Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em – Relievers

It’s another chilly day here in the northeastern United States. Two games of the World Series are under our belts with the Boston Red Sox winning both games against the Los Angeles Dodgers, and Game 3 is tonight at Chavez Ravine. Meanwhile, all the other teams in Major League Baseball are assessing things from this season with an eye on 2019.

In our last entry, we took a look at the starting rotation of the New York Yankees, deciding whether GM Brian Cashman should “take ’em or trash ’em”. Today we shall take a look at the bullpen. Let’s get started!

 

Dellin Betances – (4-6, 2.70 ERA) After a very up and down 2017, Betances cleaned up his mechanics and had his best season since 2015. He worked over the winter to make his delivery a bit more compact and more repeatable. He also credits bullpen coach Mike Harkey with using his high-octane fastball a bit more and admitting he started “listening a little bit more”. The results? Betances lowered his walk rate per nine innings from 6.6 in 2017 to 3.5, and struck out 115 batters in 66.2 innings. Over a span of 94 days (May 27-August 29), he allowed two runs over 33.2 innings while striking out 58.

Take him.

 

Aroldis Chapman – (3-0, 2.45, 32 saves) The 30 year old Chapman was reliable in 2018, saving 32 games for the Yankees and only blowing a pair of save opportunities. In 2017, Chapman was hittable, and his stuff seemed less electric. The velocity was there, but the life wasn’t and it showed, as his strike-outs per nine innings dropped to a career-low 12.3. In spring training, Aroldis worked to improve his off-speed pitches to keep hitters off his fastball and it resulted in a renaissance season. Chapman’s always been proud of his triple digit heat, but he mixed in some good sliders and even a change-up. At season’s end, Aroldis ended up striking out 16.3 per nine innings, an all time high for him.

Take him.

 

David Robertson – (8-3, 3.23, 5 saves) It seems like D-Rob has been around forever, as he was a young up and coming pitcher when the “Core 4” was still intact. Now 33 years of age, he has nine years of service time and will soon become a free agent. When he came back to the Bronx at the trade deadline in 2017, he dominated hitters down the stretch to the tune of  an ERA of 1.03 and 13.1 K/9 IP. In 2018, he was still as effective as ever but his 3.23 ERA is misleading. Four poor outings where he allowed three runs or more skewed his numbers. If you throw away those four appearances (13 ER in 3.2 IP), Robertson’s ERA drops to 1.64 over the other 65 games he appeared in. D-Rob will turn 34 at the beginning of next season, but he’s still got plenty in the tank.

Take him.

 

Chad Green – (8-3, 2.50) It would have been a difficult task for Green to repeat his performance in 2017, where he allowed only 4.4 hits per nine innings and struck out 13.4 per nine. His numbers were still good, but his hit-rate jumped to 7.6, and he allowed 35% of inherited base-runners to score. His K-rate also dropped to “only” 11.2. For some reason, Green threw his fastball more this season (86.5 percent of the time vs. 69.4 in ’17) and his slider much less (10.2% this year, down from 22.1 in ’17), while completely abandoning his cutter (thrown 7.8% in ’17) altogether.

Take him (but bring back the cutter and start mixing up the pitches).

 

Zach Britton – (2-0, 3.10, 7 saves) Britton came over from Baltimore at the trade deadline in return for a few minor league prospects. He had a few rocky outings in the first couple weeks, mostly attributed to control/command issues. To be fair to Britton, his season didn’t start until early June as he was returning from an injury to his right Achilles tendon that he suffered at home last December. By September, he looked more like the 2016 version of himself when the former Orioles closer nailed down all 47 save opportunities, allowing only four earned runs for the whole season. Britton’s one year deal (12M) is set to expire in a couple weeks. While he said “I would love to be back”, I have to wonder if an opportunity to close elsewhere for the right amount of money might entice him.

Take him (if you can keep him).

 

Tommy Kahnle – (2-0, 6.56, 1 save) Yuck. Kahnle was brilliant in 2017 after coming over from the White Sox in the deal that brought David Robertson back to New York, but his stuff never carried over into 2018. His velocity was down from the upper 90’s to 93-94 in spring training, and so was his effectiveness. After an especially horrific outing on April 10, he ended was optioned to Triple-A Scranton, where he pitched most of the season. Kahnle came back for good in the middle of August, but was relegated to mop-up duty. His season ended with an ERA of 6.56, and hopefully his days with the Yankees have ended as well.

Trash him.

 

Jonathan Holder – (1-3, 3.14) Holder was poised for his first full season in the big leagues after splitting 2017 between Triple-A Scranton Wilkes-Barre and the Bronx. Back to back disastrous outings in early April got him shipped back to Triple-A, but he put things back together and two weeks later, he was back in the Big Apple. Holder’s overall numbers look rather pedestrian on the surface, but they are skewed because of five poor outings, including the aforementioned games in April. If you throw away those numbers (15 earned runs over 3.1 innings, also including a seven run meltdown at Fenway in early August), his ERA is a miniscule 1.15 over 55 appearances. Holder started using his fastball more, cut back on his cutter and added more velocity to his swing and miss curve, making it more like a slider. He also uses a change-up to keep batters off his fastball. It’s definitely working for him.

