The Nub

The Nub

"If you don't think life imitates sports, you're not reading The Nub”
                                                                                                             -  Bill Moyers

“Politics and baseball.  Interesting blog…called ‘The Nub’ on perfectpitcher.org.”
                                                                                                               - Boston Globe

The Surprising Asian-American Players and Voters

The return of Ichiro Suzuki to New York last week with the Marlins reminded us of what a blessing he has been to Baseball in this country. The appreciation is all the stronger because of the possibility this will be the last year of the Japanese star’s magnificent career. Now 41, Ichiro has played 14 seasons in the U.S., 11-and –a-half with the Mariners, two-and-a-half with the Yankees. He was an All-Star in each of his first 10 seasons, earning Rookie of the Year and MVP awards, as well. In 2004, he batted .372, his 262 hits setting a single-season record. Ichiro says he hasn’t ruled out staying on for at least another season, if wanted by the Marlins or another team.

Fans would surely welcome more of Ichiro, despite a regrettable aspect of his presence and that of other Asian-born stars: they overshadow the solid play of our home-grown product – the several Asian-American players about whose lineage most fans are unaware. Among them: KC’s Jeremy Guthrie and the Dodgers’ Brandon League (on the DL), whose names provide no clue to the Asian connection, plus the more readily identifiable Boston’s Shane Victorino, the Cardinals’ Kolton Wong, Minnesota’s Kurt Suzuki and SF’s Travis Ishikawa. Wong has gotten off to a solid start – .292, two-for-two stolen bases and better-than-average defense in 15 games; Guthrie is 1-1 with the Royals. Either injuries or a shortage of early-season playing time have hampered the others. But, if precedent holds, they will make their presence felt before long. All but the Twins’ Suzuki helped their teams to the playoffs last season. And we remember the stunning three-run walkoff homer by Ishikawa in the NLCS that sent the Giants to the World Series and their third championship in five years.

Asian-Americans have long been a low-profile presence in the national ballpark and on its political field. But the group provided a pleasant surprise for the Dem team in a recent Pew survey of party loyalty: “The top Democratic/Democratic-leaning groups(give) the party a 69-percentage-point edge among blacks; 36 points among the religiously unaffiliated; 30 points with both Jews and Hispanics; and 16 points among millennials (ages 18 to 33). (But) the Democratic-tilting group that’s most notable is Asian-Americans, among whom Pew found the party had a 42-point edge. Considering that Bill Clinton (failed to attract meaningful Asian-American support) in his two presidential races…this move toward Democratic affiliation—in 2012, Mitt Romney lost Asian-Americans by 47 percentage points—is a substantial change. It’s particularly worrying for Republicans, because Asian-Americans are the fastest-growing ethnic group in the country.” – (Charlie Cook, National Journal)

Made-up proverb: If I’m feeling anxious, it’s nice to know my adversaries are worrying, too.

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 What We Know after a four-week season sampler: Dodgers, Cardinals, and Nationals remain likely division winners. The Yankees, with a resurgent rotation, will have a strong say in who wins the AL East. The Mets could sneak into the playoffs, but only on the unlikely chance the Cubs, Pirates, Giants and Padres cooperate. The defending AL champion Royals are saying 2014 was no fluke. That four of the five division teams (except Houston) are below .500, suggests the AL West will be a scramble.

Yes, You’ve Heard This Before: Amid the welter of injuries plaguing key players in both leagues, one that has failed to sideline a hurt mainstay is doing most damage. A surgically repaired leg is preventing the Tigers’ switch-hitting Victor Martinez from batting from the left side; worse, it has hobbled him as he tries to run out balls put in play. V-Mart has gone from force to liability. A fair conclusion: The Tigers, further declawed by the absence of DL’d Justin Verlander, are no longer the team to beat in the AL Central.

Tommy John’s Dark Side: “The sobering fact is that one out of every seven pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery never will return to the same level of pitching. And when you get Tommy John surgery at a young age, you are that much closer to your second Tommy John surgery. And a second Tommy John surgery means something else for one in three pitchers: the end of the line.” – (Tom Verducci, Sports Illustrated)

