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Travel Joe Morgan Chat Day
2003-10-07 01:38
by Mike Carminati

Do you get the impression that baseball has become a second-class sport as playoffs are foisted off on ESPN2 while ESPN proper airs college football of all things. I'm surprised Mia Hamm and the women's world cup or whatever it is didn't bump the playoffs to the ESPN News channel. Well, maybe if the Americans hadn't lost in the semifinals…

Fox seems to see the playoffs as a means to promote ad nauseum the new season of 24—how did the president recover so quickly anyway?—and for passing off Jeannie Zelasko, a performer better suited to wacky zoo openings and hard-hitting jibes with the weatherman on the local news, as a real sports reporter. Well, she did have that earth-shattering piece on the history and breadth of the Billy Goat, Bambino, and Red Baron curses. And she did have her hair and her wooden expression shellacked especially for the postseason.

At least Fox had the sense to can the Steve Lyons-Thom Brennaman seppuku-inducing broadcasts for a McCarver-Brennaman game last night. McCarver is far from perfect but is knowledgeable if you can withstand the bluster. It is a bit like watching Dennis Miller do the news accompanied by Dana Carvey dressed up as Dennis Miller though. Brennaman's career is basically McCarver lite, but he does tend to defer to McCarver limiting his own ineffectualness or underlining it, depending on how you look at it.

What else do the playoffs bring? Why, heaping servings of Joe Morgan and his trusty sidekick Jon Miller of the ironic tongue placed duly in cheek. Unfortunately, all the traveling limits his chats and it takes a long Joe chat to bring out inanities within. There are some good moments though in the short chat that follows.

However, I have one comment on the brevity of a Joe playoff chat: It's kind of like building a travel day into a playoff series after the first game when the teams are not even traveling. But baseball would never do that would they? How about the day off after game one of the Yankees-Twins series. They schedule the A's and Sox to fly literally across the country to play games on consecutive days in disparate locales, but the Yanks and Twins can cool their jets after a grueling single day of play. Makes about as much sense as Joe Morgan jumping on the A's bandwagon. And you'll get that in this chat session. But you'll get more, a lot more. But hey—enough of my yakkin'. What d'ya say, let's boogie! (God bless Marty DiBergi.)

The Good

Lenny Corning, NY: I disagree with your opinion on all or nothing attitude of the Yankees owner. When these players DEMAND millions they lose the right to play for fun and/or make mistakes. George is paying ~$180MM for these guys so it is his right to demand perfection!

Well Lenny, baseball is a game, it's not life and death and when you try to make it that way, you lose the run for the players and the tradition of the game. I don't think money (any amount) buys you the right to change that precept.

[Mike: Hellelujah, brother! It's all entertainment, just like a Joe Morgan chat session.

By the way, Lenny, how much money do you "DEMAND" at work? You're talking about an oligopoly in which 30 teams dominate the market. If a player wants to be paid more than those teams are willing to play his alternatives are limited, either independent teams like the St. Paul Saints or the Newark Bears or one of the foreign leagues of which the Japanese Pacific and Central Leagues are the most well known. Players cannot demand anything in the minors and can only seek free agency after playing a number of years in the majors and even then their markets are limited to the thirty major-league teams and the alternatives above. The only time a player gets to "demand" a salary as an employee is through arbitration, an artifice the owners came up with to limit free agency, and even then the player's demand is weighed by an arbitrator.

Also, I believe the abbreviation you were looking for was "M" as in "million". "MM" means "millimeter". I doubt Steinbrenner pays his players in volume. If so, he would get by with rolls of pennies.]

Doug, Palm Desert, CA: Joe, I'm having a debate with some buddies. They say Brian Cashman is a great GM. I say Cashman is George's puppet and that Gene Michael and Bob Watson should get the credit for building the nucleus of the Yankees over the last decade. I need a referee. Your thoughts?

Well there is no doubt that Gene Michaels has been a big part of what the Yankees have become and Bob Watson also helped build this dynasty. That said, Brian Cashman is not a puppet, he is active in making good decisions and spending money wisely. They all deserve some credit in the success.

[Mike: Cashman's a dessert topping AND a floor wax! Very diplomatic answer, Joe.]

Paul (Center Moriches, NY): With the Yankees-Twins series now tied at 1 going to the Metrodome, do you think that the Twins can finish off the Yankees at home, and if so who will have to come up big for the Twins?