Take him.

 

A.J. Cole – (2-2, 6.14) Cole came to the Yankees in a cash-considerations deal with the Washington Nationals on April 23, complete with an ERA of 13.06 after four very shaky outings. He began his career in the Bronx on the right foot, posting a 0.83 ERA over his first 21.2 innings in relief. Yankees fans on Twitter all but gave him his own place in Monument Park. That would have been fine (not the Monument Park thing….), but the problem was the season wasn’t over yet. From July 31 through the rest of the season, Cole pitched to the tune of a 8.82 ERA, giving up 16 runs in 16.1 innings. By October, Yankees fans couldn’t wait to be rid of him. Right now, I would say Cole is nothing more than Triple-A filler.

Trash him.

 

Luis Cessa – (1-4, 5.24, 2 saves) It seems like Luis Cessa has been around for a long time, but he only has logged 151 innings in his major league career since 2016, all with the Yankees. He’s had success in Triple-A, but for some reason it’s not translating in the bigs. Cessa missed some time early in the season with a strained oblique, but didn’t gain much traction when he returned. He pitched well in three appearances in mid-September (9 IP, 2 R, 12 K’s) but any good feelings got washed away when he opened the final game of the season in Boston and got ripped for five hits and four runs in only 14 pitches. Cessa is still under team control for 2019, but out of options — so the Yankees will have to make a decision on him. I know what my decision is.

Trash him.

 

What that, we have covered the pitching staff. In our next installment of Yankees Take ’em or Trash ’em, we will take a look at catchers. See you next time!

 

 

 

 

Yankees Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em – Starters

The 2018 season is over for the New York Yankees after the Boston Red Sox knocked them out in the ALDS. The Sox were the better team during the regular season and it clearly has showed throughout the playoffs. Tonight Boston faces off against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game One of the World Series.

With the Yankees long gone, it’s time to assess. When Wallace Matthews and Andrew Marchand covered the Yankees beat for the mothership, they would collectively author a piece called “Take ’em or Trash ’em” on Yankees players, coaches and the GM. There would be commentary on the way each person performed and whether the Yankees should keep them or discard them for the next season. I am going to break the team up by position, beginning with starting pitchers. In future installments I will cover relief pitchers, catchers, infield, and finally the outfield.

Without further adieu, lets begin with the starting pitchers.

Luis Severino – (19-8, 3.39 ERA) The 24 year old Severino won a career-high 19 games and struck-out 220 hitters over 191.1 innings and posted an ERA of 3.39, so there shouldn’t be any worries, right? But if you examine Sevy’s season up close, his 2018 was a Jekyll and Hyde affair. At the All Star break, Severino had a record of 14-2 with an ERA of 2.31. Over the second half, he went 5-6 and the ERA skyrocketed to 5.57, giving up 76 hits over 63 innings. The Red Sox jumped on Severino early in his start in the ALDS and it was because he was evidently tipping his pitches. That leads me to believe he might have been doing it during his rocky second half. I’m not worried, he’s too good to not get it back together. He will be eligible for arbitration after next season and still under team control until 2023.

Take him.

Masahiro Tanaka – (12-6, 3.75) After an inconsistent 2017 season, Tanaka seemed more like himself in 2018, posting a 12-6 record and a 3.75 ERA — down almost a full run. He missed a month after injuring a hamstring on the basepaths at Citi Field during an interleague game against the Mets. He returned in the second half, pitching to the tune of a 2.85 ERA after the All Star break, averaging more than six innings per start, striking out more than a batter per inning. The soon to be 30 year old Tanaka has two more years remaining on his contract.

Take him.

JA Happ – (17-6, 3.65) Yankees GM Brian Cashman traded for the now 36 year old Happ just after the All Star break, and he proved to be a steal. All Happ did in his eleven starts with the Yankees is go 7-0 with a 2.69 ERA. He was consistently reliable, just what the team needed. Overall, the soon to be free agent went 17-6 with a 3.65 ERA in 2018. It will be interesting to see if Cashman makes Happ an offer to keep him in the Bronx, I’m thinking he will since he said starting pitching is a priority over this coming offseason.

Take him.

CC Sabathia – (9-7, 3.65) Carsten Charles Sabathia has enjoyed a storied career over his 18 seasons, logging 246 wins and nearly 3,000 strikeouts (2,986 to date). In 2018, CC added nine more wins to his resume, going 9-7, 3.65 over 153 innings in 29 starts. At this point in his career, the 38 year old Sabathia is nothing more than a fifth starter. He tends to lose his effectiveness after he reaches 85-90 pitches, and his balky right knee (which is bone on bone and will need eventual replacement) all but guarantees he will miss at least a few starts each year. Sabathia will be a free agent after the World Series ends. He still plans to pitch in 2019, but it remains to be seen if it will be with the Yankees.

