past few months and was dating her since 2008.  Then I thought about one of my personal favorites, Nick Swisher.  Swisher married actress Joanna Garcia this past off-season after getting engaged in mid-2010.  Two Yankee players, both in serious relationships and both mired in deep slumps.  I started thinking that Jenny was on to something.
 
In comparing the Jeter/Swisher relationships and baseball performances, let’s take a deeper look into each story:
 
Nick Swisher
Swisher has been linked in the past to dating a model, but otherwise his love life has been kept fairly private compared to Jeter.  From his Oakland and Chicago days, Swisher was known as the long-haired party guy who liked to have fun and bring excitement to the clubhouse.  Following Swisher on twitter and facebook, he kept very active in the social media corresponding with fans and was not afraid to hold back.  2009 and 2010 were solid campaigns for Swisher, as he immediately adjusted to the Bronx and brought his “A” game to New York.  At the tender of age of 30, nothing appeared to hold him back.  Then Swisher met actress Joanna Garcia, got engaged during the 2010 season and got married during the past offseason.  From there, I started to see a new Nick Swisher emerge.
 
As soon as Swisher got married, I noticed that his twitter and facebook accounts were not very active.  When Swisher would make any posts, they would be of the generic variety, very plain vanilla so to speak.  Swisher appeared in two different television series before the season: Garcia’s “Better with You” and “How I Met Your Mother.”  I could smell trouble a mile away, as spending more time behind the camera and not focusing on baseball is never a good thing.  While Swisher is extremely popular on twitter (1.3 million followers makes him more popular than MLB on twitter), he has evolved from fun-loving single guy to serious, concerned and calculated married man.  The results show on the field.
 
29 games into the season, Swisher has a grand total of one home run, .214AVG and .614 OPS.  Brutal numbers for a man who averaged 29 home runs over the last two seasons and .869 OPS.  At 30 years of age, Swisher has not lost his skills…but rather his mojo.  There was talk that Swisher is continuing to look for acting opportunities and may get a part in a movie in the future.  Great for his acting resume, bad for his baseball career.   In my estimation, fair or unfair, he has to get his priorities in order and focus on what pays the bills: baseball.  Acting may be fun and works well with his wife’s career, but Swisher needs to get back down to basics to what brought him MLB success.  I do not profess to know Swisher personally and do not spend time with him in the batting cages, weight room or at home.  But something is going on with Swisher that has caused a dive in his numbers and it appears that his personal life may be playing a part.
 
We have seen over the years how divorce can affect a player’s performance, especially in athletes (see Jeff Gordon and Chipper Jones).  When someone has a distraction at home, it can create chaos in that person’s job.  Baseball is no different and distractions, good or bad, can affect play on the field.  In the case of Swisher and as we are about to see Derek Jeter, a change in relationships and lifestyle can possibly have a detrimental effect on playing performance.
Derek Jeter
When researching and writing this piece, I had an instant issue with categorizing Jeter as suffering on the field by scoring off the field, so to speak.  A long-time playboy, Jeter has been linked with many famous females including Mariah Carey and Jessica Biel.  The golden boy of endorsements as well, George Steinbrenner criticized Jeter at one point for worrying too much about his life off the field and should focus more on his baseball play.  While some critics blasted Steinbrenner, I agreed with the statement.  Although Jeter has had solid numbers in his career, I believe he could have done more if he had partied less and worked harder at baseball. My opinion, right or wrong, is how I have always felt.  Now watching the Derek Jeter of 2011, I believe lifestyle has finally caught up to him.
 
Jeter got involved with Minka Kelly according to reports in 2008 and became serious in 2009.  According to reports, the pair got engaged in recent months with a wedding date still unknown.  This is where the tricky part lies.  Jeter started his deterioration in 2010 and has been abysmal to-date in 2011.  This year, Jeter has no home runs, .250 AVG and .577 OPS.  He is on pace to set career lows in many categories.  This comes after a 2010 campaign where he hit .270 with a .710 OPS.  At 36 years of age, is lifestyle or age the culprit for the decline in Jeter?  I would argue likely both, but for the purpose of this article, I will focus on lifestyle.
 