Umpires are human: the repetitive work can numb their sensibilities, as happened Thursday in Detroit. In the sixth-inning of a one-run game, Jacoby Ellsbury, leading off third, induced a balk from Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez that tied the score at 1-1. It was the Yankees who called the balk, however, not plate umpire Phil Cuzzi, nor first-base ump Tony Randazzo. Will Little, umping at second, could not have had as clear a view of the balk as did Cuzzi, Randazzo, and third base ump Gerry Davis. It was Cuzzi’s call, but he missed it; Randazzo evidently missed the balk, too. Finally, Davis reacted to the commotion from the visitors’ side of the field, and waved Ellsbury home. The Yanks went on to win, 2-1. Chances are the biggest losers will be the umpires, who must explain to their superiors why they appeared to be caught in a state of vapor-lock.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Making the Games of Baseball and Life Uncomfortable

Just as the sight of seagoing pirates can cause panic in crews and passengers of legitimate ships, so does competing against the Pittsburgh Pirates raise the anxiety level of opposing teams. Under Skipper Clint Hurdle, the Bucs consider aggressive play, like league-leading numbers of hit batsmen, their ticket to the playoffs. The formula, along with emphasis on analytics, has paid off the past two seasons. Hurdle is particularly pleased with how pitching inside has kept opposing hitters jittery:

“Our persistence in pitching inside,” he told Gammons Daily, “is something we want to keep doing, even when we’re not getting strikes. When you’re feeling that ball in, as a hitter, it just isn’t quite as comfortable.”

Causing discomfort may be valid on the ballfield, and fun to watch for many fans, but a wealthy and powerful outfit like Team USA should not permit the widespread decline in quality of life that has occurred here since the post-World War II years. Birddogs who annually put together a Social Progress Index that evaluates quality of life on a global basis, made these discomforting findings about the home team:

Standings (top 10 of 133): 1) Norway; 2) Sweden; 3) Switzerland; 4) Iceland; 5) New Zealand; 6) Canada; 7) Finland; 8) Denmark; 9) Netherlands; 10) Australia…16) USA.

Despite finishing third in median income behind Norway and Switzerland in the extended upper level of the standings, the home team’s social services/education record places it in the lowest fourth of the top-20 division rankings. The unequal spread on our income field is an obvious source of the B-minus quality of American life. Less obvious, from our personal standpoint, is the way a few of the many facts of political life put a hit on our sense of well-being: a) 5-4 party line Supreme Court decisions; b) the shock following gun violence that leads to no drastic change in our weapons laws; c) the effectiveness of Fox News in influencing its fans. Awareness of those aberrations in the national ballpark, and others like them, constitute, for us, the cloudy backdrop to a close game begging to be enjoyed for the full nine innings.

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Stat City: Just under three weeks into the season, only one team, the Tigers, has made the top 10 in the major performing categories. Detroit is first in pitching, second in hitting and sixth in fielding. KC leads in hitting, the Braves in fielding. Atlanta has made only a single error in 10 games.

Can Mike Trout…still be only 23? He hit his 99th and 100th homers last night against the Astros, the second a milestone: it made Trout the youngest player to record 100 HRs and stolen bases. Trout’s long balls powered the Angels to a 6-3 win over Houston.

Almost Archie: Arizona rookie Archie Bradley left the game against the Giants Thursday night ahead, having yielded only two runs in six-and-a-third innings. Had the D-backs bullpen defended the lead, Bradley would have been the first pitcher to beat the reigning Cy Young Award winner (Clayton Kershaw) and World Series MVP (Madison Bumgarner) in his first two big league appearances. The D-backs eventually won, 7-6, in 12 innings.

That’s Why: Bumgarner has won only once in three starts, giving up 22 hits in 17 innings, recording a 5.29 ERA. Asked why he’s not as sharp as many anticipated, he said “They call it ‘midseason form’ for a reason. It’s tough to get to that right off the bat. It’s not easy to do.” (quoted by SF Gate’s Henry Schulman)

Streakers: Giants -8, Phillies -6, Mets +6, Dodgers +5

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Felt Need for Fire-Power on Both Fields

Whaddaya know: Ten days into the season, seven MLB clubs are riding in or near the interstate; their team BAs backfiring below .200 or just a few points above. The trend, unmistakable last season, is well documented: here are stats collared by Times-man Tyler Kepner: The average team scored 4.07 runs per game last season, down from 5.14 runs per game in 2000. And pitchers pumped in about 6,000 more strikeouts last season than they did in 2000.”

It all suggests that Cole Hamels is no longer the game’s most coveted trading chip. The Dodgers may have a more urgently needed one in Andre Ethier, whom they’ve been trying to unload while offering to pick up a chunk of his hefty salary. And what about Chris Carter? The rapidly re-tooling Astros might welcome swapping their slugging reclamation-project first baseman for a passel of prospects. And, of course, speaking of first basemen, there’s the Phillies’ Ryan Howard, whom teams can have for a not-so-small fortune.

