Some Surprises

Seattle – their outfield defense is one of the best in the big leagues.  I love what I’m seeing from Endy Chavez, Gutierrez in center and now Ichiro back in right.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the Mariners lead the league in double plays this year based on the fact that they can keep a double play in order cutting off balls in the gap, getting them back and holding runners at first base.  Those little things like that don’t show up in the box score.

The Yankee offense – not very impressive.  I think when you compare it to other Yankee lineups the past 10 or so years, this one is very bleak.  You can clearly see the loss of A-Rod, but even if he was in the lineup I don’t think it’s very deep.  One of the things that the Yankee lineup used to have is 1 thru 9 when you can have Posada hitting 7th or 8th and hitting 25 home runs, that showed the depth of that lineup. That’s just not there right now. And I don’t know if it will be at all this season.

Ian Stewart - as I have been raving about the last year, this guy needs to play more.  This young man has tremendous upside – Larry Walker-type potential.  If they cut him loose I think he has a chance to hit 30 home runs, drive in 100+ and be a big time player.

 

Emilio’s Impact

bonifacio.jpgHuge impact so far on the Florida Marlins hitting at the top of the order. His speed has transformed that team that was long ball or nothing.He’s changed the dynamic – even if he doesn’t get a hit or goes into a slump by bunting, moving the pitcher off the mound, little things like that have changed the offense.  And the biggest benefit is when he’s on first base. You hit a gapper, this guy is going to score.  

New Yankee Stadium

From a fan perspective, it is incredible.  Beautiful! They have huge columns as you walk through the corridor and the best way to describe it is, when you were walking in old Yankee Stadium everyone was shoulder to shoulder.  Now you have enough space for everyone to walk through and move freely. concrete-roman-colosseum2.jpgAnd they have  great big photos of the all-time greats with amazing action shots, each one probably 30 feet tall. It reminds you of being in the Roman Colosseum, it’s truly amazing.

The playing field – we’re seeing what can happen on the diamond.  The ball is jumping out there, particularly to right field.  There’s a little open area in right center where you can see the train – their effort to keep things as true to the old stadium as possible – but in that area where you can see the tracks is where the ball flies the most.  You hit a ball in that direction and it’s going to carry. And I don’t see anything ending that any time soon unless they decide to change the dimensions.  Until then, the ball will continue to carry out of Yankee Stadium.

 

Opening Day Memories

Always love opening day.  It’s one of the most fun times of the year – I believe it should be a National Holiday!  When I was a kid, the season didn’t start until the Cincinnati Reds played that day game. I’m kind of disappointed we lost that tradition in baseball, where the Reds played a day game and then the rest of baseball starts. It was the tradition that always got it going.  

Reynoldsharold.jpgMy personal memories of opening day always have to do with the 25-man roster.  For instance, 1985 – I had a good spring, it was the first year I broke camp with the big club. It was the Sunday before the season and there were 26 men on the roster.  Darnell Coles and I were roommates.  We roomed together starting in 1981, all the way through the minors.  1985 was the first year I really had a chance to make the club out of spring training.  We broke camp and  went to Seattle, played all the exhibition games there and it was Sunday night – Monday is opening day, the rosters have to be set. We’re in our room and the phone rings – we know one of us is going down.  I still think to this day whoever answered the phone they were gonna say “you made the club” and whoever didn’t was going down. So he’s on his side of the room, I’m on mine, and we’re diving across the beds to get to the phone in the middle – we fight, roll on the ground, I get the phone…

“Hello??”

“Who is this?”

“It’s Harold.”

“Congratulations, you made the team.”

“Alright!!.”
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It was bittersweet because I knew Darnell was going down.  But, lo and behold, the way things were working back then in Seattle, we’re playing in Boston a couple months later and all of a sudden Darnell is walking into the clubhouse.  He comes in and I say, “Alright, DC!, What’s up?”.  This guy was the best man at my wedding, my good friend my whole career, and he walks in and says:

“You’re going to triple A.”

I get sent down, he gets called up.  We were on that roller coaster with each other for quite some time. 

 

Versatility? I’m confused.

What a golden opportunity for someone to pick up one of the premier players in baseball – not just hitter, but player.  The fact is here’s a guy who broke into the big leagues as a
shortstop, almost won the triple crown as a third baseman, moved to the
outfield, and can play first base.  sheffield.jpgHe can steal bags, hit with power,
drive guys in and catch the ball: So when the Tigers say they released him to provide the team with more versatility, I’m confused.  I think it’s a proven fact through the years the impact that Gary Sheffield can have on a team – he’s going to play with fire, he’s going to push guys that he plays with and he’s always been on winning clubs and been about winning.  So I think it’s a great opportunity for someone to pick up a player like Gary Sheffield.

There’s two things that are real interesting here. #1) He struggled all last year with the shoulder surgery but, if you watched him in spring training, has come back healthy.  The way he has been swinging the bat, you see the force, you see the Sheffield bat waggle – that’s a clear indication that his shoulder is healthy.  #2) And he can still play the outfield if you need him out there, he’s a good enough athlete.  Or you can even put him at first because he’s a proven defender.  

