Monthly Archives: July 2010

ANATOMY OF A PHIL HUGHES/YANKEE LOSS

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

You’ve probably read and/or seen by now that Phil Hughes pitched a gem on Friday against the Rays – except for that one pitch, a three-run homer hit by Matt Joyce to provide the winning margin in a 3-2 Rays win over the Yankees. Rarely do you have such a clear-cut example of a pitcher (catcher? pitching coach?) making a game-losing mistake on pitch selection. But make no mistake: Hughes inability to throw (or want to throw) a curve ball for a strike with two strikes on Joyce was the reason the Yankees lost and the Rays won.

THE HOME RUN ITSELF

Matt Joyce hit a 2-2 fast ball for a three-run homer to win the game for the Rays. But, as often happens, there was a lot going on before the pitch to set up Joyce’s home run. In Joyce’s first at-bat, Jorge Posada put his target down and in to the lefty Joyce for a 1-1 fastball that was thrown up and slightly away. Joyce couldn’t get around on it and hit a pop foul back behind home to Posada. The second time up, Joyce swung at a first-pitch curve ball and grounded out weakly to first.

So, in his third at-bat, when Joyce swung at a 2-1 curve ball for strike two and then blasted the 2-2 fastball into the right field seats for a three-run homer, both Yankee announcers Tino Martinez and John Flaherty noticed that Posada called for it down and in and Hughes missed his spot and threw it up and slightly away. They both commended Matt Joyce for hitting a homer on a high fastball, both saying it’s a difficult thing to do.

And they were both right. But it was almost the identical pitch that Joyce had popped up (foul) to Posada in his first at-bat. So, what was the difference?

THE BEAUTY OF BASEBALL

This is just another reason why baseball is the most fascinating, most nuanced game. In the prior inning, Tampa Bay’s Reid Brignac was facing Hughes and, with the count 3-2, Hughes threw him FOUR fastballs in a row, striking him out (called, very close pitch) on the final fastball. Next batter, Jason Bartlett, with the count 2-2, saw FOUR fastballs in a row, flying out to center to end the fifth inning. If you didn’t know by then that Phil Hughes was throwing fastballs with the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters, you did after those two batters. So, what do you think Matt Joyce was looking for when he was facing Hughes in the next inning with the count 2-2? That’s why he was able to turn on a pitch he couldn’t turn on in his first at-bat.

Fascinating stuff, no?

WHAT ABOUT THE EARLIER PART OF THE GAME?

Excellent question. If you followed this the whole game, you would have come to the same conclusion. With the count 2-2 or 3-2 to Rays’ hitters prior to the Joyce home run, Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 13 of the 15 pitches he threw in that situation. Overall, with two strikes and any count (0-2, 1-2, 2-2 or 3-2), Phil Hughes threw fastballs on 19 out of 26 pitches. But EVERY curveball he threw with two strikes on a batter was a ball, in the dirt and/or out of the zone (Carl Crawford swung at one for a strikeout in the third inning).

So, you didn’t have to be a brain surgeon or a batting coach to have a real good sense of what Phil Hughes was going to throw Matt Joyce on a 2-2 count in the sixth inning on Friday.

WHAT DID JOYCE AND HUGHES SAY ABOUT THE PITCH?

More interesting stuff. Joyce was very subtle, simply telling MLB.com that “I just put a good swing on a pitch that was up.”

Hughes spoke in more detail to MLB.com: “It leaked over the plate and he didn’t miss it. To a lefty, lower is better for him, so I wanted to get it [near the] belt … . I’ll be thinking about that pitch for a while. I had some success earlier in the game going in there and I had thrown him a pretty good 2-1 curveball the pitch before that and I felt like it was the right pitch. HE GUESSED RIGHT. That’s the bottom line.” (emphasis supplied).

Ah, but WHY DID HE GUESS RIGHT? You know why – because Phil Hughes had thrown very few curveballs with 2-2 or 3-2 counts the entire night. And NONE for strikes. So Phil Hughes and the Yankee coaching staff will have to look at this game and see the pattern – and fix it.

INTERESTINGLY, WHAT HAPPENED TO THE NEXT BATTER?

Willy Aybar was the next batter after the Joyce homer and would be Phil Hughes’ last batter. With the count 3-2, Phil Hughes threw an excellent hook right over the plate that froze Aybar for a called strike three. A tremendous pitch and the first two-strike curveball that Hughes had thrown for a strike all night long.

