Mike Fiers was the First to Speak-up but not the Last

Unless you have been living under a rock since mid-November, you have heard about the 2017 Houston Astros using technology to steal signs to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents.

When former Astro and current Oakland A’s staring pitcher Mike Fiers went on record with The Athletic’s Evan Drellich and Ken Rosenthal, speaking out on how his former team stole catchers’s signs, it turned the baseball world on it’s ear (the Drellich/Rosenthal piece can be read here).

Needless to say, Fiers’s former teammates are upset that he broke an unwritten code of clubhouse culture. Major league clubhouses are sacred. What goes on in a clubhouse is supposed to stay in a clubhouse. Fiers may never be fully trusted again by some current and future teammates because he went against the grain, letting team doings become public.

On social media, the reaction has been mixed. Many folks are calling Fiers a hero (including this writer), and many are destroying him, calling him a rat, a bad teammate and many words unsuitable to repeat here. Reactions from many ex-players, including Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez had this to say:

 

Mike Fiers was the first former Astros player to speak out, but I don’t think he will be the last. Players are human beings, and many human beings have consciences. Fiers proved he has one by going public. But he can’t be the only one who feels the same way about his team’s cheating. Immediately after Game 7 of the 2019 World Series, former Astro Gerrit Cole distanced himself from the team.

This is certainly not to say Cole will say anything at all regarding the Astros’s indiscretions, but it makes me question whether he agreed with what his former teammates were doing.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the current Houston squad was cleared of any wrongdoing, but let’s remember how Jose Altuve jumped all over a slider thrown by New York Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman to end the ALCS, and had a look of terror on his face as he told his team not to rip off his jersey. He did that for a reason.

Two days ago, Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel, a member of the Astros from 2012-18, gave something of an apology, saying he is “sorry for the situation”, but also pointed out they didn’t cheat every game.

But make no mistake, Keuchel wasn’t happy the aforementioned “clubhouse code of silence” was broken.

 

This isn’t over by any stretch, and I think as time goes by, more people will shed light on what really happened. It’s just a matter of how long and how many people have a conscious. Stay tuned.

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What is with Angel Hernandez?

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has been working for some time to improve the quality of games and speed up pace of play. This has been well documented, and Manfred has proposed and added several new rules to “improve” the game.

Another way to speed up MLB games is having consistent and fair umpiring, especially behind the plate. Case in point, yesterday’s game between the Houston Astros and St. Louis Cardinals. Angel Hernandez, everyone’s favorite ump this side of Cowboy Joe West, was behind the dish. Astros pitcher Forrest Whitley threw a close pitch that should have rang-up Harrsion Bader to end the top of the first inning, but Angel didn’t give him the call. Hinch began chirping about the non-strike call. Bader eventually reached base on an error, prolonging the inning. Hernandez, a notoriously terrible umpire, ejected Astros manager A.J. Hinch for arguing balls and strikes. Hinch was so irate and incredulous from being tossed that he had to be restrained.

It’s bad enough that Hernandez felt the need to make himself the “star”, ejecting a manager in a spring training game. Making it worse, Hinch claims Angel “said some condescending things that are inappropriate, unprofessional.”

Believe it or not, when umpires create their own “umpshows”, it adds unnecessary time to a ballgame. If MLB goes ahead and begins use of Trackman doppler radar in the future, some umpires will eventually need to find a new line of work. Angel Hernandez should be among them.

You want shorter MLB games? Throw strikes and locate!

In a few short weeks Spring training will be upon us. Mostly likely with it will be more changes initiated by Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred in his never-ending quest to improve pace of play and shorten the length of games.

This past week, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale revealed Manfred’s proposal to change the 10 day disabled list back to 15 days as well as another stab at adding a pitch-clock to help control pace of play. I agree with returning the DL back to 15 days because it seemed to be used more as a way to manipulate rosters than an actual disabled list. I disagree with a pitch-clock but think it’s inevitable since all minor leagues now use it.

A search of average time per nine innings over the last 25 seasons revealed a MLB low of 2:49 in the year 2005. Two teams, the Minnesota Twins and Houston Astros tied for the lowest average time per nine innings at 2:43 and the New York Yankees had the highest at 3:02, with the Boston Red Sox on their heels at 3:01. In 2018, the average time per nine inning games was three hours even, a drop of five minutes from the previous year.

What stood out for me in this research was the collective amount of pitches thrown between the Twins and Astros of 2005 and the rest of the league. The ’05 San Francisco Giants led MLB in total pitches with 24,324 over their 162 games. The Twins threw the fewest (21,902) with the Astros second fewest (22,112) that year.

The biggest thing I took away from looking at the numbers from from the ’05 Twins and Astros was that their starting pitchers threw strikes and pitched deep into games. Minnesota’s top three starters, Johan Santana, Brad Radke and Carlos Silva all averaged close to seven innings per start. In combination with this, all three guys constantly threw strikes. Santana, a power pitcher at the time gave up 1.7 BB/9 IP. Radke (1.0 BB/9) and Silva (0.4 BB/9!!) weren’t power guys, but located and let their defense do their jobs behind them. Houston starters Roy Oswalt, Andy Pettitte and a 42 year old Roger Clemens weren’t the hardest of throwers, but tallied more strikeouts, being a National League team at the time. Oswalt (1.6 BB/9), Pettitte (1.7 BB/9) and Clemens (2.6 BB/9) also threw strikes and pitched deep into ballgames, all averaging between 6.5 and 7.0 innings per start.

In contrast with 2005, the 2018 Twins threw the most pitches collectively in MLB with 24,927, with the Chicago White Sox right behind with 24,926. The ’18 Twins top-three starters Kyle Gibson (3.6 BB/9), José Berríos (2.9) and Jake Odorizzi 3.8) walked well more than twice as many as their 2005 counterparts. As a result, Gibson and Berríos averaged just a shade over six innings while Odorizzi barely averaged five innings/start.

There are other variables that add to the length of the game today, with pitchers throwing harder and hitters going for the home run instead of putting the ball in play, but I think better control and location would be a big help with pace of play.

Throw strikes! (Shout-out to my man @JordanLeandre55 for this timeless moment) 😉