Ask the Reports: ATR Answers Your Baseball Questions – June 23rd, 2012

Saturday June 23rd, 2012



Jonathan Hacohen:  Posted every Weekend: Your top baseball questions from the past week are answered. E-mail all questions to mlbreports@me.com, message us on Twitter, post on our Facebook Wall and leave comments on our website! There are many ways to reach us and we will get to your questions from all social media outlets!

Let’s get to your top questions of the week:

JH:  Before we get to your questions, a quick thought for this weekend. There are many reports flying fast and furious that a Kevin Youkilis trade is likely to go down very soon. The 33-year old Youkilis has sat out 5 of the Red Sox last 9 games (counting today), and the last 3 games in a row. He had 4 hits and 2 walks in his last 3 games played, not shabby numbers at all. If the Greek God of Walk’s time has come to an end in Beantown, he is going out in a sad way. After his team experienced one of the worst (if not THE worst) September collapses in MLB history last year, the Red Sox are currently tied with the Blue Jays for last place in the AL East (only 5.5 games back). It would have been nice for Youk to leave as a hero, rather than as a goat. Too many critics have pointed to his declining numbers as a primary reason behind the Red Sox recent failures. Yes, Kevin Youkilis is not in his prime and is entering a declining stage of his career. But if he is guilty of one thing, it is an association with a ballclub that is somewhat in disarray and definitely in transition.  New manager, new GM, a cast of players on the disabled list- the Red Sox are barely the club that they were at this time last year. Sure, Kevin Youkilis needs to get healthy and re-establish himself. But this is a man who still had a .975 OPS as recently as 2010. Kevin Youkilis is far from done as a MLB player. But his time in Boston appears to be over.

So where is Youk heading? At the time being, the names most being thrown out are the White Sox, Pirates, Braves and Dodgers. If I’m the Red Sox, I move him to the National League and preferably the West Coast. I want to see Youk as little as possible and have the media cover him as little as possible. Hiding him in the NL West, where he has to play most of his night games late- would be a bonus for the Red Sox. If I had to present the teams most in need of Youk and with the best bargaining chips, I would present to you the Rays and Blue Jays. They have the pitching prospects and lineup spots that crave a bat like Youk’s. But would the Red Sox trade in their division? Not on your life. There is no way that the Red Sox brass needs a rejuvenated Youk coming into Fenway in September and working towards eliminating his former team from the playoffs. So if I’m a betting man, I would say the Dodgers and maybe the Giants are most sniffing around Kevin Youkilis.

The Red Sox I will go on record as saying are making a big mistake. They are selling low on one of the game’s best and most consistent players. A grinder. A warrior. He can play gold glove D at two positions (first and third). He can hit for average and power. And of course, he walks.  He walks a ton in fact. One of their best assets and the Red Sox are selling him at his lowest. I have been arguing for days that the Red Sox are not this dumb. They can’t be. Youk is not going anywhere. He is the heart and soul of the team. But then Youk sits. And he sits and sits. The team actually came out and said that Middlebrooks would play while he is hot and that Youk “would be sitting for a while”. Everything to me smells like a trade is brewing. At this point, it better be. YoukGate is going to become too much of a distraction for the team to bear. Already, whispers are starting that Big Papi is not happy and had enough of the circus. With how many stories are flying around this team, the Red Sox have only themselves to blame for this Youkilis situation. If Kevin Youkilis is traded, the Red Sox lose a leader and a star player with likely not enough value coming back. If Youkilis stays, the distractions continue. The Red Sox owe Kevin Youkilis to do the right thing. Firmly play him or trade him. But don’t complain when you don’t like the results. That is my two cents on YoukGate.

Now that we have that behind us, on to your questions!

Q: I dislike the DH, but interleague games all year in ’13. Let’s compromise, use it in ALL those series. What say you??  Old Man Mack

JH: This was our last entry into this week’s ATR, but given the strength of the question and the passion of its writer, OMM gets first question this week. I have been thinking and debating the DH issue forever it seems. I have several thoughts on the DH subject, which I will explain leading up to my interleague idea. Firstly, if it were up to me, I would get rid of the DH. No more designated hitters. Enough is enough. Let’s get the game back to how it should be played. Pitchers hitting. More in-game decisions. Double switches. Leave the pitcher in or take him out. I love NL ball. I’m sorry to our AL readers, but National League baseball was how this game was meant to be played. But alas, I don’t see the DH leaving us anytime soon. The Players Union would raise a stink on the amount of jobs that would be lost if the DH was eliminated. The aging sluggers that were able to hang on as a result of the position would now be out of a job. Fine, that is one point. But not convincing enough for me. In my book, the number of injuries in baseball and the positive effects of the DH is the best reason to maintain AL-style ball. Pitchers are dropping like flies this year, like we have never seen before. Don’t believe me? Check out our Tommy John Tracker. Putting pitchers in the batting box likely creates a greater risk of injury and given the fragility of these throwers, we don’t need to see any more injuries going around. So if we are going to over-simplify things, the DH argument to me mainly falls on the style of baseball vs. the protection of pitchers and DH jobs. If it was my decision, I am getting rid of the DH. But if baseball had to go one way or the other, I would say that we will see a permanent DH in both leagues. The protection of pitchers will be the main focus and reason for such a decision, while also pointing to keeping the aging sluggers on rosters and allowing position players to rest while keeping their bats in the lineup. It’s not my favorite outlook, but I can see baseball leaning that way.