Fire-power is what ball teams are looking for in this offense-challenged slough. And, of course, Team USA, the world’s largest firearms exporter, is not unhappy to find its products welcome, especially, in the Middle East. We had a modest hope that one of Team GOP’s several would-be national skippers, Libertarian Rand Paul, would sell his idea of slashing defense spending to his fans in deep right field, and perhaps it would catch on with red staters. But, as Times columnist Gail Collins pointed out the other day, Paul’s dovish pitch, which also included support for signing a peace treaty with Iran, was made before he became a freshman senator.

“Now,” notes Collins, “(Paul) has learned that Iran probably can’t be trusted…and he wants to raise defense spending by about $190 billion.”  Paul thus seems to have joined, in the words of Paris-based veteran William Pfaff, “the chorus that congressional advocates of bomb, bomb, bombing other nations into the Stone Age is still singing, with Iraq still in ruins and with more ruins being created by the U.S.-led coalition fighting the so-called Islamic State.”

Any candidate who can curb Hillary Clinton’s enthusiasm for military solutions should be applauded for acting to join the Dem team’s presidential playoffs. Here’s a cheer for former Senator and Rhode Island Skipper Lincoln Chafee, who said the U.S. decision to invade Iraq prompted his announced move toward candidacy last week, I just don’t think the United States president should have voted for that huge mistake,” Chafee said. “And I definitely don’t think the Democratic party nominee should have made that huge mistake.” Chafee was quoted in the National Journal, which gave the story several paragraphs. The NY Times, which devoted a front-page column and 40 paragraphs Sunday to Clinton’s strategy in dealing with Skipper Obama, has yet to report on Chafee’s announcement.

P.S. With so many very wealthy people financing her campaign, can Clinton truly embrace the sort of populism implied in her announcement at more than a level of rhetoric and platitude?”   - Robert Kuttner, Huffington Post

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Looka here: The defending AL champion Royals are the last undefeated team after seven games. And supposedly power-challenged KC is one of only five teams with double-digit HRs; the Yankees, Orioles, Dodgers and Mariners are the others.

Angelic Charge: The injury-riddled Giants have gotten off to a shaky (3-5) start, thanks, mainly, to their their depleted ranks. They badly miss Hunter Pence – out until sometime in May. A healthy (so far) Angel Pagan has been a plus – five of eight extra-base hits and a .292 BA. SF has done well with Angel in the lineup over the last three seasons. Last year was a good example: with Angel, the Giants played at a .577 pace; without him their W-L percentage was .451. Vin Scully has hailed both Pagan and Milwaukee’s Carlos Gomez for the “fire” they bring to their teams. Both, by the way, are former Mets.

Unclaimed Property: The Globe’s Nick Cafardo reminds us that there’s still one “name” free agent unsigned for 2015: he’s elite reliever Rafael Soriano, a Scott Boros client. Several teams, including the Mets, have depleted bullpens in urgent need of beefing up. The Tigers may be Soriano’s most likely destination.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

Renewing Baseball’s and the Nation’s Focus on African-Americans

Jimmy Rollins shrugged when asked about Baseball’s inner-cities effort to attract African-Americans. “Whatever,” he said.   Rollins knows that the RBI program (Reviving Baseball in the Inner Cities) has shown the sport is doing something, but nowhere near enough to bring young American blacks back to the time when their elders comprised a fifth of all major league players (a percentage now down to seven percent). MLB has ponied up $30 million in support of the program, which has a presence in 200 communities, But Commissioner Rob Manfred must know by now that more resources are needed; for example: a scouting program to reach gifted black athletes who display unusual natural ability in playground basketball; cash support for young prospects to play on travel teams through which middle class boys (and some girls) gain premium experience. And baseball scholarships for promising athletes to prep-school and college teams with programs known for successful player development.

Such an investment would be the equivalent of the millions that make possible the baseball academies in Latin America. Those are training centers that turn out most of the international players who have filled the roster spots vacated by American blacks over the last couple of decades. Bud Selig set up a commission to address the decline of black interest in baseball. It has done little up to now. The new commish can help change that, and should.