Jeter has his own cologne line “Driven”.  He was rated this year by a marketing firm as the most marketable baseball player.  He has endorsements with Gillette, Nike and Gatorade, just to name a few.  While Swisher learns to become an actor, Jeter is going strong as a pitchman.  I don’t think Yankee fans appreciate the extra-curricular activities if it takes away from their playing performances.  Based on the start of 2011 and judging by the numbers, I am convinced that both players are guilty of a lack of focus and drive.  The fact that Jeter has gotten engaged and planning to get married to Kelly says that there is something different about her for him compared to other relationships.  Whatever that it is, I do not see it helping his performance on the field.  As soon as things got serious for Jeter off the field, his play on the field declined.

The Verdict:

My message to Derek Jeter and Nick Swisher is quite simple.  Go rent the movie “Major League 2” and recall what happened when Ricky Vaughn cut his hair, wore suits, dated an executive and was featured in his own television commercials.  Willy Mays Hayes starred in his own action movie in the offseason and came to camp with a new attitude and approach.  Both players failed miserably and had to go back to basics and lose “the attitude” so to speak to get back to playing at a high level.  Still not convinced?  Take the case of real life baseball players Kris Benson and Cole Hamels.  Each married a celebrity, a model/playmate and reality star respectively and each began to change.  Both became focused on marketing themselves and building their image than playing the game of baseball.  Look a the stats, the numbers do not lie.  I see the same slippery slope for both Jeter and Swisher.  My verdict is that both players are guilty of letting their love lives and off-field careers interfere with their baseball play.  My hope is that both will shape up before it is too late.  At Jeter’s advanced age and rise in the marketing game, he is likely not going to rebound much.  I do not see much hope in his case.  Maybe Swisher stands a chance, but if his acting career does take off, prepare for the new and declining Swisher to hang around.  It goes to show you:  love and baseball do not always mix.

 

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Andre Ethier: Chasing Joe DiMaggio and #56

MLB reports: In the history of baseball, 53 players have been able to achieve a streak of 30+ consecutive games with at least one hit.  Andre Ethier, the 29-year-old outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers is ironically sitting as of today on a 29 game hitting streak.  Ethier missed yesterday’s game with elbow inflammation and his team has a day off today.  On Friday, assuming reports are correct that Ethier will play, he will attempt to become player #54 of this exclusive major league club.

The current members of the 30+ consecutive games hitting streak club are as follows:

Hitting Streaks: Players With At Least 1 Hit in At Least 30 Consecutive Games
Rank Year Name Team League Games

1.

1941

Joe DiMaggio (AL Record)

New York

AL 56

2.

1896-1897

Willie Keeler (NL Record)

Baltimore

NL 45

3.

1978

Pete Rose

Cincinnati

NL 44

4.

1894

Bill Dahlen

Chicago

NL 42

5.

1922

George Sisler

St. Louis

AL 41

6.

1911

Ty Cobb

Detroit

AL 40

7.

1987

Paul Molitor

Milwaukee

AL 39

8.

2005-2006

Jimmy Rollins

Philadelphia NL 38

9.

1945

Tommy Holmes

Boston

NL 37
10. 1896-1897 Gene DeMontreville Washington NL 36

11.

1895

Fred Clarke

Louisville

NL 35

 

1917

Ty Cobb

Detroit

AL 35
  1924-1925 George Sisler St. Louis AL 35

 

2002

Luis Castillo

Florida

NL 35
  2006 Chase Utley Philadelphia NL 35

 16.

1938

George McQuinn

St. Louis

AL 34

 

1949

Dom DiMaggio

Boston

AL 34

 

1987

Benito Santiago

San Diego

NL 34

19.