CC’s one of my favorite players on the team and I appreciate all he’s done, but given his age and wear and tear, I think it’s time to keep a spot open for up and coming guys like Justus Sheffield and Michael King.

Trash him.

Sonny Gray – (11-9, 4.90) Yeesh. Gray spent the first half of 2018 in the starting rotation and pitched to the tune of a 5.46 ERA over 90 innings, likely cementing his legacy as one of the most hated Yankees pitchers since Javier Vazquez. After JA Happ was brought over from Toronto, Gray was banished to the bullpen. In the second half, Gray actually pitched better — going 5-2, 3.63 over 12 appearances (5 starts). In his season ending press conference, GM Brian Cashman all but packed Sonny’s bags for him, saying a trade would be likely.

TRASH HIM.

Jordan Montgomery – (2-0, 3.62) “Monty” emerged as a reliable lefty in the Yankees rotation in 2017, finishing sixth in rookie of the year voting. He made a half dozen starts before going down with a torn UCL which required Tommy John surgery, ending his season. He will likely be back in the second half of 2019, and hopefully will quickly regain form with his heavy sinker.

Take him.

Domingo German – (2-6, 5.57) The 26 year old lanky right-handed flame thrower stepped into the rotation when Montgomery went down. In his first start of the season, he struck out nine over six no-hit innings against the Cleveland Indians. He wasn’t fully stretched out, so he was removed after 85 pitches. That was the highlight of German’s season. He made 12 more starts, most of them being forgettable. German had a penchant for giving up runs in the first couple innings, putting his team in an early hole. His stuff seems to play better out of the bullpen, where he can just cut it loose.

Trash him.

Lance Lynn – (10-10, 4.77) Lynn was brought over from the Twins for Tyler Austin and minor league pitcher Luis Rijo at the trade deadline. He started off in the Bronx like gangbusters, allowing just one run over his first 17.2 innings (2 starts, 1 relief appearance). Yankees fans were waiting for his Yankeeography. Lynn came back down to Earth over his next four starts (19 ER/18.2 IP). Overall, he did what he was brought over to do, which is eat innings and be serviceable. Lynn went 3-2, 4.14 over 54.1 innings. He will be a free agent after the World Series, but doubt he will be back in a Yankees uniform in 2019.

Trash him.

In our next installment of Yankees Take ‘Em or Trash ‘Em, we will take a look in the bullpen. See ya next time!

ALDS Game 2 – Yankees/Red Sox

In less than an hour, Game 2 of the ALDS between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will take place at Fenway Park.

Game 1 could not have gone much worse than it did for the Yankees. Boston hitters teed-off on JA Happ to the tune of three runs in the first inning, and tacked on two more runs in the third, chasing Happ after two-plus innings of work, and the Yankees down 5-0.

Things got worse when center fielder Aaron Hicks had to leave the game in the top of the 4th inning when he pulled up lame after a base hit. Hicks has dealt with a bad hamstring for the last month and he left the game. He’s day to day.

The Yankees continued to chip away and Aaron Judge came to the plate against Sox closer Craig Kimbrel in the top of the 9th with the score 5-3. Judge lined a laser beam over the wall in right-center field into Boston’s bullpen to narrow the game to a single run deficit. Brett Gardner struck-out on a 2-2 fastball from Kimbrel, followed by Giancarlo Stanton, who watched three pitches go by for strikes without moving his bat. Yankees second-half sensation Luke Voit followed up with a K of his own and that was that.

Masahiro Tanaka starts Game 2 for New York, and they desperately need him to repeat his playoff performances of 2017. If the Red Sox pounce on him early, it will leave manager Aaron Boone no choice but to empty out his bullpen again. That will put a lot of pressure on the Yankees offense. The ability is obviously there for this lineup to score a lot of runs, but Hicks is not at 100 percent and Giancarlo Stanton and Gary Sanchez aren’t making much contact. Brett Gardner has had a rough second half of 2018. With the above guys scuffling, Red Sox pitchers can pitch around Gleyber Torres, Didi Gregorius and Andrew McCutchen.

Bottom line, the Yankees need to win tonight or they might just get swept.

The Battle for the NL West is Hot!

Here we are in the first week of September. It’s been a hot summer here in the northeast, but cooler temps are on the horizon as Fall gets closer and closer. Most everyone associates Fall with raking leaves, drinking warm cocoa and watching football.

But let’s not forget the hot battles for divisions and wild-cards in MLB. All three divisions in the National League are still up for grabs, and none is hotter than the NL West. As of this writing (9/6), the Colorado Rockies lead the division, 1.5 games ahead of the LA Dodgers and 2 games ahead of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

 

Screenshot (279)

 

The Rockies, Dodgers and Dbacks each have roughly two dozen games left, so lets take a look at the remaining schedule for each team.