While one can never know what would have happened if Hughes had thrown a 2-2 hook to Matt Joyce, suffice it to say that it would have been virtually impossible for him to hit such a pitch out of the park.

WHERE DOES PHIL HUGHES GO FROM HERE?

If Phil Hughes wants to get to that next level as a major league pitcher (stardom), he’s going to have to have the ability (guts? confidence?) to throw a breaking ball with two strikes on a hitter over the plate for a strike, not in the dirt hoping that someone will swing at it. When he starts to do that consistently, he will win games like Friday’s against the Rays, rather than losing them.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

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THOUGHTS ON BOB SHEPPARD’S FUNERAL, THE YANKEES, THE ALL-STAR GAME, LEBRON AND THE KNICKS

                                                                                       Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

BOB SHEPPARD’S FUNERAL

It was disappointing that no Yankee player went to Bob Sheppard’s funeral. A Yankee legend, Sheppard deserved better. But, as often happens, the after-the-fact comments made it even worse. For Derek Jeter, of all people, to go with “I didn’t know when the funeral was” and the old “there’s lots of ways to show respect for someone” besides going to a funeral was, to be kind, very weak. Once upon a time, and not very long ago, it was the ultimate sign of respect to go to a person’s funeral. Not so, apparently, in the 21st Century.

And Joe Girardi, not surprisingly, had to stick up for his player.

Are there lots of ways to show respect for a person who has passed on other than to go to his funeral? Absolutely. But the best way to show respect is to show up, to take time out of your busy day and to be there. But hey, maybe that’s just the old way of thinking.

THE YANKEES

Are the Yankees the best team in baseball? Of course they are. Does that mean that they will win the World Series? Well, not necessarily. Losing both Johnny Damon and Hideki Matsui has been a disaster when compared to their replacements (see Kallas Remarks, 2/6/10). Nick Johnson was always injured and still is. Curtis Granderson has been injured and a disappointment. And that’s BEFORE we find out if these guys are able to hit in the clutch in the post-season, assuming they are healthy enough to even play in the post-season. While Robinson Cano has had an MVP season which has helped to camouflage the disappointment of Johnson and Granderson, you still won’t know how much Damon and Matsui are missed until the actual post-season. It says here that they will be missed greatly.

THE ALL-STAR GAME LINEUP

Joe Girardi got it all backwards at the All-Star game. Flip the starting lineup over and who would you take (leaving out DH Vlad Guerrero, who batted fifth):

Carl Crawford                                      Ichiro

Robinson Cano                                   Derek Jeter

Joe Mauer                                            Miguel Cabrera

Evan Longoria                                   Josh Hamilton

I would take the lineup on the left and they batted ninth, eighth, seventh and sixth, respectively, in Girardi’s All-Star lineup. Interesting, no?

And, should Stephen Strasburg have been an All-Star? Of course he should have. He was lights out again last night (six innings, no runs, four hits, seven strikeouts). Major league baseball and Charlie Manuel just didn’t get it. This kid brings the crowds like The Bird and Valenzuela did decades ago. And he’s probably better than both of them. Because of the five-day rotation and the refusal of teams to bring their stars up at the start of the season (for whatever reason), this kid can’t play in the All-Star game? Utterly preposterous.

And, by the way, there aren’t five pitchers in the major leagues who have better stuff than this kid (there may not be one, but I’m being cautious). The numbers are now 48.2 innings, 68 strikeouts, 36 hits, 2.03 ERA and a 4-2 record.

Baseball missed the boat, badly, on this one.

LEBRON DID WHAT’S BEST FOR HIM, BUT …

I just happened to be in beautiful Oberlin, Ohio, about 30 miles from Cleveland, when the fateful news of Lebron’s “decision” hit the state like a thunderbolt. And, literally, at least in Oberlin, there was thunder, lightning and rain shortly after that “decision.”  A number of people that I saw right after the “decision” was announced really were upset, some even angry and bitter.  

But from a winning championships perspective, Lebron did the right thing. And, under normal circumstances, leaving $30 million on the table would be saluted (whatever you think of Lebron, remember, when some idiot says it’s ALWAYS about the money, just say Lebron to him and shut him up). But, once again, it’s the after-the-fact that makes things really bad.

