The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The MLB Phenom Call Up Debate… Better Later Than Now

April 27, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Talent sure does create some high class problems, doesn’t it? If it weren’t for Jason Heyward, the Atlanta Braves would not have to be concerned with arbitration eligibility, or the merits of bringing up the young player to the Major Leagues too soon, or overloading a talented young kid. Unfortunately for the Braves, they have befallen a very unfortunate – though seemingly rare – situation where a young prospect seems so good that the team has no choice but allow a 20-year-old kid to begin the season in the show.

But, the Braves have taken some criticism for giving Heyward a trip North with the big club in late March. Some critics believe that Heyward’s early call up prevents the occasionally stingy Braves from having an extra year of arbitration protection on its best young player. The belief is that the Braves have sacrificed long term greatness for short term gain. I only half-buy the missing arbitration arugment because it is inherently cautious… a trait far too prominent in sports for some fans. My issue is partly with losing control of a talented player a year sooner that is possible (especially when the trade off is only a six week wait at the beginning of the season), and partly with what an early call up does to stunt the growth of a burgeoning talent.

I admit that while it is impossible to avoid falling in love with Jason Heyward as Loyal Homer, it is similarly difficult as Sports Geek. He is an excellent, better than usual for his age. But he is far from perfect, especially considering the 20-year-old has spent a brief two seasons in the minor leagues.

As good as he is now – and if you want to read the love-fest Loyal Homer has, be my guest… parental advisory, though – the most important aspect of his game is still upside. He has not proven over a long haul that he is able to adjust to pitchers and make the kinds of adjustments – even during an individual at bat – that are necessary to achieve long term greatness.

In short, for every Jason Heyward there is a thousand Corey Patterson’s.

Mortgage the future, and perpetually rebuild. Observe the trip down memory lane we all took last week when I recounted the various mistakes by Chicago Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Case after case shows that Hendry’s desire to win now put reason in the back seat, and clouded his long term judgment. Win now is a good and proper sports philosophy, but not at the expense of rational management.

There is a substantial difference between caution and prudence. Take, for example, the case of Joba Chamberlain. Here is another all world prospect that had many folks very excited. His potential seemed limitless, both in his physical characteristics and his mental toughness and emotion. He was exciting, talented, and entertaining all in one – the perfect player for New York City (kind of how Jason Heyward, the Georgia native, is the perfect player for Atlanta).

Joba’s shut down pitches and intensity came to a halt one October evening in Cleveland as he battled some gnats. Well, not just any gnats, super-hyper, annoying gnats. The gnats – and the Cleveland Indians – defeated Joba that night. Since that resulting loss of confidence, Chamberlain has suffered through some different roles on the team and battled some injuries. One thing is clear – he is not the same pitcher he was once believed to be.

My point with the Joba example is that lots of talented, perfect-for-the-city-players appear to be unstoppable right when they come up to the big club – especially if their entrance onto the big stage is fast… like only two seasons in the minors fast (read: Heyward). Caution would not have helped Joba, but prudence may have turned him into a viable, effective pitcher for the long haul.

Keeping a player longer in the minor leagues is not just about what the big club currently is not getting right away or the obvious benefits of keeping a player’s rights for a longer period of time. It is about the development of the young player and doing what is necessary to ensure his long term success. Triple A and Major League pitching is different because of a heavy reliance on breaking pitches. It is harder to be a professional hitter at the upper levels of baseball, which is Heyward’s primary objective with a mere 13 plate appearances at the AAA or higher level coming into the 2010 season. Despite his hot start – and trust me, April is not time to evaluate how good a player will be long term – Heyward has never demonstrated an ability to be a professional hitter and sustain success for a long period of time.

The Braves should have already learned this lesson with Jeff Francoeur. As a rookie the 21-year-old hit .300 and set baseball writer’s pens to paper. His 14 home runs were a bunch for a rookie and he was also a native Georgian. But over time Francoeur showed he did not have the professional stamina to be a great hitter for a long period of time – something extra conditioning in the minor leagues would have helped. In fact, it DID help him, to a degree, when he was embarrassingly sent BACK to the minors after a few seasons in the majors.

I am not saying Jason Heyward is Jeff Francoeur. I am saying that players are all different, but far more often than not prudence is warranted regarding phenom call ups. Long term success is much more important for the team and the player because the goal should not be to win a World Series and sail off into the sunset, but to dominate a sport for years. The Braves used to know something about that, but have not made the right decisions in recent seasons to reach long term dominance again like a team like the Yankees has.

If a team’s chosen path to long term success is through cultivating young talent (not buying it, like the Yankees do), then fans and front offices must be patient and allow the talent to germinate. Rushing a player to give the MLB club a great few months early in a season does not give the team help when it really needs it – in October and beyond.