Rockies:

Starting Friday night, Colorado begins a seven game home-stand against the Dodgers for three games, followed by Arizona for four games. After that, the Rockies take to the road for ten games against the San Francisco Giants, Dodgers and Dbacks. After the road trip concludes, Colorado returns home for their final seven games beginning with a four game set against the Philadelphia Phillies and ending with three games against the Washington Nationals.

With the Rockies playing 14 of their last 23 games at home, coupled with them riding a five game winning streak, I think they have the best chance at winning the division.

 

Dodgers:

The Dodgers begin a ten game road trip on Friday in Colorado for three games, followed by another three game set in Cincinnati against the Reds, and concluding with a four game series in St. Louis against the Cardinals. The Dodgers return to Los Angeles the next day (9/17) to begin a three game set against the Rockies, followed by their final series at home against the San Diego Padres. LA finishes the season on the road with three games in Phoenix against the Dbacks, followed by another three against the Giants in San Francisco.

The odds are going to be much longer against the Dodgers, as they play 16 of their last 22 games on the road. They play ten games in ten days, and return home from St. Louis the next day to play the Rockies at home. With the travel and stiff competition, they are going to be weary and I’m not sure the Dodgers have enough to overcome. We’ll see.

 

Dbacks:

Arizona has 22 games remaining, and 12 of them are at home. Starting Friday night, the Dbacks have a three game series at home against the Atlanta Braves, then hit the road for a four game series against the Rockies, followed by three games in Houston against the Astros. Upon the conclusion of that series, they return back home for a nine game home-stand against the Chicago Cubs, Rockies and Dodgers — all of them three game series. After an off-day, the Dbacks conclude the regular season with three games in San Diego against the Padres.

I think Arizona’s remaining schedule is the most friendly of these three teams. When they are on the road, they only have to travel to Denver, Houston and San Diego — which are relatively short distances from home. Also, they have two off days built in (Sept. 20 and 27) to rest up tired bodies. The Dbacks have lost seven of their last 10 games, but they could have a golden opportunity to gain momentum by taking advantage of the easy schedule going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

The Yankees Were Great in ’98


 

This afternoon, the New York Yankees are honoring their 1998 World Series winning team on their 20th anniversary. Several of the players from that special team will be there for a ceremony at Yankee Stadium prior to this afternoon’s Yankees game against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In ’98, the Yankees began that season on a west coast road-trip, losing four of their first five games. In those four losses, they were outscored 29-6. I’m sure it was safe to say the late George Steinbrenner was not happy. After losing in Seattle on April 6 to drop to 1-4 on the season, a team meeting was held (as discussed today on YES Network’s pregame with Ryan Ruocco, David Cone and Jorge Posada), with manager Joe Torre and several veterans speaking. The next day, the Yankees whipped the Mariners, 13-7. They went on to win 14 of their next 15 games and 34 of their next 40.

I find it apropos that the Yankees organization is honoring the team on this day, August 18, 2018. Exactly twenty years ago on this very day, the Yankees beat the Kansas City Royals, 3-2 in 13 innings to reach the high water mark of their impressive 1998 campaign. With that wain, the team had a record of 92-30, a mindblowing 62 games above .500 with a winning percentage of .754! This machine of a team didn’t simply beat their opponents, they often obliterated them. They played 27(!) games where they scored ten or more runs, many of those games came in consecutive games.

Needless to say, the Yankees were the talk of baseball, and talk on the streets. Prior to their 1996 World Series win, there were lean years. These late 90’s teams got the public excited again. As a fan, it was so much fun to talk with co-workers and friends (there was no such thing as social media, and the internet was in it’s infancy) about this exciting young team. The last Yankees teams that were dominant were the late 70’s teams that featured Billy Martin, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Ron Guidry, etc.

Why was this 1998 team so good? There are many reasons. First of all, they got on base. Let’s take a look at a screenshot of the lineup manager Joe Torre penciled into his lineup on that August 18, 1998.

Screenshot (222)

As you can see, from top to bottom of this day’s lineup, everyone has an OBP of .357 or better. Cleanup hitter Bernie Williams’ was an eye-popping .446! It doesn’t hurt that your numbers two, three and four hitters are absolutely RAKING. It also doesn’t hurt that seven regulars in the Yankees lineup hit 17 or more home-runs on the season. No one hit thirty homers on this team that season. Tino Martinez hit the most, with 28 home-runs. Bernie Williams was second with 26, and Paul O’Neill tied with Darryl Strawberry for third-most with 24.

The starting rotation was anchored by their dynamic-duo of David Cone and David “Boomer” Wells, who won 20 and 18 games, respectively. Young Andy Pettitte, who was in his fourth season with the team, added 16 more wins. And who can forget Orlando Hernandez? “El Duque” joined the team at the beginning of June, and went on to win 12 games and became known as a clutch pitcher in the postseason. And of course they had Mariano Rivera in the bullpen to slam the door shut, saving 36 games.

 

Another thing that added to their success was that they stuck up for each other. On May 19, the Yankees played a home game against the Baltimore Orioles. New York was ahead 7-5 in the bottom of the 8th inning. Tino Martinez dug in against O’s reliever Armando Benitez, who drilled him right between the shoulder blades. All hell proceeded to break loose.