The series is tied at 1-1. Joe Torre has decided to pitch Wells b/c he saw the effectiveness of a lefthander in Pettitte. Make no mistake, the Yankees can win on the road. It will be a great series.

[Mike: I don't know how great a series it will be—I have the Twins caving in four—but I agree that inserting the big lefty is a good idea. The Twins are very soft against lefties. (By the way, I wrote this before the deciding game four).]

Paddy (San Diego): Hey Joe, Love your broadcasts. and I recently visited Cooperstown and saw your plaque in person. I purchased Ted Williams' book on hitting and I was curious why there aren't more books on hitting. Do you think big leaguers today just don't talk about it as much? I'm curious what you thought of his book and if you were a guess hitter.

I was not a guess hitter, but I didn't read Ted's book -- I probably should have. I have seen his chart where you hit well at certain parts of the plate. The game has changed so much, video is such a key in self-analysis these days that books have taken a back seat.

[Mike: Huh? An open-minded and honest response on hitting? Joe's mellowing as the season progresses.]

Andrew (Troy, Ohio): Which is more possible for the rest of the giants marlins series, the low scoring pitchers duel we saw in game 1, or the high scoring slugfest we saw in game 2?

Probably somewhere in between Andrew. The Marlins are a lot better than people give them credit for -- especially in their ballpark. Today's game is key for the Giants... if the Giants do not win today, I don't think they will win the serires.

[Mike: Another overly diplomatic answer, but it was followed by a good prediction for the series. Heck, I thought the Giants would win in a cakewalk, so Joe had a better assessment than I for the series.]

The Bad

Eric (Pontiac, MI): Maybe you would know more about this than i do, but i find it kind of strange that Jack McKeon is waiting until game 4 to pitch Dontrelle Willis. Because in my opinion, it was Willis, not McKeon(although McKeon does deserve some of the credit), that propelled the Marlins into their race for the playoffs. I think he should start at least in game 3 ahead of Redman, or maybe started game 2 instead of Brad Penny. What is your opinion on that?

I thought he would start Game three, in his ball park ... that would have made a lot of sense to me. NOt Game 2 b/c I wouldn't have started him out on the road, but I do think he should be pitching today.

[Mike: Dontrelle Willis was 5-5 with a 4.60 ERA in the second half. He had the worst ERA of all of the Marlins starters in the second half. How did that propell them into the playoffs? For all the hoopla surrounding Willis' first playoff start, the fact remains that he allowed five runs in five and one-third innings though three hits are nice. He relinquished a four-run lead and it took Pudge Rodriguez's heroics to salvage the win. One could argue that he was tired from scurrying around the basepaths and that Jack McKeon left him in too long, but the fact remains that on the whole, he did not deliver. Though fellow rookie Jerome Williams took all the heat.]

Matt (Washington, DC): Hey Joe, love your broadcasts, your knowledge, and oh man those suits you wear on Sunday nights! Talk to me about the Giants. What do you attribute all those errors to, and what are their chances of righting the ship on the road?

IF you look at the Giants over the course of the season, you have to wonder how they won as many games as they did with just Barry Bonds and a good supporting cast ... a mix and match pitching staff, young kids. They've had a lot of people start games for them, not a consistant rotation here. THings just fell into place for them. In the playoffs and in these short series, a lot of your weakness surface. That's what's going on right now and we are seeing that the Giants are not head and shoulders about the Marlins like many had thought.

[Mike: No, this was true in the past but not in 2003. The Giants had a well-balanced lineup, maybe no Jeff Kents surrounding Bonds but no Marvin Bernards either. The only disappointment was Edgardo Alfonso, who redeemed himself well in the postseason batting behind Bonds.

They had serious pitching problems, but were supposed to have fixed them with the acquisition of Sidney Ponson, whose experience you had said put them over the top, Joe.

The Giants just happened to draw a hot team in the first round and play poorly especially defensively. Jose Cruz Jr. made some woeful plays in right. I would have to think that his days at Pac Bell are numbered. The Marlins are no '27 Yankees. Their best hitter is out of the lineup and even with Pudge's Herculean effort and Miguel Cabrera's emergence, they do feature a lineup with Joe Conine.

I wouldn't be surprised to see their offense fold to the superior Cubs' pitching. Then again, I expected the Marlins to fade against the Giants.]

Matt (Manalapan, NJ): Like many others, I was hoping for a Yankees vs. Red Sox ALCS. Do you still think it is possible for both teams to reach the LCS?