Serious focus by Baseball on renewing African-American involvement in the sport would parallel the growing national attention to what seems to be ever-widening black inequality and a police culture that persists in seeing blacks as enemies. Vox’s Ezra Klein notes the trend toward discussion of the race issue occurring in the entertainment game; it’s notable, he says, with the approaching end of the Obama era, as Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart leave holes on Cable TV’s Comedy Central roster:

The constant crises of Obama’s early presidency gave the shows plenty to work with at first, but as the sirens quieted and Washington slowly froze into gridlock, the shows began to lose steam. The disappointments of the Obama administration didn’t offer the comic fodder of the outrages of the Bush administration…Colbert announced his move to CBS. Stewart announced his retirement.   Their replacements — Trevor Noah at The Daily Show and Larry Wilmore in Colbert’s slot — are responses to the Obama era. Both are talented black comedians with a particular skill for limning America’s complicated, and often infuriating, racial politics. Their (occasional)work on The Daily Show focused on the racial controversies of the Obama era. And their takeover is a recognition of one of the lessons of Obama’s presidency: American politics isn’t moving past race. It’s moving into it. And so, too, is the news business.”

There He Goes Again: Why were we not surprised to hear that “Where’s Charlie?” Schumer surfaced to go to bat for Team GOP’s (Senator Bob) Corker Amendment challenging the Skipper’s right to decide on the acceptability of the nuclear deal with Iran? Charlie always knows how to swing hard when big-money backing looks precarious, or to execute a discrete safety-squeeze when safer big-money interests are in play.

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This Just In (Almost): NEW YORK – Mookie Betts lifted a sacrifice fly to center field in the 19th inning off Esmil Rogers, sending Xander Bogaerts home with the deciding run as the Red Sox defeated the Yankees, 6-5, in the longest game played at the current Yankee Stadium. Chase Headley’s ninth-inning homer off Edward Mujica erased the first of four Boston leads in the Friday night contest. David Ortiz gave Boston back the lead in 16th with a solo shot off Rogers, but with the clock having moved past midnight, Mark Teiseira celebrated his 35th birthday in the home half of the 16th with a game-tying homer off Steven Wright. In the 18th, Pablo Sandoval knocked a run-scoring single off Rogers to put the Red Sox back on top, but the Yankees again wiped out that lead as Carlos Beltran doubled to deep left off Wright, scoring pinch-runner John Ryan Murphy. (MLB.com)

So Far…so good: Atlanta, Cincinnati, Colorado, Detroit, Kansas City (all 4-0); so shaky: Brewers, White Sox (both 0-4).

Numerically Noted: KC, last in HRs last season with 95, have seven in 2015’s first four games while sweeping the White Sox.   The Rockies, who won 21 away games last year, already have produced one-seventh of that total after taking three-of-three from the Brewers in Milwaukee. TheTigers, meanwhile, set a new AL record by blanking the woeful-looking Twins over 24 straight innings. And they did it minus both Justin Verlander (injured) and Max Scherzer (signed elsewhere).

The Mind-Set of a Superior Hitter: “It’s more like, ‘Ride the wave,’ not, ‘Hit the homer.’ See a pitch, hit it hard, don’t let it get away. Adrian can really hit. He’s a guy who understands…” Don Mattingly on Adrian Gonzalez, who hit five homers in the season’s first three games.

Mega-Hyped Matt Harvey must take a Metsian bow for refusing to stumble on the stage in mid-week against the Nats.

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The Money Game: in Play Everywhere

Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Noah Syndergaard:are three of several players at the center of a squabble over assignment to the minors for financial rather than baseball reasons. Theo Epstein signaled Bryant and Baez would be sent to the Cubs’ farm teams before opening day, and followed through. He denies it’s to keep them from getting an extra year’s ML service time. The Mets, having sent back Syndergaard earlier, are also playing the minors-for-money-saving game. Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal has it right when he says: “Everyone who loves the sport should be sick of the charade in which a hot prospect tears up spring training, then returns to the minors for at least two weeks to delay his free agency by one year. A player receives a year of service for 172 days. A season normally consists of 183. So for the Cubs (for example) to get an extra year of (salary) control on Bryant, they likely will need to postpone his arrival for at least 12 days.”

Here is Epstein, about sending Bryant and Baez down: We’ve broken in some pretty good young players over the years from Kevin Youkilis to Hanley Ramirez to Dustin Pedroia to Jacoby Ellsbury to Jon Lester to Jonathan Papelbon and we have always given them the benefit of getting into the season in the minor leagues and getting into a good rhythm whether that is on the mound or offensively or defensively and playing in games that count rather than just spring training. We want to let them get into the flow of the season and then we try to pick just the right moment, in our opinion, to have them come up and make their major league debut. A major league debut…doesn’t go quite the right way…if you don’t put them in the right position to succeed. – quoted by David Kaplan, CSN Chicago.com

Bryant and Baez, as well as Syndergaard, can now be categorized as on-deck MLB players – not true minor leaguers – performing for their farm teams. The difference in status came to mind some days ago when, more out of curiosity than commitment, we attended a Political Action Committee (PAC) meeting of a Democratic candidate in New York. The PAC can raise money from individuals for a particular candidate but he or she cannot be associated with how it is spent. We donated $250, the lowest contribution category, well below the $5,000 top amount.