Lebron didn’t call anyone from any team right before the “decision.” He owed, at least, the Cavaliers a personal phone call. In his own words, he didn’t call anyone. He wanted the night to be “about me” (you can’t make this stuff up). Clearly he had no clue and no advisors with a clue to explain things to him. And the one-hour “Decision” show was comical. Stan Van Gundy got it right when he said, essentially, that it was a fifteen second statement – what else could they do for the rest of the hour. Well …, nothing.

While it’s obvious that people will hate him forever in Cleveland, Lebron, whether he knows it or not (and he probably doesn’t even care), now has everybody else rooting against him. It was terrible for his image and that will be hurt for awhile, maybe forever. But he can never climb to “the next level” without championships and this is the best way to get them. The absurd coming out party in Miami was just another sign of the times; shouldn’t these guys win SOMETHING before they have the celebration?

And who would have thought that Chris Bosh, of all people, was the most influential of free agents? If he had decided to go to Cleveland (according to reports, he just didn’t want to play there), the landscape would have been totally different. Either Wade would have joined them in Cleveland or the Cavaliers would have made a real run with Lebron and Bosh. Frankly, Lebron probably didn’t want to wind up like Patrick Ewing, tilting at the Michael Jordan windmill (and, briefly, the Hakeem Olajuwon windmill) with little or no help – and no titles (See Kallas Remarks, 9/6/08)

And, as often has happened, the guy in the corner with the Cheshire cat grin was none other than Pat Riley, who may, over time, be considered one of the greatest Presidents/GMs of all time. Some, like this writer, already think that he’s one of the greatest coaches of all-time (see Kallas Remarks, 4/30/08).

WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE THE KNICKS?

Frankly, nowhere. With the addition of Amar’e Stoudemire, are the Knicks a better team? Yes, but so what? Knick fans are looking for a championship, not a competitive win-one-round-if-they-are-lucky team. It really was an all-or-nothing thing. The Knicks needed two superstars: one (or two, if possible) from Column A (Lebron and Wade) and one from Column B (Joe Johnson, Bosh, Stoudemire, etc.).

One from Column B just won’t cut it.

Plus, with the loss of David Lee, the Knicks improvement isn’t as great. Frankly, Lee has turned into a very good NBA player. The two knocks on him have always been that he can’t defend and he can’t get his own shot. While he still isn’t a good on-the-ball defender, he is certainly an excellent rebounder and a better-than-you-think team defender.

And if you watched him this past year and didn’t realize that he now, in many situations (including end-of-game situations), can get his own shot, then you haven’t been watching with an open mind. He’s a very good NBA player, a walking double-double, and will be missed at the Garden.

The Knicks came up woefully short in free agency. Can they get a Carmelo next season? A Chris Paul? We will just have to wait and see. But the improvement you see this season won’t be enough if it’s a championship that the long-suffering Knick fan is waiting for.

They probably will be waiting for a very long time.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.

PUT STRASBURG AND DICKEY ON THE ALL-STAR TEAM – BUT ONLY IF THEY PITCH TO THE SAME GUYS

                                                                                        Kallas Remarks by Steve Kallas

Once upon a time, the All-Star game was really important – to players, managers and fans. But that was then. This is now. Despite trying to give it phony importance – the league winner is the home team in the World Series (there’s no truth to the rumor that the NBA is giving home-court advantage in the 2011 NBA Finals to the conference of the winner of the Slam Dunk contest) — you can’t make a modern day exhibition game important (and with present day inter-league play, it’s not even novel as it once was).

STRASBURG A NO-BRAINER

It’s kind of bizarre to think that there are people who think this guy should not be on the All-Star team. Possibly a once-in-a-generation pitcher – how many “baseball” people have said this is the best pitcher ever? — it’s preposterous to think that he shouldn’t be on it. Is he that good? Well, while this writer thinks he has a chance to be an all-time great, it really doesn’t matter. Remember, part of the reason, in 2010, that Strasburg didn’t start the season in the majors is so the Nationals can keep him a little longer on the back end (for free agency). Had he started the season, would he have been Mark Fidrych or Fernando Valenzuela? We’ll never know, but clearly he has generated (almost) as much excitement.

Plus, this guy has received as little run support as one can possibly get. Yes, the Nationals got Strasburg four whole runs in his debut, but three came in the bottom of the sixth (i.e., a 1-0 game through five and a half innings).Yes, in his second game the Nationals got him six runs although he was leading only 2-1 after five.

