Michael Pineda and the mystery of the shiny dark spot

Last night Yankees pitcher Michael Pineda was tossed from a game against the Boston Red Sox after a sticky substance was found on his neck. In his previous start against the Red Sox, Pineda had caught some attention for a similar patch on his palm. After the last start, Major League Baseball even warned the Yankees who then in turn warned Pineda. Apparently it didn’t work. Perhaps surprising everyone was when Boston manager John Farrell actually requested the umpire check him, unlike last time.

Now media members and baseball writers will tell us all that breaking the rules and cheating are two different things, he’s just getting more grip and it’s not an advantage, and that everyone applies something and Pineda’s only crime is doing it blatantly. Pineda says he used it because he couldn’t feel the ball and didn’t want to hit anyone. Many will hold him up as a hero, protecting his fellow players.

But more grip is an advantage for a pitcher. More grip equals more spin. More spin equals a later and tighter breaking pitch. A later breaking pitch equals a harder to hit ball. A harder to hit ball means more strikeouts and more ground balls. More strikeouts and more ground balls mean more outs, which are what the pitcher is trying to get.

I find it funny that as more information comes out about this over the last year, I now watch pitchers perform their routine ticks on the mound to see if I can spot which trick they’re using and where they’re hiding the good stuff. On most pitchers you can spot it if you’re paying attention. And if you get caught, you deserve everything that you get (and probably more).

That does not mean what you think it means

“It’s never a game we’re doing this with anybody — not with the players, not with the fans, not with the media,” Matheny said. “The potential negatives (of confirming the start) outweigh the positive. It’s just the less information is more for our guys. I didn’t want their initial trip to the big leagues (to be) where everyday there was some rumor going on.” Source

Well, if Mike Matheny‘s plan was to eliminate the rumors circling the bullpen and starter choice for today and to avoid making Jorge Rondon and Eric Fornataro feel like they had a future demotion hanging over their head, I’m pretty sure it has been a complete failure. In fact, since the call up, all I’ve seen is one of those guys is probably going to be demoted for Lyons on Monday. And guess what happened today.

To explain your decision that way you are basically telling Rondon and Fornataro that they aren’t smart enough to figure out what’s going on.  If they didn’t have it figured out on the plane ride to Washington to catch up with the team, I’m sure they figured it out as they sat in the bullpen and went unused this weekend.

Generally, your players are smart enough to figure these things out on their own. The fact that the team feels like they can, or should, hide this information from their players doesn’t seem to be a smart decision to me. Let the players know what’s going on, be honest with them about what their roles are, and let them be in a position to buy in to the plan. Players are usually intelligent individuals who can figure out if you’re BSing them. And if they don’t, you risk alienating them when the truth does finally come out.

I’d love to know what the negatives of confirming that Tyler Lyons would be starting Monday were. Leaving things vague, like what Matheny and the Cardinals did, is what creates rumors. Only the truth dispels them, like it did today. There are no rumors about who is being demoted or getting the start today.

Getaway Days

Perusing around Cardinals related sites tonight looking for something to write about today and I saw someone asking essentially this question on the STLtoday.com forums. I think it’s a very valid question. Does the team using a “Getaway Day” lineup after clinching a series win during the series, hurt the team during the postseason?

Already a couple times this season, satisfied with winning the first two games of a three game series, manager Mike Matheny has employed a “Getaway Day” lineup where you rest a couple of your starting players and let your bench players get some playing time. The logic being, if you win enough series’ every year, then the standings will take care of themselves.

I’ve long believed that this kind of mentality makes it difficult for a team to win the final game of a series to close out the sweep because the manager is subconsciously saying the game isn’t important enough.  So taking it a step further, just how easy is it for players and teams just flip that switch and go from that mode to the killer instinct to close out a playoff series when they’ve been conditioned to relax that killer instinct over a 162 game season?

The commenters so far don’t think there’s anything to it. I’m not sure myself, team psychology is a very fragile thing and it’s hard to break habits. Maybe it’s just some food for though.

Break glass in case of emergency only

Mike Matheny has garnered a little bit of a reputation as a manager who likes to have a pitcher in the bullpen that he only uses in an emergency. Last year, it was Joe Kelly who got buried at the deep end of the bullpen. This year, it seems like Keith Butler is that guy. Unlike last year, while Kelly was a Ferrari in the garage, Butler is maybe more like a Chevrolet. It’ll get you from A to B more often than not, but it won’t be flashy.

Here’s the problem with having a reliever who you only use in an emergency. Do you have a fire extinguisher in your home? I’m sure many of us do. Did you know these should be inspected regularly to ensure that they still have pressure and are in working order? I’m sure the reason why you’d do this makes sense to all of us reading, because you want it to work when you need it.

Same goes for an emergency relief pitcher. Butler hasn’t pitched in 11 days. I get that the last time he was out on the mound didn’t go well. He was tagged for 5 earned runs over an inning of work. His ERA stands at a glorious 45.00.

If anything, that shows that he needs work to diagnose the issues so that he can become a reliable member of the bullpen. He’ll certainly never become one if he never gets an opportunity to pitch. Last night, with a four run lead in the 9th (actually, more ideally the 8th while saving Martinez to get him out of a jam), would have been a perfect opportunity.

The Cardinals have one reliable arm in the bullpen right now, Carlos Martinez. Matheny has to find innings for the other guys in the bullpen to work out their issues or to attempt to execute those things they’ve been working on in side sessions. If you continue to ride Martinez, he could easily join the list of the ineffective bullpen arms or worse, end up on the DL. Then where are we?

I get riding the hot hand, but the other hands can’t get hot if they don’t play.

Trevor Rosenthal and the curse of the closer

As I mentioned last fall when Mike Matheny announced that Trevor Rosenthal would be the team’s closer at the beginning of the 2014 season, there seems to be a curse on official closers. Just look back at Ryan Franklin in 2011. Or Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs in 2013. Now we’re dealing with Rosenthal struggling out of the gate in 2014. It’s a bad track record.

With pitchers who rely on pure speed as a major factor of performance, my concern is always that any slight discomfort or worry about control can affect your velocity and, as a result, your performance. Kevin Reynolds and I spoke about confidence and Boggs a lot last season and how that little extra ounce of confidence can be the difference between a hard to hit 94 mph fastball and a 92 mph easy to hit one. I wondered if that’s what Trevor Rosenthal is dealing with.

Christine over at Aaron Miles’ Fastball wrote today and talked about his velocity. She found that Rosenthal’s fastball velocity so far this April is 96.11 mph. Over two mph slower than last April and last year in October. His fastest pitch of the year? Yeah, it hit a batter.

Rosenthal said post-game that he felt good and, “I’m worried about throwing strikes. I’m not worried about the velocity.” Maybe it isn’t what he meant, but if he’s having to think about throwing strikes rather than just winding up and putting the ball in the catcher’s mitt, that’s all you need to know.

For their part, Mike Matheny and Derek Lilliquist haven’t publicly expressed any worry about Rosenthal’s performance. That might hold some water in most cases, except this is the manager that insisted on running Boggs out there in high leverage situations last season when it was clear to everyone not in the dugout that it was a bad idea. Hopefully Rosenthal can get it figured out before we reach that point.