Addressing the bankers, lawyers and other business people who had given under their own names, the candidate pitched an all-inclusive line. He assured them that he and his Dem team-members wanted to make things better for both society’s struggling bench-sitters and its productive hitters. A hitter nearby looked around – we imagined toward us – and said to a fellow thumper: “Not too many ‘minor leaguers’ here tonight.”

At the hundreds of similar PAC meetings around the country, hitters will surely dominate, confirming the ever-growing clout of money in our elections. That power will expand until it triggers enough public outrage to begin what for now is only a dream: a national demand for cash-light minor leaguers again to have a say in how the electoral game is played.

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The Rich and the Not-Quite So: “For 2015, the (Dodgers) have a season-opening record payroll of $272.8 million. That is roughly $53 million more than the second-place Yankees and nearly $100 million – yes, $100 million – more than the next highest in the NL West, the Giants, at $173.8 million. The gap was about $92 million last year, (when) the Giants won a championship for the third time in five years.” (Joel Sherman, NY Post)

The Good and Bad: Oakland, which had the best spring record – 21-9-2 – in the majors, is among leaders in key injuries, as well. The A’s have lost leadoff hitter Coco Crisp (elbow surgery) for two months, and closer Sean Doolittle (shoulder) for a month or more. SF Chronicle’s Susan Slusser sees a bright side: “The team has energy to spare with as many as five rookies on the Opening Night roster — plus new third baseman Brett Lawrie, who bounces around like Tigger after several Red Bulls.”

Tipping Point? “(Joe) Maddon was the modern prototype of a manager, an extension of an exceptional front office that won 90 games five times in six years. Had he stayed with Andrew Friedman in Tampa Bay, he would still be marginalized. This is not likely with the rising Cubs. Maddon to Chicago. (Clint) Hurdle with a model (analytics-minded) franchise. (Pirates alumnus Jeff) Banister exporting the new approach to Texas. The shift-happy Astros with analytically-inclined A.J. Hinch. The Orioles over-performing with Buck Showalter every year. The old walls are breaking down, and the best ideas are flowing freely. More than a decade after ‘Moneyball,’… the fully integrated approach of analytics and coaching has arrived. The teams with everyone on board will benefit from the new competitive advantage. “ (Brian Kenny, Sports on Earth)

By the Way: The Nub will be’ll be celebrating the start of its ninth year tomorrow, as the Cardinals and Cubs – Adam Wainright and Jon Lester – match up to open the season.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Fading Pressbox Tradition of Telling-it-Straight

In Camelback Ranch, Arizona, executive vp Kenny Williams is making “bold, superlative pronouncements” about the White Sox playoff chances this season. He has lots of company; similar hope is being expressed in front offices of teams that haven’t had a playoff prayer in years, like the Padres, Marlins and Mets. The puffery puts managers Robin Ventura, Bud Black, Mike Redmond and Terry Collins on the spot – which is fair to all except Black, who has the Dodgers and Giants in his division. What’s missing as usual this spring are close-in, objective looks at how solid Black’s Padres and the other three teams are, and how realistic fans hopes should be.

Beat baseball reporters can’t help but become PR people for the home clubs, especially this time of year. Journalism in general lets us down, less through PR tendencies than through simplifying developments that deserve closer analysis. On the political field, partisan views harden amid a welter of “neutral”information. Fans’ inattentiveness plays into the problem. Two keen pressbox observers offer differing takes, neither encouraging. First, the field as viewed from HuffPost’s left-leaning Robert Kuttner:

“The Republican Party has devised a strategy of hamstringing government and making any remediation impossible…Instead of the voters punishing Republicans, the result is cynicism and passivity, so the Republican strategy is vindicated and rewarded. The media plays into this pattern by adopting a misleading narrative that makes the gridlock in Washington roughly the equal fault of both parties… It’s Republicans who are the blockers. But…the evidence fail(s) to alter the media storyline, and the damage has been done.”

