Category Archives: 2017 Season
Two things of which I am not really a fan: The “Tandem Starting Pitcher” System and the “No blocking the plate rule” for catchers. Just to prove that I am not an inflexible dinosaur doomed to go into extinction as the game is “sped up” and becomes more “limited attention span” friendly, on one of these two issue I have changed my mind.
I have watched several games now in which the Ports are using this “Tandem Starter” system. The idea is that you have pairs of SP’s who rotate starts. So Pitcher A starts game 1, pitches 4 innings or 65 pitches and then is relieved. At the next clean start inning (hopefully the 5th), Starter B comes on to pitch his 4 innings of 65 pitches. Four days later, Starter B goes first, then Starter A relieves him in the 5th (if all goes well).
Okay, I get it. Pitch counts and arms are important. As I mentioned the other day, Gil Patterson made his bones as a teacher by protecting young arms from overuse. But here’s the downside. First, what happens if Pitcher A (or B), can’t make it 4 innings? What happens when they get shelled in the 1st – not an unusual occurrence in the Cal League – and they stagger into the 2nd with 35-40 pitches?
Okay, scenario 2: It’s 2 out in the 4th inning, Pitcher B has 62 pitches. He’s down 2-1 and runners on 1st and 3rd with the #4 hitter at the plate. He gets it to a 1-2 count, but that’s his 65 pitches. Now sure, you could pull him and bring in a reliever on the 1-2 count and say to yourself, 65 is THE limit. Period. If you do that, have you taught your young pitcher anything at all? Barring injury, would any Major League SP be pulled in that situation?
By the time these kids get here, to Stockton and High-A Ball, an SP ought to be conditioned well enough to go 5 innings. Frankly I’d say 6, but I lost that argument with Zack. So let’s say 5 innings and raise the pitch count to 85 with a 15 flex to finish the 5th. First, that qualifies the SP for a W decision. I know, the SABER people have snit fits about wins not “meaning anything,” but the truth is that they do, even if it’s just in our minds. A kid who goes 0-0 over ten starts in the minors, regardless of how he is rated, isn’t going to feel as successful as a guy who goes 4-2 or 7-1 or even 3-6. Their ERA is going to be higher just because it’s the Cal League. Those wins can do something to bolster confidence and a winning attitude.
Most importantly though, is the effort it takes to dig deep and get through adversity. No Pitcher has all his stuff every single day. It’s just not realistic or even expected. Some days the Fastball is a mile per hour slower or doesn’t move at all. Maybe the curve doesn’t quite break or the slider breaks too much. A Pitcher has to know how to overcome those things. If pitch 1 isn’t working, what is? And if none of them are, can I mix it up, change speeds and movement enough to get outs? Can I pitch to my defense?
Somehow, I just feel like 4 innings or 65 pitches isn’t enough to get that done.
As for the Catchers no longer being able to block the plate. I was born and raised a catcher. I have scars and bruises and bones that never really healed from plate collisions, almost all of which resulted in outs. The greatest moment of my athletic career – I broke Willie Burger’s nose – was a collision at home plate where I had it blocked. I also limped away from other collisions and had to be carried off after one of them.
Frankly I though that what I once called the “Buster Posey Is a Pussy” rule was a bad idea and wussyifcation of the game.
I was wrong.
I’ve watched it now for several years and while at the MLB level it’s still a little iffy, the kids down here are learning how to do it, get the out and stay safe. The sweeping tag from in front of the plate is effective and exciting. In fact, I think it might be teaching infielder skills to catchers. But the biggest thing is the reduction in injuries. Not just broken legs, but the little things, bruises and aches from the jarring. Heck one such collision I had even popped a filling out of my tooth!
I am left to wonder how my life today might be different had the rules prohibited blocking the plate in my day?
Catchers are smart – the smartest players on the field by far and away – so I knew that they would adapt to the rule. And now, maybe some of them can stick around longer because of it.
Ports win last night 5-2 in another 1st inning scoring show followed by settling down and good pitching. Throw in back to back triples (very exciting) and you have the makings of a good win. By the by, Pitcher A struggled, but Pitcher B (Shore), coming on in the 6th, was lights out getting the save over 4 innings pitched.
Matt Sergey once pitched for the Laredo Lemurs.
That one fact you must keep in mind or nothing else that follows will seem magical. Or creepy.