1893

George Davis

New York

NL 33

 

1907

Hal Chase

New York

AL 33

 

1922

Rogers Hornsby

St. Louis

NL 33

 

1933

Heinie Manush

Washington

AL 33
23. 1922-1923 Harry Heilmann Detroit AL 32
  1996-1997 Hal Morris Cincinnati NL 32
25. 1885-1886 Jimmy Wolf Louisville AA 31
  1899

Ed Delahanty

Philadelphia

NL 31

 

1906

Nap Lajoie

Cleveland

AL 31

 

1924

Sam Rice

Washington

AL 31
  1965-1966 Vada Pinson Cincinnati NL 31

 

1969

Willie Davis

Los Angeles

NL 31

 

1970

Rico Carty

Atlanta

NL 31
  1975-1976 Ron LeFlore Detroit AL 31

 

1980

Ken Landreaux

Minnesota

AL 31

 

1999

Vladimir Guerrero

Montreal

NL 31

35.

1876

Cal McVey

Chicago

NL 30
  1895-1896 Dusty Miller Cincinnati NL 30

 

1898

Elmer Smith

Cincinnati

NL 30

 

1912

Tris Speaker

Boston

AL 30
  1922-1923 Charlie Grimm Chicago NL 30
  1927-1928 Lance Richbourg Boston NL 30
  1929-1930 Sam Rice Washington AL 30

 

1934

Goose Goslin

Detroit

AL 30

 

1950

Stan Musial

St. Louis

NL 30

 

1980

George Brett

Kansas City

AL 30

 

1989

Jerome Walton

Chicago

NL 30

 

1997

Sandy Alomar, Jr.

Cleveland

AL 30

 

1997

Nomar Garciaparra

Boston

AL 30

 

1998

Eric Davis

Baltimore

AL 30

 

1999

Luis Gonzalez

Arizona

NL 30

 

2003

Albert Pujols

St. Louis

NL 30
 

2006

Willy Taveras

Houston

NL 30

 

2007

Moises Alou

New York

NL

30

  2009 Ryan Zimmerman Washington NL 30

Rank

Yearn

Name

Team League Games
30+ Game Hitting Streaks | Hitting Streaks Records

Quite the list of the who’s who in baseball.  Pete Rose at 44 and Paul Molitor at 39 are two of the most recent players in recent memory that attempted to break “the record”.  One of the most, if not the most holy records in all of sports, is Joe DiMaggio’s 56 game hitting streak in 1941.  Many players have tried but few have come close to DiMaggio’s magic number.  Consider that six players EVER have hit for 40+ consecutive games and only two have achieved the feat since 1922.  Pete Rose with a 44 game streak back in 1978 and DiMaggio with the record 56 games in 1941.  That’s it.  It’s not like DiMaggio has the record by a short margin either.  Sitting at #2 is Willie Keeler with 45 games between 1896-1897.  A full 11 game difference.  To put the record in another context:  Keeler has the record for 44 years until DiMaggio breaks it.  Now DiMaggio has been the holder for 69 years and counting.  The consecutive games hitting streak record is one that does not fall very often.  Given the pace of DiMaggio’s record, we may never see anyone break it.  Ever.

Pete Rose and Paul Molitor were two of the recent athletes that were approaching “the streak”.  Jimmy Rollins had a 38 game streak between 2005-2006.  From there, Luis Castillo and Chase Utley had 35 games each respectively and Benito Santiago had a 34 game streak back in 1987 (the juiced ball year, as often described by baseball experts).  If you throw out 1987, you would be left with very few modern-day players at the top of the game hitting streaks leaderboard.  23 out of the top 30 streaks occurred before 1970 and the majority were in the early 1900s.  For all the talk of steroids and “cheaters” shattering hitting records, I do not see any of the accused or suspected hitters from recent times on the list.  Barry Bonds as a prime example of a hitter that was considered with a near perfect batting eye in his hey-day…not on the list.  But aside from Bonds, think of Ichiro Suzuki competing for batting titles year-in and year-out.  Not on the list.  John Olerud batting close to .400 for much of 1993…not on the list.  From there, let’s point to some of the greatest hitters of all time.  Stan Musial had a 30 game streak in 1950.  Ty Cobb had a 40 game streak as well as a 35 gamer back in the day.  But…no Ruth.  No Williams.  No Mantle.  No Ripken.  No Puckett.  No Rickey.  For all the accomplishments of so many of these great hitters, hitting the consecutive games leaderboard was not in the cards.  This really starts to put into perspective the difficulty of achieving Dimaggio’s record and how amazing his accomplishment really was back in 1941.