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The Tony LaRussa, Bobby Cox, and Joe Torre Debate – The Man with the Golden Touch

March 10, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

For any manager, 2,000 wins is impressive. I do not care who you are or how you got them! In fact, there are only ten managers in the entire 100+ year history of Major League Baseball who have accomplished that feat. Of those ten managers, seven have been inducted into the Hall of Fame. Three, however, have not been inducted into that hallowed hall.

Because they are still managing!

For the only time in Major League history, three managers with more than 2000 wins are active at the same time – Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Joe Torre, Atlanta Braves Manager Bobby Cox, and St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony LaRussa.

While there is no doubt that all three of these managers will eventually join their 2,000-win fraternity brothers in Cooperstown, you can always count on TSD to dissect even the greatest of accomplishments in order to rank them among each other. Furthermore, you can always count on Bleacher Fan to give the CORRECT arguments in resolving any such debate!

The greatest of the three managing legends still active in baseball today is Tony LaRussa!

I can hear you screaming already, “Torre’s got more rings! Or, ”Bobby Cox DOMINATED in the ‘90s won 14 consecutive division titles and five World Series appearances during that same run!”

While those results are impressive (and clearly HOF worthy), neither Cox nor Torre have been able to do what LaRussa has done, which is to take every single team he has ever coached into the postseason at least once.

Although both Cox and Torre have had ample postseason experience (and success), they both have blemishes on their resumé where an entire stint for at least one Major League ball club failed to warrant a postseason appearance (Torre with the New York Mets and the St. Louis Cardinals, and Cox with the Braves during his FIRST run from 1978-1981). Simply put, LaRussa is the best manager of the modern era because he can win WHEREVER he goes. It does not matter which uniform he puts on, having LaRussa in your dugout AUTOMATICALLY makes you a postseason threat.

LaRussa took over for the 46-60 Chicago White Sox midway through the 1979 season, and his impact was immediately felt on Chicago’s South side (Editor’s Note: Because he shot someone?), as the White Sox would finish the season at .500 (27-27) under the rookie manager. By 1983, LaRussa had the White Sox playing in the ALCS as Eastern Division champions (by that time, Torre had already been fired from the New York Mets with Cox suffering the same fate in Atlanta).

After LaRussa was fired by the White Sox in 1986, he was called up almost immediately by the 31-52 Oakland Athletics, and once again brought immediate results. He closed out the A’s 1986 season by winning 45 of their final 79 games. Just two short years later, LaRussa became the first between him, Cox, and Torre experience the World Series, as he led the A’s in claiming the 1988 AL Pennant. That year was just the beginning for LaRussa’s A’s, though, as they would go on to claim two more consecutive AL Pennants and a World Series Championship all between 1988 and 1990. Just two years later, LaRussa reached the ALCS one more time as the Western Division Champions.

After the death of Athletics’ owner Walter Haas, Jr. in 1995, LaRussa left Oakland to become manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, where he has remained.

What happened since LaRussa came to St. Louis? You guessed it – SEVEN more division championships, TWO National League Pennants, and ANOTHER World Series ring. The 2006 World Series Championship also earned LaRussa a very special place in baseball history, as he became only the second manager ever, along with Sparky Anderson, to win World Series titles in both the American and the National League.

In recognition for his ability to win ANYWHERE, LaRussa has also been named Manager of the Year at least once with each of the ball clubs he has managed, and has earned the title a total of four times – yet another accolade that Cox and Torre are unable to match. Cox also has four Manager of the Year awards, but failed to win any during his first stint in Atlanta. Torre, despite all his rings, has only won the award twice.

If Tony LaRussa were digging for gold, he would have struck it rich several times over, while Cox and Torre each over the course of their long careers found only one mine that paid off. Granted, the mines discovered by Cox and Torre provided them with success for a period of several consecutive years, but they eventually exhausted that mine, and have been unable to find any more success since that time.

Tony LaRussa is the manager with the golden touch!

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The 2010 Spring Training Best Rotation Debate – Braves Have A Chance Every Night

February 26, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Sports Geek and Babe Ruthless.

As Spring draws closer we can anticipate warmer weather, conversations about Spring break, and the beginning of baseball season. All of the teams are now in the beginning stages of Spring training. I am definitely excited, and what is even more exciting for me is that the Atlanta Braves have gotten back to the formula that served them so well during their run of 14 consecutive division championships. They have put together a strong pitching staff from top to bottom, but it is their starting rotation that is going to win them a lot of games.

I believe the Braves are one of the few teams that can say that they have four guys who have a solid case to be the opening day starter. While it is hard to determine if they have a bonafide ace at this point, it is quite easy to say they have multiple players with the potential to be that ace by the end of the season.