After a disastrous five run 1st Inning in which Ports Tandem Starter Caesy Meisner was victimized by wind, an error and some weird bad luck, the game settled down into a relative pitching duel that saw the Ports go hitless into the 6th and the Modesto Nuts go quietly for five innings before adding one last run in a 6-1 shellacking of Stockton.
As so often happens during such a game, a new pitcher was brought in to try and calm things down, which Matt Sergey, who once pitched for the Laredo Lemurs, pretty much did. He went 2.0 innings, gave up a hit and walked one, but otherwise turned what was starting to be Modesto going #United on the Ports into a reasonable baseball game.
After a short discussion (on air) by Zack about the proper pronunciation of the word “lemur,” (le-muré, lah-mur, and so on), the discussion moved to the fact that lemurs are pretty much indigenous to Madagascar, not Texas, which is also where San Jacinto is located.
Lemurs, as it turns out are named after the Roman lemures, which were the malignant spirits of unburied and very unhappy dead people. They were also used by Mephistopheles to dig the grave for Faust. While singing, no doubt, in a terrifying and very German manner.
In ancient Rome, there were actually three “holidays” dedicated to placating the lemures, What you did, if you were an ancient Roman with a lemure problem, was get up in the middle of one of these three nights (May 9th, 11th or 13th) and have your Paterfamilias throw black beans behind himself with his gaze carefully averted. If that didn’t work (the beans were an offer of life to the malignant spirit), then you would bang a couple of pots together until the neighbors called the cops who told you to stop believing in lemures and quit disturbing the neighborhood.
Then a lemure would eat one of the cops and soon everybody would be throwing beans and banging pots.
Life was great in ancient Rome!
Needless to say, when the Shreveport-Bossier Captains of the American Association of Independent Baseball relocated to Laredo, Texas, in 2011, they were looking for a mascot that would strike fear and awe in the hearts of their opponents. They chose the lemur, an animal species that had been named by Carl Linnaeus (seriously, look it up) because of their “slow nocturnal movements” and satanic bug eyes that reminded him of the ancient Roman fear of such creatures. In other words, the Laredo Lemurs are represented by a cute, furry, slow moving, nocturnal mammal that is named for terrifying, zombie-like malignant spirits who are eternally unhappy and hungry.
After the game today, I will never, ever look at the lemurs at the Pt. Defiance Zoo the same way. I will also bring black beans and a pot with me when I go.
The other thing I finally learned today was the difference between a Slider and a Cutter. Yeah, I know, I’m behind the times. But just in case you don’t know either, both are essentially fastballs. The Slider moves down, while the Cutter moves horizontally. It also, as it turns out, is an easier pitch to teach and has been the salvation of several pitching staffs and pitchers over the past decade or so. And while there are no doubt imitators and copy-cats, the one man truly responsible for the Cutter Revolution or Evolution is Gil Patterson.
Gil, as he introduced himself to me in the press box, was once the hottest young pitching phenom in baseball. In early 1977 he was set to take the American League by storm. Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski called him the best young pitcher he’d ever seen. But the Baseball Gods, which might be lemures after all, saw things differently and the Yankees prospect blew his shoulder to shreds just ten short, glorious games into the 1977 Championship Season. His comeback was nothing short of remarkable, including learning to pitch left-handed, but ultimately he was not able to get back to the Majors.
If it ended there, it would have been sad. What I love so much about Baseball is that it is such a metaphor for life.
Gil Patterson started teaching. He became a Minor League Coach and used his own experience to protect young pitchers from overuse. Along the way, he started teaching the Cutter. And today, he was in Stockton watching over the pitchers as the Athletics Pitching Coordinator.
And in just one minute listening to him talk to Zack, I learned more about managing a baseball game that I had watched with my own eye than I possibly imagined. What I thought was a Pitcher getting pounded in the first inning was less a episode of bad pitching and more about positioning. There were positives here, and to an eye like Gil Patterson, those things were clear. I am also sure that he saw the problems, and he works with pitchers throughout the A’s Minor League System to fix those.
All these years later, he is still teaching and still having a direct and noticeable effect on the game. World Series Championships might shine, but how many people can point to a bunch of players who are having great success on the field at the highest levels and say, “I helped him do that.”
Gil Patterson can and does.
And that is how you really chase away the lemures.
Ports lose 6-0 getting one hit. But for all that, after the first inning the game was actually quite enjoyable. And I learned more than I ever imagined I would…