Ezra Klein of Vox uses Obamacare to describe the gridlock in stark partisan terms:

“Imagine what would happen to, say, Speaker John Boehner if he decided that Obamacare was actually a pretty good law. He would lose his speakership and very likely his job. His friends in conservative think tanks and media would back away from him, and many would publicly denounce him. He would cause himself immense personal pain as he systematically alienated his closest political and professional allies. For a lot of people, being ‘right’ just isn’t worth picking a bitter fight with the people they care about. That’s particularly true in a place like Washington… If you’re John Boehner, loathing Obamacare is rational — and the reverse is true for Nancy Pelosi.”

A frustrating game that’s been around for too many extra innings.

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Doubtful Investment? The early line on the Pirates’ pricey (more than $20 million) Korean infielder Jung Ho Kang is that his signing may have been a mistake. Why? The Post-Gazette’s Ron Cook has this explanation: “ Kang has had a lousy spring. Although it’s far too soon to pass judgment on him, his hitting skills — so prodigious in the Korean League — have not shown they will carry over to the major leagues. More and more outsiders are suggesting the team send Kang to Class AAA Indianapolis to find his stroke instead of starting the season with him….“(But) we don’t believe sending him to Indianapolis is the right thing for him,” GM Neil Huntington says. “We think the best way for him to get better is by playing at the major league level. He’s done everything to prove himself at every level but the major league level. The only way he can do that is by playing at the major league level. ”

Why Jays Seem Set to Fly: “Beyond th(eir) expected improvement in the lineup, the (Toronto) pitching staff as a whole should benefit from the presence of (Russell) Martin, both for his pitch-calling and, more objectively, his pitch-framing skills, as well as his effectiveness against the running game. There may not be a rotation in baseball that would benefit from Martin’s skills as much as this one, comprised as it is of a pair of soft-tossing veterans like (R.A.) Dickey and Mark Buehrle.” Cliff Corcoran, SI

On Rays’ Spring Struggles: “Spring training injuries/illness… have sidelined three of the (Rays’) top five starting pitchers and the lead in their second base platoon…(a situation) subject to change as soon as yet something else goes wrong.” – Marc Topkin, Tampa Bay Times

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Pitching for a Possible End to the Patriotism Game

Is there any chance new Commissioner Rob Manfred will halt the patriotic hype teams impose on fans during games? Since he defers addressing the issue, it looks as though there’ll be no change: “God Bless America” will remain an unwelcome seventh-inning interruption at Yankee Stadium and other ballparks. Just as surely, fans will be asked to applaud members of the military for their service, or even only for their presence in uniform.

It’s time, Commish, to respond to widespread war fatigue by sending militarism to the showers. In its place, perhaps the work of local social agencies could be promoted, different deserving caregivers throwing out the first ball?. Patriotism can be celebrated in a new way: “America the Beautiful” sung in place of the “perilous-fight” National Anthem. And what better way to precede the first pitch than to have the crowd sway to the communal anthem of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?

The key suggestion, Rob, is this: As part of the nation’s entertainment empire, Baseball owes its fans, and the public, a reminder of a responsibility to deemphasize our warrior bravura. And, to concentrate on cheering those, who. in the president’s words, are “doing what (they) can to make America better.”

Naomi Klein, in the Sunday NY Times Book Review, suggests some of the type of players on the Skipper’s make-things-better team: “student- debt resisters, fast-food and Walmart workers fighting for a living wage, regional campaign(ers, seeking) to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour…”

Not a bad list for the Players Union to get behind, and work to persuade MLB to do the same.

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A Tribute to the Twins: “I was very fortunate that a lot of people showed me the right way to play. Coming up in the Twins organization I was able to watch a lot of guys play hard all the time, guys like Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter, and Jacque Jones. (It’s why I) play the game hard as well.’’ – The Mets’ Michael Cuddyer (quoted by John Harper, Daily News)

On Prince Fielder: “I want to tell him relax. I think I am becoming my mother, I am so worried.” – Rangers GM Jon Daniels (quoted by NY Post’s Joel Sherman)

Long Odds: “ Lou Piniella says you’ll get a Dwight Gooden, but you’ll draft 3,000 high school pitchers before one like him comes along.” - White Sox color broadcaster Steve Stone (to play-by-play partner Hawk Harrelson)                                                          

Attention Must Be Paid: “Nick Ahmed is going to win gold gloves, I assure you.” – Tony La Russa, on the D-backs’ probable rookie shortstop this season.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

 