Jair Jurrjens is one of the guys that I think may end up being the ace of the staff. He had a fine season in 2009, winning 14 games with an ERA of 2.61. If he had any type of run support he would have won close to 20 games and merited some Cy Young consideration. The one thing that concerns me about Jurrjens is the fact that he experienced some shoulder stiffness over the Winter. He had an MRI last week that revealed no structural damage. But as a fan, when I hear something like that, the first names that enter my mind are Tommy John and Dr. James Andrews. Keep in mind he did throw 215 innings last season.

Another young future ace the Braves have is Tommy Hanson. Braves fans have been hearing about Hanson for some time. He did not disappoint once he was called up to the big leagues shortly before midseason. He posted an 11-4 record with an ERA under three. The young fireballer has quickly become a favorite in Atlanta and his future is tremendously bright.

Two grizzled veterans make up the next two starting spots with Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe. Huddy, as he is referred to by teammates, is over a year removed from the aforementioned Tommy John surgery. But he showed the Braves enough in his return at the end of last season to reward him with a three-year contract. Hudson is the real wild card of this rotation, and this team. If he recaptures the form of his pre-surgery days, this team will make a strong run at the postseason.

Derek Lowe is coming off a down year, and those struggles led to his name being mentioned quite often in trade rumors during the offseason. But, despite the overall frustration by fans, he still managed to win 15 games.

Holding down the fifth slot in the rotation is Kenshin Kawakami. He was an extreme point of frustration for Loyal Homer at times last season, but as the season progressed he showed improvement. I believe part of the reason for his on-field improvement was the fact that he began to adjust to life in the USA after coming over from Japan. He ended up with an ERA under four. If he duplicates that as a fifth starter, the Braves will be more than pleased. What is sure to provide a big help to Kawakami is the addition of fellow countrymen Takashi Saito. With someone else to lean on, it will only add to Kawakami’s confidence.

Those five guys all have varying degrees of potential. If they stay healthy, I believe they have the best FIVE man rotation in the league.

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The Reliever Winning A Cy Young Debate – No Relief For Cy Young Candidates

October 9, 2009

Read the debate intro, Sports Geek’s argument that relievers should NOT win the Cy Young Award, and Bleacher Fan’s argument that relievers should be able to win.

I am almost directly down the middle on this one. As a lifelong Atlanta Braves fan, I know the importance of starting pitching – obviously. As everyone knows, starting pitchers essentially carried the Braves through the majority of their 14 consecutive division titles. However, as a Braves fan, I also know the importance of the closer – as the Braves lacked a dominant closer for many of those years.

To recap the two presented arguments about whether a Cy Young winner should be a relief pitcher, Sports Geek argued that relievers should not be eligible for the Cy Young. The point that strengthened the argument the most was the fact that relievers already have the Rolaids Relief Man award (what a great idea by Rolaid’s to sponsor this award?!). If is unfortunate that not everyone is aware of the award. Major League Baseball does a poor job of showcasing this award. Basically, it is for relievers only. Obviously, no starter is eligible to win this award. It is not voted on by anyone, but it is an award that is won based on a points system where eligible pitchers accumulate award points by saves, tough saves, and wins, with points taken away after a loss or a blown save.

Bleacher Fan, on the other hand, argued that relievers should be eligible with a statistical comparison of the 2009 seasons of Royals starting pitcher and Cy Young contender Zach Greinke and New York Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera. He showed that Rivera’s numbers statistically matched up favorably with Greinke’s. I also liked the analogy in the closing of his argument with the analogy of how a starting pitcher is similar to someone at the tee in golf while a closer is similar to someone on the green. In other words, the driver begins the hole but the putter finishes it out. For golf fans, a good analogy is J.B. Holmes starting the hole on the tee with his massive drives and Steve Stricker finishing out the hole on the green with his hot putter (as showcased in the President’s Cup this week).

However, one must make decisions in cases like this… and the decisions are not always popular. Such is the life of Loyal Homer here. Without further adieu, I award the victory to Sports Geek.

What won the debate for Sports Geek was the inclusion of the Rolaids Relief Man award. Relievers essentially have their own award. Leave the Cy Young award alone!! The argument also brought up the pitcher that the award is named after, Cy Young, demonstrating the fact that Cy Young had a whopping 749 complete games!! That is amazing folks. The creators of the award obviously meant for the award to be for a starter, and I agree with them.

As always, feedback is welcome and encouraged and I fully expect feedback from Bleacher Fan.

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The Dave Duncan Debate – Duncan More Impressive Than Mazzone

September 11, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s and Loyal Homer’s arguments on whether or not Dave Duncan has been the best pitching coach of the past 30 years.