Fast forward to 2011:  Andre Ethier going into Friday’s action is at 29 games.  He is just over halfway the mark to beating DiMaggio’s record.  I have long been an admirer of Ethier’s capabilities on the baseball field and it does not come as a surprise to me that he would reach this point. Ethier has a .295 lifetime AVG with a .367 OBP.  This man knows how to get base hits and to take walks, as he has a great eye at the plate.  A couple of years with 160+ hits is nothing to sneeze at.  With Matt Kemp hitting behind him and still under 30 years of age, the sky is the limit for Ethier.  The talent and tools have always been there and now it is just a matter of putting it together.

With a hit on Friday, Ethier will become only the 54th baseball player EVER to reach at least 30 consecutive games.  If his streak was to end at that point, a pat on the back will be well deserved for a job well done.  In my estimation, anything beyond 30 games will be gravy and good luck to Ethier to try to climb as high up the leaderboard as he can.  But as far as breaking DiMaggio’s record?  Forget it.  Don’t write me off as being pessimistic or anti-Ethier.  Far from it.  I want to paint a realistic picture of what the record means and the hill that Ethier would have to climb.  As already discussed, throughout the history of time, the MLB record books show that few players in our generation have come even remotely close to making a dent in this record book…and for good reason.  As time goes by and the years continue, it will become even more impossible for a hitter to break DiMaggio’s record.  I could shoot out a million reasons, but let me give you my top factors behind Ethier being unable to surpass DiMaggio:

1)  Injuries:  Ethier would need to keep perfect health or close to it, in order to hit in 28 more consecutive games.  Consider that Ethier missed Wednesday’s game with elbow inflammation.  While being fairly durable for most of his career, like most players, Ethier will miss the occasional game to rest his broken down body during a long baseball season.  Few players can play as many consecutive games as Cal Ripken and few would want to.  When Ethier misses a game, the streak stays intact.  But if he ever has to come out of a game after receiving an at-bat, the streak would be broken.  Considering the ailments that he could suffer during a game (including the current elbow issue), the chances of being able to play nine innings in every game and produce at least a hit per game is nearly impossible.

2)  Lineup protection:  Right now the Dodgers offense is based on Kemp, Ethier and hope.  With very little solid hitters surrounding him in the lineup, there is a strong chance that teams will be tempted to pitch around both Kemp and Ethier throughout some games.  We are not looking at a Yankees type lineup where nearly every hitter is an all-star.  Loney, Barajas, Carroll, Uribe and Gwynn are not names that will strike fear into the heart of any opposing pitcher.  With so many opportunities to be pitched around, Ethier will have some games where he will be lucky to see maybe a handful of fastballs.  As the streak would lengthen and with games on the line near the 8th and 9th inning, I would not count on Ethier receiving quality pitches.  If Ethier walks an entire game, the streak remains alive until the next day.  But if Ethier is out at least once or has a sacrifice fly with no hit, the streak would die.  Unless some of his teammates have rebirths at the plate, the odds are against Ethier having enough pitches to hit every game in order to keep his streak alive.

3)  Schedule:  Take the month of May alone.  The Dodgers have games coming up against the Giants, Brewers and Marlins, plus the Phillies in early June.  Ethier may be going up against Lincecum, Cain, Greinke, Johnson, Halladay and Lee.  Some of the best pitchers in baseball, who tend to be very stingy with hits allowed.  Not only are the above named pitchers great, but they are also very proud.  Lincecum and Johnson would have no issue bringing their “A” game and shutting down Ethier for a night.  We are talking powerful pitchers with big egos, which is not the best combination for a hitter attempting to keep a hitting streak alive.  Friday brings Jon Niese and the Mets, which would be considered a good matchup for Ethier.  But not all games are created equally and with a tough schedule ahead and little lineup protection, the odds are against long-term success.