 

While no one wants to see players get hurt, this team wasn’t about to stand by and let Benitez’s needless cheap shot go unanswered. Teams would rather not have brawls for obvious reasons, but these things DO build unity and cohesiveness in a clubhouse, and this is essential for overall success.

Two days prior to the Orioles/Yankees melee, starting pitcher David Wells pitched a perfect game against the Minnesota Twins. Boomer struck out eleven over his 120 pitch day of perfection.

 

From a perfect game to a perfect season, the 1998 Yankees were a joy to watch.

Ronald Acuña Jr, Jose Ureña and a Beanball Memory

 

Atlanta Braves rookie sensation Ronald Acuña, Jr. was hit on the first pitch Miami Marlins starting pitcher Jose Ureña threw in Wednesday night’s game at SunTrust Park. Acuña had been wearing out Marlins pitching lately (and almost ALL pitching), and it appeared that Ureña wanted to make a statement. That pitch resulted in Ureña’s ejection, Acuña’s eventual removal (Xrays were negative), and collective panic on Twitter.

 

Braves outfielder Ender Inciarte hopped out of the dugout and both benches cleared, with lots of jawing. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed and the game resumed, minus Ureña and Atlanta manager Brian Snitker, who were ejected after the altercation. Braves 1st baseman Freddie Freeman rightfully described Ureña’s pitch as gutless.

 

With this happening on the Marlins’ first pitch of the game in Atlanta, it brought back a very vivid memory for me of another game in Atlanta that occurred almost 34 years ago to this day. On August 12, 1984, the Braves and San Diego Padres played a game, airing on “super-channel” TBS, that would go down in infamy as one of the ugliest brawls (as in plural!) in major league history. I was only 13 years old at the time, but I remember this vividly because the game was simply insane.

Pascual Perez was Atlanta’s starting pitcher on this day. Before I continue, I would like to give you a little background on Perez. He tended to be very demonstrative on the mound and was widely known as a hot-dog. The New York Times‘ Richard Sandomir (@RichSandomir on Twitter) wrote a piece on Perez shortly after the former pitcher was killed in late 2012 in a robbery at his home in the Dominican Republic. He detailed how Perez was late for his own start in 1982, because he was lost on I-285 and couldn’t find Atlanta Fulton County Stadium. In the same piece by Sandomir, YES Network’s Jack Curry properly describes Perez as a guy who hops around the mound “as if he has a pesky mosquito in his uniform pants”.

On that day in August, 1984, Perez drilled Padres lead-off hitter Alan Wiggins square in the back on the first pitch of the game. Wiggins was erased in the next at bat when Padres Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn hit into a double-play. Pascual came to bat in the bottom of the second inning against Ed Whitson, who promptly sailed a pitch behind him, signalling his displeasure at him for nailing Wiggins the previous inning. Perez came to bat again in the bottom of the 4th and 6th innings, with both Whitson and reliever Greg Booker throwing at him, (and missing him) each resulting in skirmishes and the ejections of both pitchers.

For some insane reason that only then-Braves manager Joe Torre knows, Pascual Perez was again sent to bat in the bottom of the 8th inning. San Diego lefty Craig Lefferts finally drilled him and all hell broke loose. Players from both sides flew out of their dugouts, haymakers were thrown, bodies were flying, and reserve player Champ Summers ran toward the Braves dugout where Perez was, only to be met by Bob Horner.

Champ Summers Bob Horner

Atlanta’s 3rd baseman Horner, on the disabled list with a broken right wrist (if you look carefully, you can see a cast), wasn’t having any of it. Adding to an already insane scene, five fans ended up being arrested for getting involved, including the guy throwing his full beer on Champ Summers from atop the Braves dugout. Ed Whitson, no stranger to fighting (think Billy Martin), reappeared in his team’s dugout, shirtless and all.

Shirtless Ed Whitson

When play finally resumed, Joe Torre wisely had Brad Komminsk pinch-run for Perez, who went to the safety of the Braves clubhouse. But the fireworks weren’t quite done. In the top of the 9th, Atlanta’s Donnie Moore drilled Graig Nettles in the back. Nettles, in his first year in San Diego after a long career with the Yankees, wheeled around and charged Moore, who promptly side-stepped him and planted his glove in his face. The benches cleared once again, although it was relatively brief compared to the scene the previous half-inning. Gene Garber came in to finish the game, which the Braves won, 5-3. The detailed chronicle by Jason Foster of the Sporting News can be found here.

Yesterday’s Braves/Marlins game doesn’t compare to the game back in 1984, and today’s umpires and managers wouldn’t let a game get away the way that one did. But I don’t think the festivities between Atlanta and Miami are done yet. Players today police themselves similarly to players of yesteryear, and it’s hard to imagine what happened to Ronald Acuña, Jr. would go unanswered. This is something to stay tuned into.