As I sit down to write my verdict, the Tennessee Titans and Pittsburgh Steelers are doing battle in Pittsburgh as the NFL season officially kicks off. So, with all due respect to Major League Baseball, I am keeping this one short and sweet.

The victory for this debate goes to Sports Geek.

I will concede to Loyal Homer that Leo Mazzone had an outstanding tenure in Atlanta. When thinking about pitching in the 1990’s, no pitching staff was more dominant than Mazzone’s Atlanta Braves hurlers. The names that Loyal Homer mentioned who thrived while pitching under Mazzone – Greg Maddux, Denny Neagle, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz – were undoubtedly the best in the baseball. That dominance, however, only accounts for 15 of the last 30 years. Yes, Mazzone produced astonishing results while in Atlanta, but his tenure did not begin with them until 1990. By that time, Duncan had already produced two of his four Cy Young award winners. As Sports Geek points out, Duncan’s success has spanned a much broader period of time, including three straight seasons with the league’s lowest ERA from 1988 – 1990, and again 15 years later in 2005.

The second point that must be addressed is the fact that Duncan is STILL producing successful pitchers today. John Smoltz’s apparent revival in St. Louis is just one example of the pitching dominance in St. Louis this season. Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are both legitimate contenders for the National League Cy Young award. Wainwright currently has the most wins in baseball with 18 (Carpenter is second with 16 wins), and Carpenter owns the league’s best ERA with 2.16 (Wainwright sits at fifth with an ERA of 2.59). As a team, the Cardinals have the third best ERA in the Majors, they lead the league in fewest walks allowed, and have given up the third fewest runs in baseball.

As highlighted by our friend “plstcoscr61,” Duncan has had success with multiple teams in both the American League AND the National League, whereas Mazzone had success only with Atlanta. As agreed upon by Loyal Homer, when Mazzone left Atlanta for Baltimore he did not come close to the level of success he had left behind with the Braves.

Duncan has been more consistent over a broader range of teams for a much longer period of time than has Mazzone. In the discussion of who the best pitching coach of the past 30 years has been, the award goes to Dave Duncan!

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The Dave Duncan Debate – Duncan Is Good… But Not That Good

September 10, 2009

Read the debate intro and Sports Geek’s argument that Dave Duncan is the best pitching coach of the past 30 years.

We have not had a baseball debate in awhile, so I am glad we are covering this… and just in time for the important Braves-Cardinals series.

St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach, Dave Duncan, is an excellent coach who is well respected by his colleagues. While he may not be well known by fans, that does not take away what he has accomplished. As Bleacher Fan stated in the intro, Duncan has had the privilege of mentoring several Cy Young winners. However, I am hesitant to name him the greatest pitching coach of the past 30 years when there was a short, grumpy bald-headed fella down in Atlanta who helped turn that franchise around. That guy’s name is Leo Mazzone, and I believe he is the best pitching coach of the past thirty years.

Mazzone, who is perhaps most distinguished by his constant rocking in the dugout, had the honor of working with the great pitching staffs for the Atlanta Braves all the way through 2005. It is worth noting that the Braves have not made the playoffs since Mazzone left after the 2005 season to go to Baltimore, which, as it turns out, was a horrible career move.

While in Atlanta, Mazzone’s pitchers won six Cy Young Awards. Greg Maddux won three, Tom Glavine won two, and John Smoltz won one. He coached nine 20 game winners and ten different Mazzone-coached pitchers made the All-Star team. During his time in Atlanta, the Braves pitching staff finished first or second in league ERA 12 out of his last 14 years as the Braves won 14 consecutive division titles.

Duncan is credited, and deservingly so, of reviving the career of players like Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro, and John Smoltz. He also deserves a lot of credit for developing Adam Wainwright, who ironically came up through the Braves minor league system, into a Cy Young contender. But, Mazzone made similar strides with pitchers over the years.

Mazzone turned Denny Neagle into a 20 game winner in 199. He also revived journeyman John Burkett’s career, which quietly led to an All-Star appearance in 2001. It should be noted that Jaret Wright’s career was revived in 2005 as well. Guess what Neagle and Wright did after they left Atlanta? They signed big contracts with other teams… and tanked with both teams. Hmmmmm… coincidence?

Mazzone always held “Camp Leo” a week before spring training. At Camp Leo, the pitchers would start throwing early and slowly build up their arm strength. It obviously worked. Mazzone also has his starting pitchers throw twice between starts instead of once. It is a unique philosophy, but it is hard to argue with the results.

Again, I am not trying to bring down Dave Duncan. He absolutely has flown under the radar and unfortunately, is not well known by the casual baseball fan. You might be able to make the argument that he is the second best pitching coach. But hands down the best is Leo Mazzone. Rock on Leo!

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