Now, with our DH analysis on the table, what do we do with interleague games? I think mixing it up would the best course of action. Do we want to make interleague games more fun and exciting? Different? Keep the interest level up? We must…otherwise, what should have been a unique experience will become redundant. So here is what we do. Simple: play the DH in NL parks and make pitchers hit in the AL parks. AL rules in the NL, with NL rules in the AL. Phillies going to Boston? Pitchers are hitting. Indians are going to San Francisco? Use designated hitters in that game. I have advocated this position on many occasions. I have received mixed reviews, but most due to the fact that the idea is too new and not in place. I have to tell you, that I would love to pitchers hit here in Toronto. Bring me in NL games in the AL and I am a happy camper. Remember, baseball is resistant to change. So this idea, like so many others before, will not be accepted lightly. But mix up the DH rules in the parks and you will be on to something.

The other reason for my idea is as follows. You want to decide long-term whether to keep or get rid of the DH? The best way to know is to test out each in the other markets. Let AL fans watch more NL style games, and NL fans watch AL ball. How do fans react? Do the NL fans love the DH? Will the AL fans love or hate having the pitchers hit? If the change takes off in one league and is heavily opposed in the other, you will have your solution. My gut says that the AL fans will love the NL game much more than NL fans will like the AL. Hey, shouldn’t an extra bat in the lineup bring more offense and excitement to the game? If that were the case, why did Major League Baseball struggle so much to find a NL team to agree to move to the AL? MLB had to literally force it onto the Astros, as a condition of its sale (and the new owner got a huge price drop in the process). Funny, but the Dbacks, Rockies, Giants, Brewers, Pirates etc all could have been accepted to the American League with no problem. Yet, they didn’t want to. Some said it was the positioning into the AL West, which brought an unfavorable time zone for scheduling. Perhaps, but there are ways around it. A little realignment never hurt anyone. But never did I hear a NL team say that it loves the American League style of baseball and really wanted to play with a DH, and would happily move, except for the other issues. Let’s imagine the tables were turned. Imagine an opening came up in the NL West. I would bet that the A’s and Angels for example, would jump in a second to move over to the Senior Circuit. Are you getting my drift? The NL is still the place to be for baseball. With that being the case, I can’t see NL owners wanting by any means to adopt the DH permanently.

I’m not saying your idea is wrong OMM. Quite the contrary. Knowing baseball the way I do, I can see it making a vanilla solution and having the DH in all interleague games. For the safety of players, the good of the game, blah blah blah. But I don’t think that is the right way. We need to come to a solution and we need to come to it soon. Either keep things status quo, get rid of the DH or implement the DH in all of baseball. But make a decision and stick with it. As another pitcher or two fall to Tommy John every week this year, I am getting more and more worried that pitchers hitting may become a thing of the past. Teams have too much money and resources tied up into those million dollar arms and will want to avoid risks. But creating the system to protect pitchers may not prove to be beneficial. These pitchers are blowing out elbows and shoulders based on their pitching, not hitting. They are professional athletes and can handle the job of multi-tasking. I have yet to meet a pitcher in fact that didn’t love hitting. They love to taking their cracks in the cages. “Chicks dig the long ball” is a popular expression for a reason. If the pitchers themselves enjoy hitting for the most part and the risk is actually low of getting hurt, I say let’s get them out there hitting. That will mean aging sluggers will be relegated to part-time duties, or have no jobs at all. That also means days off from the field will lead to full days off for position players. That is not a bad thing. It is a 162-game season. Full days off sometimes can be good. If it also means that aging lineups are replenished quicker with younger positional players, I don’t have an issue with that. There are minor leagues full of young and capable prospects, many blocked due to a lack of opportunity. If you can’t field and hit, you will either lose your job or become a professional pinch-hitter. Welcome to the new world of baseball.

The future of how this game is played is at stake with this decision. Thus I hope that Major League Baseball gets this right and switches up the DH in interleague games. It is not the safe choice and will be met with countless screams and protests. But if we are going to learn whether the designated hitter is to stay or go in baseball, this will be the best way to start.