 

**UPDATE** — 8/16/2018

This afternoon, MLB announced that Jose Ureña was handed a six game suspension for hitting Ronald Acuña, Jr.

 

Aaaaaand naturally Ureña is expected to appeal said suspension. Courtesy of Marlins beat writer Clark Spencer.

Stay tuned!

Jack Morris: The Definition of an Ace

Jack Morris has had a busy summer. The former Detroit Tigers starting pitcher was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 29, and this afternoon he had his number 47 retired by the Tigers, ensuring that no Tiger player will ever wear the 254 game winner’s number ever again.

I began watching baseball regularly in 1983, about the same time Morris’ name began to be associated with other top starting pitchers of the day. I watched every game pitched, as long as the game was televised. He became more of a strikeout pitcher under the tutelage of then-Tigers pitching coach Roger Craig, who taught his pitchers how to throw a split-finger fastball. This pitch, which became known as a “splitter”, has the same action as a fastball coming out of the hand, but drops suddenly just before reaching the plate. A properly thrown splitter will cause the hitter to swing over top of the ball, and Morris perfected this pitch to his advantage.

Morris won 20 games for the first time in his career in ’83, and started 1984 off with a bang. In his second start of the season, he pitched a no-hitter against the Chicago White Sox. At the time, the White Sox were no slouches, having come off a 99 win season in ’83, losing to the Baltimore Orioles in that year’s ALCS.

 

Morris’ no-hitter was the first one I ever saw on TV, and it was so exciting to watch. I was barely a teenager watching NBC’s “Saturday Game of the Week” , with legendary broadcasters Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola making the call. Not many games were shown on TV in those days the way they are today. NBC chose to cover this game in advance, as future Hall of Famer and new White Sox starter Tom Seaver was originally slated to make his debut with the team. However, a rain-out changed things, bumping all Chicago starters back a day.

The Tigers went on to win 35 of their first 40 games, and they ran away with the AL East Division in 1984. They went on to win the World Series, beating the San Diego Padres four games to one. Morris went on to win 198 games in a Tigers uniform, starting 34 or more games in six of his last seven seasons in Detroit. However, 1984 was the only year he won a ring with the Tigers.

Jack became a free agent after the 1990 season. On February 5, 1991, he signed a one year deal with the Minnesota Twins, getting an opportunity to play for his hometown team, having been born and raised in St. Paul. 1991 would prove to be memorable for the Twins and Morris. They won 95 games that year, and Jack did his part, winning 18 games, logging almost 250 innings en route to the playoffs. He made five starts in the postseason, winning four of them. Morris started Game 7 of the ’91 World Series against the Atlanta Braves, matching zeroes with future fellow Hall of Famer John Smoltz. The Twins’ workhorse threw 126 pitches over 10 innings, when Minnesota pinch hitter Gene Larkin drove in Dan Gladden, ending the game and the World Series. Morris’ 10 inning shutout became his defining moment and cemented his legacy forever.

 

 

But his career in Minnesota would prove to be “one and done”, as Morris again became a free agent and signed with the Toronto Blue Jays. Benefiting in large part to Toronto’s generous offense, Morris would win 21 games in 1992, marking the first time any Blue Jays starter would win 20 games or more. Despite a relatively high ERA of 4.04, he would come in fifth in voting for the AL Cy Young Award. Morris did pitch 240.2 innings, the 11th season he would reach that threshold in his career.

The Blue Jays would reach the postseason in ’92 and eventually went on to win the World Series four games to two over Atlanta. To help get them there, Toronto rode Morris hard in the second half of the season. He threw 127 innings over his last 18 starts of 1992, an average of just over seven innings/start, which would be unheard of today. But the 37 year old workhorse seemed to wear down, as he allowed 19 runs in 23 postseason innings. Still, Morris had another World Series Championship.

 

Jack Morris Boomer Wells.jpeg

In 1993, he would earn yet another ring as the Blue Jays won 95 games and the AL East, going on to beat the Philadelphia Phillies in seven games. Joe Carter became Toronto’s Game 7 hero as he hit a walk-off home run to give the Blue Jays back to back championships. Personally, Morris had the worst season of his career, going 7-12 with an ERA of 6.19. Age and injury seemed to catch up to him.

The Blue Jays released Morris from his contract on November 5, 1993, making him a free agent. He would pitch one more season, going 10-6 for the Cleveland Indians with a ERA of 5.60 in 1994 before being released on August 9, a mere three days before a player’s strike wiped out the rest of that season. Morris went to spring training in 1995 with the Cincinnati Reds in a final attempt to catch on with a MLB team, but retired shortly afterward.

This writer believes the Baseball Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee made the right call by inducting Jack Morris into the Hall (along with former Tigers teammate Alan Trammell). He didn’t have the gaudiest of numbers, but he won ballgames and gave his teams a lot of innings. He just seemed to WIN. Morris pitched 3,824 innings over his career, over 549 appearances. That’s an average of 6.97 innings every time he took the mound. He’s the guy I would want standing on the mound in a “must win game”.