Disappearing Interest in Baseball and the War Game

How should we fans feel about baseball analytics – WAR, VORP, DRS, and the like? We don’t intend to make a fuss about it, but we don’t like the trend. It distorts somehow what we’re seeing on the field. Derek Jeter looked like he was playing a perfectly acceptable shortstop last season, but the sabermetrics said he was a disaster. That took away some of the enjoyment of watching the Captain close out his career. Furthermore, it placed a layer of complication over the simple stats of yore. The Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote earlier this week of the reduced appeal that coincides with the game’s tech-friendly changes:

“In our day, we loved baseball cards and all we cared about was batting average, home runs, and RBIs. It was simple. It was easy to be a fan. Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, or Willie Mays used to step into the box and swing at the first good pitch he saw. Now, batters are encouraged to look at more than four pitches per at-bat. As a result, we’re seeing more called third strikes. At-bats take forever, attention is lost.”

Incidentally, here is a translation of the robot-like terminology referred to above: WAR is “wins above replacement”; VORP “value over replacement player”; DRS “defensive runs saved.”

Robotics, of course, have made our war games more one-sided – and deadly to innocent by-standers as well as our enemies – than ever before. In addition to Drone aircraft, piloted remotely and directed to attack from far away, we have, among other weapons in our tech arsenal, human involvement missiles known as “launch and leave” and “fire and forget.” The obvious major advantage, both politically and militarily: it spares the attacking team casualties resulting from “boots on the ground.” It also precludes dealing with “detainees”, who wound up at Guantanamo, and, not long ago, at U.S.- established “black sites” where torture was not uncommon..

As in baseball, the downside of the robotic war game, coupled with lack of a military draft, is a loss of attention among hometown fans, no longer personally involved in what’s playing out.

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Hacking Early: Did you know Joe Mauer batted .577 when first-pitch hitting last season? We didn’t, until Gammons Daily published a rundown by super-statman Bill Chuck. Mauer did not get enough ABs to make Chuck’s list of 0-and-0 hitters with more than 100 plate appearances. Miguel Cabrera’s .441 led the list of 14. Jose Altuve was second with a .430 average.

Rosy Look at Red Sox Rotation: “The Red Sox have five starters 30 and younger who are athletic and already accomplished in the big leagues. There have been nine teams with five starters no older than 30 who made at least 28 starts each; seven of them made the playoffs. The entire AL East is a barren wasteland when it comes to “proven aces.” – Tom Verducci, SI

Opinionating: With two (+) weeks left before opening day, which division should we consider the one composed entirely of playoff-possible teams? Injuries having, in our opinion, eliminated the Rays from the AL East race, we believe that only the NL Central has five playoff-viable teams, with the Reds given a slot out of unaccustomed Nub-ian generosity. The Twins fall a bit short of earning similar consideration. Had they made the cut, they would have qualified AL Central as a second total-playoff-possible division. As it is, that division is one of only two (unless you include the competitive NL Central) with a likely four-team race. The other is the aforementioned AL East.

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

 

The Challenge of a Big-Time Comeback

The comeback, one of the most compelling stories in sports, is, we know, living up to the hype in the NY area this pre-spring. Alex Rodriguez and Matt Harvey, who haven’t played in more than a season, are getting major coverage. It’s a product of their differing splashy careers and their potentially key roles on the high-profile Yanks and Mets.

The overplaying of the A-Rod and Harvey sagas shouldn’t prevent us from noting stories of other players returning after long layoffs. Josh Johnson, who last pitched for the Blue Jays in 2013, hopes to return to the Padres staff later this season after 2014 was lost to his second Tommy John surgery in seven years. In 2008, 09 and 10, Johnson went 33-12 with the Marlins, recording that third year the lowest ERA of 2.30 in the NL. Padres Skipper Bud Black salivates at the thought of his retrieving just a fraction of his earlier dominance.

In Surprise, AZ, Ryan Madson, who hasn’t pitched since 2011, is competing for a spot on the Royals’ reliever corps. Madson replaced Brad Lidge as Phillies closer in May of that year; he recorded 32 saves and a 2.37 ERA. The Reds signed him away from the Phils in the off-season. By the end of spring training, a torn ligament in his right elbow meant Tommy John surgery, from which he hadn’t recovered until possibly now. We won’t know for sure about Madson or Johnson – or even Rodriguez and Harvey – until they perform under big-league pressure.