Q:  Do you think there will be more good US players in the 2013 World Baseball Classic?  Robert

JH: I hope so Robert. I have not been impressed with the first two editions of the team USA in the WBC to be honest. Buck Martinez and Davey Johnson may have meant well, but they did not manage these teams to win. Watching team USA out there, I saw teams running like an All-Star team, not playoff squads. The sooner that Team USA understands that the WBC is a playoff atmosphere and not an All-Star game, the sooner they will see better results. I watched Team USA live in the opening round of the 2009 WBC. I was not happy with what I saw. Pitching changes at random. But especially lineup changes mid-game. If a player is hot, then he hits. And he plays the next day. This is not about feelings, this is about winning baseball games. Joe Torre is now in as manager of Team USA. With the amount of World Series rings on his fingers, this man clearly knows how to win pressure-filled ballgames. The million dollar question will be whether he treats the WBC as a World Series. May bet is that he will.

Now that Joe Torre is in place, you will see the star players follow. We hear about players not wanting to get involved due to risk of injury, working with their own team in Spring Training etc. But when players know that Torre is managing, they will want to play for him. On top, America has a lot of pride. It wants to be the baseball powerhouse of the world. With no WBC finals appearances to-date, American baseball is taking a back seat. I think the players are hungry to make a statement and lead its country to the top of the tournament. With strong management in place, the players will follow. Team USA is at the crossroads. One more poor WBC and it will become a joke. A strong WBC this year could lead to strong teams and championships in the future. Plus, let’s not forget the qualifying. A poor 2013 will lead to the requirement to qualify in 2017. Think its unlikely? Ask Canada. It may not even make the tournament unless it has a strong September in the qualifiers. America and baseball go hand-in-hand. This is the most important WBC for Team USA. The stars are going to be there and this team will be ready to play. I expect to see a good mix of young and old, with Bryce Harper and Mike Trout being in the mix. Expect a new attitude in 2013…or a lot of trouble for the U.S. in WBC tournaments to come.

Q:  Why Jordan (for the WBC)?? How much baseball do they play there? Are there any Jordanian minor leaguers?  Buddha

JH:  Part of our continual talk on the 2013 World Baseball Classic (check out our dedicated page – wbcreports.com, dedicated to anything and everything  WBC), the topic of new countries joining the tournament in the future tends to come up repeatedly. Buddha was actually responding to Homeboy’s comment as follows:

Thatss cool Torre is managing. Japan deserves to get a venue. Argentina should definitely be in this. So should Jordan and Sweden and Ukraine.  Homeboy

It’s funny Buddha, you and I think the same. We could get into a whole discuss of the validity of Argentina, Sweden and the Ukraine being a part of the World Baseball Classic. Not traditional baseball markets to say the least. Sure Joe Torre managing is cool (see the prior Q&A). Japan should get a venue and definitely will, at least in the opening round. But the thing that stuck out in my mind was: Jordan????  Baseball????? The country of Jordan has approximately 6.5 million people according to Wikipedia. 98% Arab population. It’s motto: “God, Country, the King.” Baseball is not exactly at the top priority of this area. A decent tourist area, with about 8 million visitors in 2010. But baseball? Not likely my friend. Wiki actually has a good list of Jordan sports prepared. Soccer (football) is king and it’s not even close. The sport dominates the area. There is a little rugby, basketball and tennis. I couldn’t even find one baseball diamond listed. Given the political waters in the area, I can’t see Major League Baseball making a huge push in Jordan just yet. There are many other areas to develop, especially those with pre-existing baseball roots. Buddha brings up a good point, as I can’t find even one Jordanian descendant that currently plays baseball. It would make fielding a WBC team very tough with a roster of zero players. I am not sure if Homeboy has Jordan roots or just threw out the country for fun. But on my list of next baseball markets, Jordan is not yet a thought.

Q:  I grabbed a HR pitched by R.A. Dickey that Nate Schierholtz hit to deep into McCovey Cove where I awaited in my kayak. That was on 7/8 last year. I am amazed at the season R.A. Dickey is having and I love that he can still “do-it” as an old guy of age 37 years. It’s an inspiring story! Here is a video of my grab.  Dave Edlund

play.jsp?content_id=16778495&c_id=sf

JH: That is one of the most fun things that I have ever seen. Thank you so much for sharing your story! So glad that we could share it with our readers. Did you have multiple signs ready to go, or only one ready for Nate? My bet is that you had a dozen signs ready in your watercraft. Yes, Dickey has been one of the most fun stories of the year in baseball and all of sports. While you became a part of Dickey’s story, you were at the other end of one of his not-so-bright moments. The 37-year old Dickey only game up 18 home runs last year, 8 this year. He can give up the occasional long ball, but nothing too crazy. You have a memory for life that you can share with your family for a lifetime. Glad to have seen it and spread the baseball love!

