This major-league season has really been fun to cover so far. When the Jays play well, the players are happy and cooperative, fans are tuned in, baseball is important to the newspaper, the guys show up early to the park and the game unfolds the way it was supposed to – with men playing a kids’ game. Hockey playoffs? Uh, who’s still in it? Basketball? Just let me know when it’s Kobe and LeBron. But baseball? Hey, summer is almost here, the kids will be out of school soon and the Jays are still leading the East. Horsehide heaven. On to the Mailbag.
Q: I realize Cito is stubborn, but is he going to leave Vernon Wells at clean-up all year? Whenever he gets up with men on in important situations (which is often on a good-hitting team), this guy immediately waves at two outside pitches. So he's 0 and 2 more often than not. Pitchers aren't necessarily stupid. If the team is up or down by 5 or 6 runs, he might knock in a couple. But if the game is close, he usually strikes out or pops up. Do you, as presumably a keen follower of the team, agree with my assessment of "Vernon"?
Carl Harvey, Peterborough, Ont.
A: For the first time this season, Gaston seemed miffed and short-tempered after Tuesday’s 2-1 loss to the Red Sox. The best guess is that he was still steaming over the eighth inning, with Alex Rios and Vernon Wells popping up to left field with runners on first and second and one out. The moment may be coming that Cito moves Wells out of the cleanup, although he maintains that he likes to stay with guys even if they are struggling. But your outline of the way that pitchers approach him is pretty accurate. Consider that Wells after Tuesday was 9-for-53 with runners in scoring position. His career average with RISP close (within three runs) and late (7th inning on) was .246 with an OPS of .693, Meanwhile, his overall career average was .283 with an OPS of .812. It’s time to think about moving Wells down in the order.
Q: Mr. Griffin, If you were a baseball manager, how would you construct a lineup? A number of years ago, I recall reading an essay from sabermetrician Bill James who said that the best way to construct a lineup is to bat your best hitter first, your second best hitter second, etc., as this is the only way to ensure that your best hitter hits more often than anyone else.
It seems like every manager is stuck on this notion of batting a speedy guy who steals bases first (even if they never steal), a guy who can move him along second, a player with combo power/speed third and your big power hitter fourth. It's as if the manager is playing for a grand slam in the first inning. I was particularly struck by this in the Blue Jay/Yankee game on Tuesday, where Joe Girardi batted perhaps his WEAKEST hitter first (Brett Gardiner). I was thinking this because, for a while, it looked like Gardiner was going to be the only Yankee to get four plate appearances.
Thanks for your opinion.
Trevor Hardy, Burlington, Ont.
A: Bill James was hired as a consultant by the Red Sox several years ago and yet you didn’t see the Sox change their philosophy of constructing a batting order because of his presence. If your leadoff man is the only player to get four at-bats in a game, then you have bigger problems than just the batting order. The first hitter should be an on-base guy with speed, not necessarily a stolen base guy, but someone that can take pitches and force the pitcher to work for an out. The second hitter needs to be patient and selfless, because you may ask him to move the runner or take a pitch that he finds very hittable. The third hitter is your best hitter, ideally blessed with speed and power. The fourth hitter should be your top power guy, not always looking for walks but looking to expand the strike zone slightly to drive the ball and produce runs. The fifth hitter should hit from the opposite side than the cleanup man so they have to think twice about the reliever matchups late in the game. The ninth hitter, I would like to see as a second leadoff man, with some speed so that if he reaches base for the top of the order, he’s not clogging the basepaths.
Q: Sometimes a brand new pitcher has an advantage because the opposing team has very little tape/scouting on him and is unfamiliar with his stuff. My theory is once teams have played them once and have studied them a bit more, they can be easier to read/predict/score on (eg: Chacin, Gustavo). Are the young jays pitchers in danger of this happening later in the season, or is their stuff really this good?
Paul Clugston, Grassy Narrows, Ont.
A: The Jays young pitchers are pretty good, but your analysis also holds some water. The first time pitching around the league for guys like Robert Ray, Brett Cecil and other young hurlers sees them facing veteran major-league hitters that have never seen them before. In my 37-years of hanging around major-league hitters, to a man they hate facing kids coming up to pitch in the majors for the first time. Most good hitters are students of the game and if there’s no history to study, no video to break down, no known tendencies to anticipate, it’s advantage young pitcher. I think by August, it will be Jesse Litsch back as the No. 2 man in the rotation. The other factor facing the Jays’ youngsters in the rotation is the wall they will hit at the end of August in terms of the accumulation of innings and the mental and physical fatigue of pitching into September, when all the minor leagues have normally been shut down.