He’s going to be a difference maker for a club that’s interested in winning.

The kind of thing that makes the game so interesting

Great game, exciting!  Great catch from Beltran, big home runs from Delgado, beltran_catch.jpgRios, Youkilis – it was back and forth, everything you can ask.  Some solid pitching performances – we saw JJ Putz put away Delgado and Beltran with nasty splits – so the game had everything.  But at the end of the day, for me, the most important sequence of the night was in the ninth inning with runners at first and second, no outs and Derek Jeter comes to the plate.  You’re wondering, “What is Davey Johnson gonna do?” Jeter had struck out in his last at-bat, but obviously he has a history in big moments. So do you let him swing or do you ask him to bunt to move the runners over? He’s one of the best bunters in baseball. I thought it was interesting because what’s going through the managers mind is “I got a guy at the plate who is not going to hit into a double play” – you’re hoping he’s not unless he hits a bullet right at someone – so that’s why he lets him swing.  He hit a rocket to right field which moved Victorino to third and Roberts stayed at first. I think if it wasn’t the combination of speed on base in Victorino and Roberts, you may have seen Jeter bunting.  But with those base runners, if he strikes out those two guys can steal bases.  If he bunts them over, you’ve got your hottest hitters coming up and they may pitch around the next guy to set up a double play.  usa_celebration.jpgThose are the things that Davey factored through his mind.  The way it worked out, Jeter ends up flying out and it left first and third and Roberts was able to steal second.  That’s the kind of thing that makes the game so interesting.

What did I think?  What’s my strategy?  I thought that with Rollins, Youkilis, David Wright coming up that Jeter bunts.  But, as it turned out, he didn’t and it worked out pretty good.

  

WBC Injuries

This is the worst thing that can possibly happen in a tournament like this because everyone is already holding their breathe that this thing can be pulled off.  A lot of of critics and a lot of cynics will probably attack the WBC because of the injuries.  I’m just pointing it out.pedroia.jpg I think it will have an affect on the future but if you look at the guys who got hurt, they’re the type of injuries that are alarming to me because they are the type of injuries that occur when you’re not game ready.  For example, Dustin Pedroia with an oblique muscle.  The oblique injury can happen from two things: fatigue and over use trying to get ready or getting caught off balance on a pitch when you’re timing is not right.  In his case I feel like it probably was fatigue. He’s been swinging hard and it looked like he was on a lot of pitches.  

Chipper Jones on the other hand, had struggled mightily, was concerned by the fact that he had 6 strikeouts in 10 at bats and when I spoke with him, he had hurt his oblique muscle by swinging at a change up he was off-balance and fooled on.  And when you get out in front and you try and reach and extend to try and hit a ball, that’s when you become vulnerable and that’s when you hurt your oblique muscle.  

With the pitchers, not throwing yet is the key.  Most pitchers in spring training can get on a throwing pattern and most of these pitchers have not.

The one thing I would point out is the lack of games in between.  There needed to be more practice or exhibition games played, even in between the competition.  For example, if you sat out two days, played a game, sat out two more days and played again – there should never be that many days off.  So now the pitching rotation was 5 pitchers on, 5 pitchers off and every 5 or 6 days these guys are pitching in a game. You just can’t have it like that this time of year.  In the Venezuela game the other day, King Felix had not pitched in over 8 days and didn’t start until the third game of competition for Venezuela, which didn’t come until two weeks after the whole thing started. They have to schedule ‘B’ games or get these some kind of competition in between games.  Unlike most major league spring training camps when they start, you have guys face pitchers to start off in spring training, you don’t have that luxury here.  These guys are not gonna face a pitcher – I’m not.  If I’m in this competition as a major league hitter I’m not going to WBC without facing major league pitchers.  It’s not gonna happen.

I hope we can figure out a way to keep all the players healthy, I’d hate to see this tournament canceled.  

Quick thoughts from Harold down in Miami

The U.SA. mercy rule game – that game was played about as perfect as Puerto Rico could have scripted it. They wanted Vazquez to get to Figueroa and then the back of the bullpen, they did everything right. The offense executed, they went base to base and did everything they wanted to do to put the pressure on.  They wanted to run and force the action and they did all that.  That’s what’s gonna get lost when you look at the score, all the little things that they did.
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The excitement of being down on the field after the game, it was a playoff atmosphere.  These guys played it like it was a playoff game.  The crowd was yelling and screaming, Beltran and Pudge were on the field celebrating and excited.  It was real cool.  It gave you a feeling of the importance of the WBC to so many people playing for their native countries.  

Team USA is going to be fine the rest of the way. They will hang around if they have better swings, but the starting pitching is the key – Peavy in particular is just not ready, you can see it.  I think there are certain pitchers you can look at on their roster that haven’t gotten to their second or third pitch yet. That’s why they have been getting hit so hard, not being able to throw that out pitch to get out of situations and jams.  That stands out more than anything else. 