 

Finesse Pitchers: A Lost Art

A couple weeks ago, I bought tickets to watch my local minor league team, the Rochester Red Wings play the Norfolk Tides in a doubleheader. Norfolk won both games, each by a score of 1-0. Obviously both games were well-pitched affairs, with runs at a premium.

In the first game, Norfolk had a tall lefty on the mound by the name of John Means. As I watched him in the 1st inning, I noticed he didn’t throw all that hard, sitting about 87-88 mph with his fastball. He mixed in a curve and a change, and seemed to command all three pitches. Means went on to breeze through the Red Wings lineup and never got into trouble, effectively shutting them down. He pitched a three-hit shutout, struck out six and walked no one. His fastest pitch of the day reached 89 mph. He painted like Picasso against a Rochester lineup that had six players who played in the major leagues at one time or another. It really was enjoyable to watch.

 

Before that day, July 19, I never heard of John Means. He’s 25 years old, 6’3″, 230 lbs. and was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles in the 11th round of the 2014 draft from West Virginia. As of this writing, Means has started 15 games in Triple-A, with a record of 5-3, an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.2. Decent numbers, but not eye-popping. After watching him pitch in person and reading his overall career stats, he can throw strikes and he can strike people out. These minor league stats show that he’s always been able to do both regularly. So why are the pitching starved Orioles not taking a look at this guy in the big leagues? He’s not in their Top 30 minor league prospects, probably more suspect than prospect. Means is not even on their 40 man roster.

With everyone from fans to front office executives to MLB league executives in love with the velocity craze, I worry guys like Means may never get a fair shot to prove their worth in the major leagues. Guys who throw (not necessarily pitch) at 95 or better seem to get fast-tracked to the big leagues, while the finesse pitchers seem to get left out in the cold, ending up minor league filler. Greg Maddux and Jamie Moyer, both drafted by the Cubs in 1984, recorded 624 big league wins between them, logging over 9,000 combined innings. Neither one of these men would probably get a second look in today’s MLB. Each of them made incredibly good livings for many years with fastballs that rarely, if ever touched 90 miles per hour. They learned to pitch because they had no choice, and they won a lot of games as a result. Same with Trevor Hoffman, who survived and thrived on an 86 mph fastball and a deadly change-up. He went into the Hall of Fame mere days ago, having saved more than 600 games over his long career. With relievers throwing near 100 mph, it would to envision him even getting a shot if he were a young pitcher in today’s game.

Maddux, Moyer and Hoffman are just a few examples, but there are many more who pitched with lower velocities and won many games. Tom Glavine comes to mind. Flame throwing pitchers and strikeouts seem to draw fans in, and more fans equals more attention, which can bring more revenue. Everyone loves the oohs and ahhs. But there should be room for pitchers like John Means. Finesse pitching doesn’t have to be a lost art.

 

National League Trade Deadline Winners/Losers

This past Tuesday, the MLB non-waiver trade deadline passed at 4:00 PM Eastern Standard Time. Some teams added and some teams subtracted, and some teams didn’t do a thing! In our last entry, we took a look at the trade deadline winners and losers in the AL. This time around, we will assess the teams in the National League that loaded up and those who missed the boat. Let’s get started!

 

Winners

 

Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers front office team of Pres. Andrew Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi landed Manny Machado from the Orioles, pried Brian Dozier from the Twins, and still managed to keep three of MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 Prospects in their system, including #29 prospect Alex Verdugo. LA had a slew of young talent in their system, using them in trades to stack their team for a deep playoff run. In a lesser deal, reliever John Axford was brought in from Toronto for pitcher Corey Copping. The Dodger lineup is loaded, their pitching is more than solid and they dropped 21 runs on the Brewers last night. I think they will be okay.

 

Atlanta Braves – The Braves weren’t expected to be this good, this quick, but here they are a half-game behind the 1st place Philadelphia Phillies. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos was a busy man, bring in starter Kevin Gausman and relievers Darren O’Day and Brad Brach from the Baltimore Orioles for a handful of prospects and future considerations. On deadline day, the Braves landed LF Adam Duvall from Cincinnati in exchange for LF Preston Tucker, RHP Matt Wisler and RHP prospect Lucas Sims. And on July 27, Anthopoulous brought back lefty reliever Jonny Venters back to the Braves organization where he began his career eight years ago. Venters has very much been a feel good story in 2018, having returned to the major leagues for the first time since 2012, after many years of elbow problems. The Braves made these trades and still have a deep farm system. They addressed most of their needs, and should be a tough team to beat this season and for many seasons to come.