Q: Richard, I may be exposing my age or naivete in fashion, but what is with the various corded necklaces that some pitchers seem to wear, while others avoid them? Thanks.
Fred Crockett, Burlington, Ont.
A: They are called Phiten titanium necklaces and more than a fashion statement, they are supposed to promote good health and healing powers. They are supposed to enhance mental and physical abilities. The theory is that the magnets and titanium stabilize the electric flow that nerves use to communicate actions to the body. They originated in Japan and are sold online. It may be as much psychological and a fashion statement as anything. My 16-year-old wears one for baseball but it hasn’t helped him when it comes to cutting the lawn.
Q: Hi Richard, My questions have to do with present day terminology. In this era of cutters, 4-seamers, 2-seamers, etc., I don't hear a reference to the split-finger fastball. Has it gone from a pitcher's assortment of pitches? I remember my frustration at watching Jack Morris mow down Jays when he was pitching for the Tigers. Also I don't understand the term walk off or is it on homer. Can you interpret, please. Thanks. I enjoy your comments and column very much.
Carolyn Wilkinson, Gabriola, B.C.
A: The split-finger is still used by some players as an off-speed pitch. Jason Frasor throws a form of it, but his hands aren’t big enough to have his fingers spread that far, so he incorporates it with a circle-change grip. The new pitch has thrust him back into the mix of effective eight-inning setup men. It used to be called the forkball, but that pitch has now been replaced by the two-seamer as the moving fastball of choice with downward action. Roger Clemens saved his career with the splitter as he reached his mid-30s. That and of course the foreign substances he allegedly added to his training regime.
Q: Richard, In response to your article "Where would the Blue Jays be without Halladay", I pose this question...Where would the Blue Jays be with the 3 and 4 hitters performing? Rios and Wells are underperforming and that is an understatement, when will Cito realize this and move the hitters around? What would you think of a possible line up change of Rolen to 3rd, Lind to 4th, Wells to 5th and Rios 6th?
Scott Cochrane, Niagara-on-the-Lake
A: Longtime readers know how I feel about Rios eventually moving to the leadoff role, but as long as Marco Scutaro is doing the job at leadoff, I would leave Hill second and Rios third. However, I would throw a lefthanded hitter into the mix at cleanup, then go right-left-right down to the 7-hole. That would mean moving Lind to cleanup, Rolen to fifth, Overbay to sixth and Wells to seventh. Wells really does seem to thrive outside of the pressure-cooker. The move of Wells out of cleanup would not necessarily be permanent, but as the rest of the Jays’ lineup comes back to earth, Wells’ failure in the clutch will begin to be more noticeable. Don’t wait. Do it now.
Q: Hi Richard, love your blog. In the Victoria Day game against the White Sox, Richmond pitches 7 shutout innings, Carlson comes on in the 8th and gives up a 2 run homer to tie the game negating Richmond's win. Fair enough. But then when Rios plates the winner with his triple in the bottom of the 8th, Carlson is awarded the win. I don't agree with this. If Carlson does his job, Richmond gets the win. Richmond did nothing to deserve the loss. Your thoughts?
Ralph Muller, Oakville
A: There are a lot of things about baseball’s traditional way of recording pitching stats that I don’t agree with. Carlson gets a blown save AND a win in that same game? That’s not right, but baseball is a team sport and when as a starter you hand the lead over to the bullpen, the decision is no longer in your hands. How about a game that a reliever enters with a 4-0 lead and blows it all to send the game to extras tied 4-4. The guy doesn’t get charged with a blown save. What?? No. If he had blown a 3-0 lead, he would have had a blown save but since he wasn’t going to get a save at 4-0, then the rules say you can’t give him a blown save. Holds? How about a guy that comes in with a two-run lead and loads the bases while recording one out. The next guy comes in and induces a double play ball. Both pitchers are credited with a “hold”. What?? Say a starter comes out after six innings with a 6-1 lead. The bullpen sends three guys out to preserve the victory. There is no team save. If one pitcher had worked the last three innings, he would have been credited with a save and so would the team. In the three-pitcher, three-inning scenario, if the middle reliever gave up two runs to make it 6-3, then the final guy and the team are credited with saves, but is the pen is efficient and perfect, no save. What??
Q: Adam Lind will likely play lf during inter-league play, and Travis Snider seems to be getting more and more frustrated at the plate. Do you see the Jays bringing up a veteran bat for a couple of months and giving Travis a stint in Las Vegas to find himself and regain his confidence?
Sandy Webster, St. Thomas
A: I addressed that issue in Wednesday’s column. I can see the Jays sending Snider down to Vegas for at least a month, through the last inter-league road games in June when Snider won’t be in the lineup anyway. He needs to find success with the bat again before being thrust back into what the Jays are hoping will be a stretch drive for a playoff spot.