4)  Relief Pitching:  Once upon a time when starting pitchers used to stay out for 150+ pitches per game and pitch complete games, hitters like Ethier had easier chances for a consecutive games hitting streak.  Check again the timing on the above leaderboard and you will see since the dawn of specialized pitchers, the number of hitters that have achieved 30+ consecutive games hitting streaks is miniscule.  This is neither an accident or fluke.  We are in an era where starting pitchers go 5-6 innings per start on average, with specialized 7th and 9th inning relievers, right-handed and left-handed specialists and of course, the closer.  Take Kansas City, that can throw Collins, Crowe, Jeffress in the middle innings of a game and then turn the ball over to Soria.  The Braves have Kimbrel and Venters.  The Reds with Chapman and Cordero.  Keep in mind Ethier bats left.  All opponents will have no problem in throwing out a left-handed specialist in the late innings to get Ethier out in a tight game.  Check out the splits this year:  In 84 at-bats against right-handed pitchers, Ethier has a .429 batting average.  Contrast that to 35 at-bats against lefties and he is hitting to the tune of .229.  The lefty-on-lefty matchup will likely be Ethier’s downfall as he is susceptible to more frequent outs against lefties.  The game as it is set up today allows for fresh, hard-throwing pitchers to enter games in strategic times to neutralize hitters.  Chapman and his 105 mph fastball could end up making or break this streak for Ethier.

5)  Pressure and Luck:  With the turmoil surrounding the Dodgers team ownership, fans and media are clamouring for any feel good story to grab and hold onto.  Ethier is already starting to face a huge amount of pressure in this day and age of internet and instant access (yours truly included) to information and reports for fans.  As the streak continues, the amount of attention faced by Ethier will be mind-boggling and while professionals are supposed to block out distractions, the reality is that baseball players are human like you and I, not machines.  Ethier cannot help but think about the streak as it is brought to his attention and mental can make physical.  If the pressure gets to Ethier in some form, the streak is unlikely to stand a chance.  Combined with luck and chance, Ethier has the odds naturally against him.  Strong contact and well-timed hits can turn into outs based on the defenses that oppose the Dodgers on any given night.  For Ethier to sustain a hitting streak approach DiMaggio’s, he would need lady luck on his shoulders in addition to hard work and strong effort.  They say that some people can be lucky for some of the time. But nobody can be lucky all the time.  Ethier will need the luck with skill to thrive and the fortunes say that luck has to run out on at least one night during Ethier’s run.

My sincere congratulations to Andre Ethier for what he has accomplished to-date.  I will be watching every Dodgers game and Ethier at-bat with interest to see how far he gets.  Nobody would cheer for him louder than me if he could come close to Joe DiMaggio.  While wishful thinking is hopeful that there is a chance, logic and reason dictate that this is likely, if not impossible to happen.  Baseball today is not built the way it used to be and while there are exceptions to the rules, the law of averages tends to win out every time.  I cannot even begin to fathom that Andre Ethier would be able to accomplish what Williams and Ruth never could.  In our lifetime we have seen home run records shatter, baseball crown a new all-time hits king, no-hitters thrown on almost a monthly basis (including 2 by Halladay last year alone, the second in the playoffs nonetheless)…heck, even the saves record fell.  But the legend of Joe DiMaggio and #56 continue to live in the records.  Together with Cy Young and 511 wins, Cal Ripken with 2632 consecutive games played and Pete Rose with 4256 career hits are all records that are virtually impossible to break.  Until Andre Ethier reaches 40+ consecutive games with hits, let’s leave the legend of Joe DiMaggio apart from the equation.  Ethier is on a nice run but has ways to go before coming close to greatness.  Good luck Andre:  all the best from MLB reports! 

 

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