 

Losers

 

Washington Nationals – The Nationals did absolutely nothing to add to their team as the trade deadline came and went. The only deals made prior to the 4:00 EST deadline on July 31, was shipping righty reliever Brandon Kintzler to the Chicago Cubs for RHP Jhon Romero. Kintzler was reported to be a clubhouse snitch in an article published by Yahoo’s Jeff Passan, saying the Nationals’ clubhouse was “a mess”. On July 22, OF Brian Goodwin was shipped to Kansas City for a lower level RHP prospect. Back on June 18, Rizzo made a deal with the Royals, adding future free agent Kelvin Herrera in return for three low-level minor league prospects, but he’s been unreliable, pitching to the tune of a 4.30 ERA and a FIP of 6.58. There were rumblings on Twitter about GM Mike Rizzo making RF and soon-to-be free agent Bryce Harper available via trade, but Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post sent out a tweet that the Nats were holding on to Harper, saying “I believe in this team”.

 

Colorado Rockies – Owners Dick and Charlie Monfort invested heavily this past offseason, adding closer Wade Davis, reliever Bryan Shaw and signing OF Charlie Blackmon to a long-term contract extension. As of this writing, the Rockies are 58-51, two games out of first place in the NL West. They are winning games, but it’s only because the Rockies are hitting the dog-snot out of the ball. Davis and Shaw have ERA’s that better resemble long distance area codes, as does lefty reliever Jake McGee. GM Jeff Bridich would have done well to add another reliable reliever for the pen and another starter to help out the rotation, but all he came up with was 35 year old Seunghwan Oh from the Toronto Blue Jays. Even that move came at a cost, with the Jays getting 1B Chad Spanberger and 2B/OF Forrest Wall (2014 1st round pick) in return. With the aforementioned Dodgers and Arizona Diamondbacks making moves to improve their teams, it’s easy to see them distancing themselves from the Rockies in the next two months.

Trade Deadline Winners & Losers – American League

The non-waiver trade deadline passed two days ago, and dust is beginning to settle. Contending teams added some depth to their teams and the sellers added young prospects in hopes of building for the future. Today we’ll take a look at the winners and losers in the American League, and in a future entry we will assess the senior circuit.

 

Winners

 

Seattle Mariners – Seattle GM Jerry DiPoto, who may well win MLB Executive of the Year, was busy working the phones in July. He added depth to the Mariners bullpen, adding righty relievers Adam Warren and Sam Tuivailala from the Yankees and Cardinals, respectfully. DiPoto worked a deal with the Minnesota Twins for lefty Zach Duke, and brought in outfielder Cameron Maybin from Miami to add depth to Seattle’s bench. Earlier this season, the Mariners swung a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays for reliever Álex Colomé and outfielder Denard Span. The M’s are poised for a run for the pennant and gave up so little in return for these players.

 

New York Yankees – The Yankees needed to add a starter and got one when Brian Cashman swung a trade with Toronto for veteran lefthander JA Happ, in return for surplus infielder Brandon Drury and minor league outfielder Billy McKinney. Cashman made a deal with the Baltimore Orioles for lefty power reliever Zach Britton for three minor league prospects, and landed veteran Lance Lynn from the Twins for 1B/OF Tyler Austin and minor leaguer Luis Rijo. Austin was deemed expendable after the Yankees acquired Luke Voit from the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for lefty reliever Chasen Shreve. Lynn was originally slotted for the bullpen, but he has since replaced Sonny Gray in the Yankees rotation going forward.

 

Losers

 

Baltimore Orioles – Will the last person to leave the clubhouse turn out the lights? This franchise needed a reboot and they are definitely doing that after they traded away everyone but the beer vendors. Zach Britton was shipped to the Bronx for three young pitchers who project to soon be major league ready. Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman and Brad Brach were all sent to the Atlanta Braves for prospects and future considerations. Second baseman Jonathan Schoop was sent to the Milwaukee Brewers for fellow 2nd baseman Jonathan Villar and two minor leaguers. The granddaddy deal came almost two weeks before the deadline when Manny Machado was sent to the west coast with the Dodgers for five prospects. The Orioles also had a deal in place to move long-time fan favorite Adam Jones to the Philadelphia Phillies, but it was shot down by Jones himself, who has a full no-trade clause as a “10/5 player” (10 years MLB service time with past five seasons with the same team). While the O’s will continue to be abysmal in the short term, they overhauled their minor league system, which will hopefully be worth it in the long run for Orioles fans.

 

Cleveland Indians – Wait a minute. How can a team handily leading it’s division possibly be considered losers at anything? Follow along. The only additions the Tribe made before the deadline was adding OF Leonys Martin from Detroit and lefty reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres. Hand is a good addition for the team, but it came at a significant cost with 22 year old blue chip prospect C/OF Francisco Mejía going to the Padres. I think GM Mike Chernoff overpaid for him, and I feel Mejía will be a star eventually. Hand will help the bullpen, but the rest of their relief corps have been anything but reliable. Andrew Miller’s return will help make the pen better. The addition of Martin adds to the mix in Cleveland’s outfield, but he’s not a difference maker. Barring a disaster, the Tribe will win their division, but they may not have enough horses to make a deep playoff run, especially with a leaky bullpen. If any of their stars like Lindor, Ramirez, or Corey Kluber go down, it will leave them much more vulnerable.

 

Check back soon as we will assess the trade deadline winners and losers in the National League.