Q: I have a question which I'm quite certain no one has ever asked you. Do the Blue Jays have any policy towards workman-like, "professional conduct"? I'm speaking of Brian Tallet who seems to cut his own hair and never shaves. If he's going to be on TV for at least 2 hours and representing the Blue Jays then shouldn't he look like a professional making 1.9 mil this year?
Kam Hooshmand, Richmond Hill
A: Tallet does sport a little bit of the grungy Teddy K. look. (i.e. Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber). Tallet has always been a little off-centre in his personal presentation. When he showed up with the Jays a few years ago he still wore the original “stirrup” socks with the high pants, a look that was treated and greeted with much glee and ribbing from his teammates. Since then he has gone through a variety of looks, the most-recent of which is the “well-heeled hobo” look. To me, there is nothing wrong with a little individuality in baseball. The Yankees and Dodgers long had a no facial hair rule that has been modified to neatly-trimmed moustaches and short hair. It doesn’t make them play better.
Q: Richard, Is it just me, or does Alex Rios appear lazy at times? Just watching the Sunday game and he just grounded into a 5-4-3 in the first inning, but he barely even ran out the back end of the play. He seems to have no passion or drive.
Jess Bechard, London
A: I think that the more natural ability a player has, the lazier he looks. Fans got all excited during the strike back in spring training of ’95 when they saw the “hustle” of the replacement players at spring training. The fact was that those guys looked like they were trying harder because baseball did not flow through their bodies with as much fluidity and grace as it does the true major-league stars. Nobody ever accused Devon White of not hustling, but if you just judged his play just on the intensity he exuded you would think he was playing centre field on valium. He was great and graceful. Rios is no Devo, but give him the benefit of the doubt on his hustle.
Q: Hey, it's great to see the Jays still on top of the AL. *knock on wood* My question is how Lyle Overbay is handling being platooned, and if you agree with it. From having the misfortune of watching (Kevin) Millar play in Baltimore for the last few years, he is not a particularly good hitter against lefties (or righties). I suppose this question also applies to John McDonald. Obviously I have a concern with another Shea Hillenbrand problem.
Jordan Bisasky, Baltimore, MD
A: It’s interesting to look at the career RH/LH breakdowns for those two players. For Millar it’s .277/.275 and for Overbay it’s .284/.272. Not much difference, but having Millar platoon with Overbay gives Lyle some days off and gives Millar some at-bats to keep him fresh. Most starters are righthanded so Overbay gets the lion’s share of playing time. Overbay is no Shea Hillenbrand. As for Johnnny Mac, I would think he is disappointed at his lack of any playing time. Recall that after the ’07 season he was rewarded with a two-year $3.8 million deal as the Jays’ starting shortstop. They went out and got David Eckstein and put him back on the bench and now Marco Scutaro is the man and has not missed a game. But McDonald is a team player and won’t go public although I’m sure he has spoken to Cito and J.P. about his situation.
Q: I noticed early in the year that, with a small number of at bats, Aaron Hill had a higher batting average than "on base percentage." I have often seen that apparent abberation on the scoreboard at games from time to time, always with a relatively small number of at bats. Can you explain how that is possible? Thanks,
Jack G., Thornhill
A-Sacrifice flies are not considered as at-bats for the batting average, but for some reason they are considered as plate appearances for on-base percentage. If a player is 4-for-12 with no walks, not hit-by-pitch and a sac-fly, then his batting average is .333 while his on-base percentage is .308. Another head-scratcher for baseball stats.
Q: Hello R-Griff: I love your column! Three quick questions: a) What are the origins of the expression "rubber match of the series"? b) What is it about Roy Halladay's delivery/pitch selection that generates so many ground balls? c) What do you suggest I insert into my ears the next time Darrin Fletcher is on board as colour man for a SportsNet broadcast? Thank you for answering my questions.
Mark Russel, Owen Sound
A: The expression actually should be “rubber game.” The expression is borrowed by baseball from the popular card game Bridge. A “rubber” in bridge is when a two-man partnership wins two of three games. If the bridge game is tied at 1-1, the next game is called the “rubber game”. It’s a much-mangled expression much like “flying under the radar” which is often used by sports announcer as “flying under the radar screen”. What?? As for Halladay’s propensity for producing groundballs, it comes from Halladay’s moving two-seamer that dives and darts at the last minute, combined with his superb control that has most of his strikes cross the plate at the knees. Since Halladay is “pitching to contact” by not looking for strikeouts unless the situation calls for it, he gets a lot of groundballs. The final question of what to put in your ears is simple. The best thing is earbuds that are attached to a radio that is tuned to Jerry and Alan.