Then, the Nationals offense fell off a cliff. In Strasburg’s third start, a no-decision on June 18 against the White Sox, the Nationals got one run in the seventh after Strasburg had given up only one run through seven. In his fourth start, a 1-0 loss on June 23 to the Royals, Strasburg gave up one run in six innings with the Nationals, obviously, not scoring at all.

In his fifth start, a 5-0 loss to the Braves on June 28, obviously, once again, the Nationals didn’t score. And if you watched that game, where the Braves scored five in the seventh (and Strasburg was charged with three runs, two earned), you know that Strasburg threw a double play ball with first and second, nobody out, which was booted by the shortstop. Since you can’t “assume” a double play (what a stupid rule but that’s for another time), Strasburg gave up two earned which should have been zero earned but for a simple play.

Finally, in his sixth start, a no-decision on July 3 against the Mets, the Nationals did not score while Strasburg was in the game (he gave up two earned in five innings). The Nationals came back to win the game (thanks to another K-Rod implosion).

So understand, if you are criticizing his record, Sandy Koufax only could have won one of those last four starts, since the Nationals scored all of ONE run in FOUR games when Stephen Strasburg was in the game.

You get the point.

LOOK AT HIS OTHER STATS

With arguably the best “stuff” in the game already, just watching this guy pitch is a treat. He now holds the all-time record for strikeouts, in the history of baseball, for his first three and four starts in the majors. He trails only the ill-fated Herb Score (52-50) in strikeouts after his first five starts in the majors (give this a little thought).

His strikeout to walk ratio (53-10) is over five to one. His ERA (bloated because of that missed DP ball) is 2.45 and his WHIP is slightly over 1. If you are keeping score at home, these are All-Star numbers.

And, never forget, this guy puts people in the stands as much or more than anybody since, well, Fidrych and Valenzuela.

R A DICKEY DESERVES TO GO AS WELL

The opposite end of the spectrum, pitching-wise, R A (it stands for Robert Allen) Dickey has been a life-saver for the Mets. He’s 6-1 (and should have won yesterday after giving up two unearned runs in seven innings and leaving with a lead against the Nationals – outdueling Strasburg) with a 2.62 earned run average.

An American League journeyman (at best) prior to this season, the 35-year-old Dickey has reinvented himself and is now a knuckleball pitcher. It’s his first year in the National League after seven non-descript (22-27) years in the American League. A more interesting story than even Strasburg, Dickey has a missing ligament in his pitching arm but has still managed to carve out a major league career.

He has helped to make the Mets relevant again in the National League – and in New York City.

BUT MAKE THEM PITCH TO THE SAME HITTERS IN THE ALL-STAR GAME

It will be fantastic if both Strasburg and Dickey make the All-Star team. But the real interesting thing will be if they can pitch to the same All-Star hitters. Once upon a time, that would have been easy as, decades ago, starters routinely played six or more innings. Today, with so many players (and, apparently, virtually everybody has to play – we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings) on each team, that will be hard to do.

But, if possible, the NL should try and get Strasburg in early (not start) for an inning and then bring Dickey in two or three innings later to face the same guys. Then you can ask the hitters after the game what it’s like to face a 100 mph fastball, an 88-90 mph “change-up” and, later, a 65-70 mph knuckleball.

Bizarre but entertaining, no? And, hey, it’s all about entertainment today, isn’t it (that’s what they tell me)?

WHO WILL BE LEFT OFF, THOUGH?

One of the biggest complaints, and it’s a good one, is, if you put these guys on, who do you leave off? Well, first of all, the rosters should be greatly expanded for the All-Star game. With so many players and with the appeal of having these two pitchers pitch in an All-Star game, nobody who deserves to go should be left off.

Second of all, both of these guys are very deserving. The future is now for Stephen Strasburg and baseball, still in need of stars and popularity, shouldn’t let an opportunity like this pass. Strasburg shouldn’t be penalized for the “system” that is baseball in 2010. Nor should he be penalized for anemic run support.

As for R A Dickey, if this isn’t the best story of the year, a 35-year-old knuckleball pitcher having an All-Star year, I don’t know what is.

So put them both on the All-Star team. Let them, if possible, pitch to the same hitters two or three innings apart.

It will be the most entertaining thing about the 2010 All-Star game.

© Copyright 2010 by Steve Kallas.  All rights reserved.