The same applies to a much-chronicled political player who hasn’t thrown herself into electoral competition since 2008. The Hill’s Charlie Cook looks at the sports-like rigors of the game she faces:

“(Hillary Clinton) is akin to a professional athlete who has been sidelined by injuries for several seasons. Does she still have—to borrow a phrase from the legendary political author, the late Richard Ben Cramer—‘what it takes,’ or Tom Wolfe’s ‘the right stuff’? In 2007 and early 2008, Clinton was pretty good, and she got better as her contest with then-Sen. Barack Obama headed into the middle and final stretches. But does she still have it? Maybe she still has the touch, and maybe she doesn’t. But no one, even her own team, knows for sure right now.”

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Deals Nor Made…Are Sometimes the Luckiest:: The Mets, who tried to find a taker for Bartolo Colon or Dillon Gee this winter, are glad now they couldn’t work a deal: With a strained ligament sending Zack Wheeler to the Tommy John surgery lineup, both Colon and Gee figure to round out a rotation along with Matt Harvey, Jake deGrom, and Jonathan Niese. That’s if more injuries don’t strike.

Another Hurtful Absence: Giants radio broadcaster Duane Kuiper, on when Hunter Pence’s broken arm will be healed: “One of the first things I did when Pence went down…you’re looking to see how many games is Pence going to miss against the Dodgers. And the Giants play the Dodgers a lot early. So he’s either going to miss six or nine games against L.A. The Giants-Dodgers third series is in the middle of May, so either he misses six or he misses nine…I think when you look at May 1, you are looking at the start of spring training for him again.” – SF Chronicle

Predictable Second Thought: “If we would have seen those signs, we would have kept him” : Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, on former Buc Steve Pearce, who hit 21 HRs for the Orioles last season (and a two-run shot against the Pirates on Sunday). – (quoted by Stephen Nesbitt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)

Armed Power on the Field and in the World

Snap Quiz: Who are the three MLB hitters to finish 2014 in the top five of both HR and RBI lists? Answer: Nelson Cruz, Mike Trout and Jose Abreu. Which of the three has the highest composite total?

1 –Cruz, 148; 40 HR, 108 RBI.

2 – Trout, 147; 36 HR, 111 RBI.

3 – Abreu, 143; 36 HR, 107 RBI.

Which is close to a five-tool player? Trout, who hits with frequency and power, runs and fields at a high level.

If we had to note one major weakness in this otherwise seemingly superhuman ballplayer, the high fastball is it.” – Anthony Castrovince on Trout, for Sports on Earth. (Our comment: Trout himself has acknowledged he does not have a superior outfield arm.)

Speaking of arms…

Snap Quiz 2: Which are the world league’s three major arms exporters: 1- USA, 2 – Russia, 3 – Germany.

“Overall, the U.S. sent more than $26.9 billion in weaponry to foreign nations…The country that received the highest dollar amount of U.S. weaponry was the United Arab Emirates, with more than $3.7 billion in arms received over that period. Russia dealt the greatest value of weapons to India, sending more than $13.6 billion.” – Business Insider (based on 2012-13 figures) “China tripled its share in th(e past five years), overtaking

France. It is on track to surpass Germany to become the

third-largest arms dealer. Business is brisk.” – The Economist

A Different Impact: “We see something, and immediately — because the military is so reliable, weapons systems are more remote, and special operations are less visible —there’s a tendency to just pull the trigger. In many, many cases, that isn’t the best solution.” – Former Senator Jim Webb quoted by Vox’s Ezra Klein

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What Nelson Cruz Means…to his new team: “You feel his presence in the middle. You feel when he’s coming up. Playing against him, you know how many batters away he is. He’s one of those guys, he commands a lot of respect.”- Kyle Seager, Cruz’s Mariners teammate (quoted by Larry Stone, Seattle Times)                                          

An NL East Mano-a-Mano: Giancarlo Stanton won his first face-off with Matt Harvey this week, going one-for- two in a game at Jupiter, FL, in which the Marlins beat the Mets, 7-4. Stanton doubled off the left field wall in his second at-bat against Harvey. He lined to third his first time up. NY Times-man Tim Rohan reported how the two division standouts assessed each other: Stanton on Harvey: “He was solid — firm and precise, I’d say, working in and out,” Harvey on Stanton; “He’s so big and strong that, even though I got it in on him, he still was able to get it out to the warning track. He’s making $300 million for a reason.”

Can Wil Myers Cut It…in Petco Park’s CF? A rival evaluator offered a tentative answer to Union–Times’ Jeff Sanders: Myers has looked “better than expected,” the evaluator said. CF at Petco will be rough on him, he added, but it’s workable. “Not a train wreck.”

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(The Nub is a team effort skippered by Dick Starkey. Comments about blog issues are welcome. Previous Nubs may be found by scrolling below.)