The Next Greatest(s)

The cool thing about baseball is that every year there’s some player or pitcher that stands out above the rest — one that everybody says is the next greatest.  And sure enough we wait with anticipation to see this person, and when we finally do, it’s the reason you watch the game, and hopefully they don’t disappoint.

In the case of this year’s World Baseball Classic, there are two internationally known pitchers that everybody anticipated seeing: Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman.

Yu, from Japan, 22 years old, 6 foot 5, throws in the mid 90’s with a slider, a curve ball, a split and a change up.  A whole arsenal right?  Whenever you hear he’s got the “whole arsenal, he’s got 4 or 5 pitches”, you say, “Yeah, whatever. A couple of them don’t work.”  When I saw Yu pitch the other day for the first time, I was blown away.

darvish_smile.jpgAnd last winter during hot stove season, Bobby Valentine, who manages in Japan, had raved about Yu. Understand, Bobby V has been a top player in baseball at one time, a manager for a long, long time and managed Nolan Ryan! He has an idea what he’s talking about. He told me that Yu could be the best pitcher he’s ever seen. This is a guy who watched anyone you can think of from 1965 to now. The best ever!

I couldn’t wait to call Bobby and tell him “You’re wrong,” when I saw Yu Darvish pitch. You know what? I haven’t made that call yet.
 
The thing that is so impressive about him — outside of his youth, his size and all the things you look for in a pitcher — is his ability to duplicate his delivery. As a hitter, you’re always looking for an edge — some way to pick up a certain pitch. Here’s how he holds his arm when he throws a breaking ball.  Here’s how he hold his hand in his glove when he throws a fastball. Or he may change his windup, his motion, his tempo — whatever it might be — to give you some of kind of edge to anticipate what’s coming.

When I broke this guy down with slo-mo & split screen, using all the technology available to us, I could not distinguish between his windup when he’s throwing a breaking ball and his windup when he’s throwing a fastball.  Ridiculous. Ridiculous! That’s the only thing I can say: ridiculous. Will someone hit him? Absolutely. But can he possibly be the greatest of all-time? Yes, he could. Only time will tell.

chapman.jpgAs for Chapman from Cuba, anytime you hear that a guy throws 100 MPH, you think of Sid Finch. Yeah, that guy — the April Fool’s joke from Sports Illustrated years ago.

But sure enough, first thing I saw was him warming up and his wing span. He looked like the sprinter Usain Bolt! I thought, is this Bolt on a baseball field? Then I find out he’s about 6-6 with a wing span like Bill Russell.  And then he’s a lefty, too!  He gets on the mound, he’s got great mechanics.  Sound as can be.  And sure enough he’s delivering a nice fluid fastball, he’s got a breaking pitch – he was nasty! 

To see Yu Darvish and Aroldis Chapman, if they ever get a chance to play in the majors, you can only imagine the impact they’ll have on baseball. 

 

Spring Training Not About Wins and Losses

Spring training is not about wins and losses, it’s about progress.  What I mean by that is, there’s three tiers of players: 1) the young guy trying to get established, 2) the established player, 3) the old guy trying to fit. Each one of them has nothing to do with wins and losses.  Spring training is about development in those three categories.  We would like to believe it’s important that your team is 5-0 in spring training, as opposed to being 0-5, but at the end of the day it’s about the three categories of players. 

Let me explain. 

If I’m a young player, trying to make an impression, trying to make the team, this is my spring training because the established, veteran guys are playing in the World Baseball Classic.  They’re gone.  If I’m on a team that has a player in the WBC that plays my position, I have to capitalize because I’m in front of the big league manager every day. And the longer I’m in front of him, the better off I am.

If I’m that established player, spring training to me is getting ready for that bell to ring in April. I want to make sure I have my swing right – I’m gonna take a couple of at bats then I’m going down to the lower fields and I’m working on base hits. And honestly, I don’t know if we won or lost that game we played until I check the board the next day to see what hitting group I’m in.  You’re gone.  You come out of the game in the 4th inning, and they play another couple more hours – you’re already at dinner before that game is over. 

For that veteran guy, like Pedro Martinez, this is a very important time in spring training.  You have to show people what you can do and that’s why the WBC is important.  It’s high level competition and teams are going to use that to evaluate. That’s why the Red Sox signed Matsuzaka when they did, because he pitched so well in the WBC.darvish.jpg If you think it’s not important, it’s important.  It’s important because it is great scouting ground where all the top scouts know they got all the top talent in the world in these four different regions. And if they want to go scout a player, this is when they go. If they want to see if a kid from Korea can really compete, then they’re going to watch him play. If someone wants to see if Yu Darvish is really as great as they say, when else are they going to see him compete on stage in international competition and really know if he can get major league hitters out. 

Right now.

It’s a very interesting spring. 

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