Q:  Jim Tracy putting the entire rotation on a 75 pitch limit (4-man rotation)? What the actual f*((*^*%??  Mike

JH: Mike. Loves his Rockies but sounding a little annoyed to say the least. I can’t say I blame you. I will rarely go on a rant (ok, somewhat rarely), but this idea to me makes little sense. Four-starters each only going 75 pitches? So let’s make the starters work more often and pitch less? This makes no sense. Unless you are trying to build up a pitching staff of relievers. The goal in my mind is to try to get your starters to go longer in games, not shorter. The strain on the bullpen that this will create. Even sending the starters out with less rest could cause issues to their arms. I think that desperate times call for desperate measures, but this idea has a hail-mary, shot in the dark, no logic basis to it. Wanting your starters to essentially pitch 5-innings maximum and to trot out your bullpen for 4 innings every game is silly. I am trying to put it nicely. I hope that Tracy is either kidding or trying to be extreme just to make a point. But does not put this into effect. With the Rockies already a whopping 15 games back, Tracy must react or lose his job. Having Jeff Francis as one of your starters though going more often may not be the best way to make that happen. Let’s chalk this one up to a dead season with no hope and anything being done going-forward just simply doesn’t matter. Anything else will just frustrate the heck out of all of us. Points to the manager for trying to be radical and progressive. But let’s come up with ideas that will likely help our teams win games rather than lose and hurt our pitchers likely in the process.

Q:  Good analysis, but no way is Strasburg going to the bullpen. His innings limit is around 160, period. He’s already almost half way there. The only way to get him to October with enough innings remaining to be able to start multiple games is to send him to the bullpen right now, and they are not going to do that.

As much as we Nats fans will hate him not being there down the stretch, we have to accept that the team is simply not going to jeopardize his future for one playoff run.  Bill

JH: What an edition of ATR, so much baseball covered today! We are ending off today with a great topic brought up Bill, thank you for writing in. Bill was responding to Bernie Olshansky’s piece this week on why the Nationals will make the playoffs in 2012. In 14 starts this year, Stras has pitched 84 innings. He is also 9-1 with a 2.46 ERA and 1.036 ERA. With the Nats in 1st place in the NL East, 40-28 record, 2.5 games ahead of the Mets and 3 above the Braves, this team has a legitimate playoff shot this year. So I’m going to lay this out and give my opinion. Everyone has their thoughts on this one and that’s the great thing about baseball, we can talk and debate until the cows come home. Keep in mind everything changes if Stras gets injured or Nats fall out of contention. But with Werth coming back, Bryce Harper in place, a rotation backed by Gio, Zimmermann and Jackson, and an acquisition or two possible in July for reinforcements, I think the plan should be clear. This team has a shot. To get anywhere though, it needs its ace. Stras only pitched 5 games last year and needs to build “arm strength”. But the last thing I want to see, or anyone else is this team in the playoffs and Stras not pitching.

So we will have to bite the bullet and come up with a compromise. I agree that the bullpen idea is unlikely going to happen. Changing of roles may have too much of an effect on his arm and leaving him as a starter is the likely safest move. So let’s limit the innings. Skip starts. Give him a couple of weeks off here and there maybe. No games past 7 innings and let’s try to keep him at 100 pitches or left religiously every game. I would need to know what the Nats are most looking at, whether it is innings pitched or pitch counts. An inning could be as short as 3 pitches. So are innings a true measure of wear and tear on a major league arm? I’m going to guess pitch counts are more heavily weighted. So 80 pitches per start. Whatever. If we can have Stras fresh and ready for October, then we will deal with the issue. Maybe he pitches one game per round. Keep him as your game 3 or 4 starter. A Stras start is still a Stras start. But you cannot take your finest season ever and risk not winning it all by shutting down your top pitching weapon. Yes his long-term health is a concern and not blowing his arm or elbow. But we can find a compromise. It is not the best solution, but as long as Strasburg is not abused with over-use come September, I’m ok with him potentially pitching 3-4 games in the playoffs. Sometimes you only get one shot at a World Series. Speak to Cubs, Mariners, Rangers, Brewers fans. Strong playoff teams don’t come along every year. When your shot comes up, you take it. It can be done, just use some smart planning along the way.



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Jonathan Hacohen is the Founder & Lead Baseball Columnist for MLB reports:  You can follow Jonathan on Twitter (@JHacohen)

About Jonathan Hacohen

I practice daily yoga. Most foods are organic. If you catch me in the supermarket, it will be in the produce aisle. Warrior 1 Yoga was born from my wish to help people be healthy and happy. I preach the 4 key's to life: nutrition, exercise, water and sleep. This is my journey - I am hope to meet you along the way to share a similar path!

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