There's an old saying -- it's not probabble, but it is possible. Boston can beat the As three straight and the Yankees are back on top of their game. It will be tough for those Sox to reach the ALCS, but it sure would be exciting, well see.

[Mike: Matt from Manalapan? Didn't I see you at Zips the other day?

Joe, thanks for stating the obvious. Oh, that's a great old saw that you quoted. I think it's Shakespeare, right? How 'bout instead the seminal catchphrase, "Could be but I doubt it," coined by Erasmus I believe.]

The Ugly

James (San Diego): When it comes to the playoffs it seems that the team with the best pitching usually wins the world series. Why do the Atlanta braves think that by bettering their offense but having less depth at pitching than years past do they feel that they have a better chance to win it all and do you agree?

This Braves team is better built to win it all than others. They tried 11 other times with pitching being their dominance and they only won one World Series. You try different things. This year they are better prepapared to win it all -- if they can get by the Cubs.

[Mike: I thought that the Braves were going to lose (in five) to the Cubs and they did. By the way, it’s a nice story to say that the Braves tried something this year, but the truth of the matter was that they lost Tom Glavine to free agency and Kevin Millwood to a self-imposed salary cap. They coppled together a Fish That Saved Pittsburgh type rotation with Greg Maddux channeling the film's Dr. J character and the other misfits filling out the staff (Mike "Set Shot" Hampton?). They also gutted the amazing 2002 bullpen.

OK, so Joe must be right, i.e., they channeled their energies into their offense. But what exactly did they do? They picked up Robert Fick, far from an earth-shattering move. They benefited from a great season from Gary Sheffield, aberrations from the aging Vinny Castilla and Javy Lopez, and potentially a career-year from one-hit-wonder-so-far Marcus Giles. However, aside from Fick this is the same lineup that struggled to score runs the last couple years. They were all healthy for the entire year, but surely that was not the result of any master plan on the Braves' part.

The Braves got lucky, period. Given their offseason maneuvers, one would have expected them to fall back into the pack in the NL East. Next year could be a four-team race as the Braves' luck runs out.

Oh, and by the way, there is no evidence that superior pitching wins series, James (said in my best Esther Rolle drawl). Of the 208 postseason series played before the 2003 season, 110 were won by the team with the better pitching (i.e., lower team ERA) and 98 were won by the worse-pitching team. The average ERA for a series-winning team was 3.45; 3.50 for the average loser. Last year's series had three of seven victories for the inferior-pitching team, including the Angels in the series. That's not a tremendous edge. For anecdotal evidence, witness the Braves quick hook this year with the superior offense.]

Trevor (Novato, CA): Do you think the Red Sox can win Game 3 with a tired Derek Lowe pitching? This series looks like it has sweep written all over it.

Well, I don't think Derek Lowe will be tired. He throws in between starts anyway so that shouldn't be a factor. Boston will be back in the friendly confines of Fenway Park ... I don't think Oakland will be able to sweep them ... infact, that series isn't over yet. The A's are on their way, but anything can happen

[Mike: Huh, what does this cryptic message mean other than Joe wants to cover all his bases. Well, here's another on the topic…]

Jeremy(Baltimore, MD): Hey Joe, take my mail this week since I was the only one right last week!!! Everyone was saying, "Oh, Boston, they'll win big, Oakland has no chance". I picked the A's then and still do. That bunt will send them to the World Series. There is something about them now. Oh ye of little faith.

Last year the A's won 20 games in a row, they do little things right and they get big hit after big hit. This illustrates that trend continuing. That bunt was a huge play. That really set the tone and I really think Game 1 will be a key to the series outcome.

[Mike: Wow, last week I predicted that Joe would jump on the A's bandwagon and he did. For over a year Joe has been excoriating the A's for playing station-to-station baseball, waiting for the walk and the three-run home run to win ballgames. That, according to Joe, was the reason that they did win in the playoffs. Joe ran down Oakland's Big Three. And after all that Joe's opinion is completely changed by one bunt?]

Ryan in Austin, TX: With the Cubs stranding a whopping 17 base runners in the last two games and losing game two by a very close two run margin, don't you think that the art of the very playoff friendly sac bunt or even squeeze should be used by Baker. On several occaisions I noticed the Cubs had no outs, men on 1st and 2nd and not even showing an indication of a sacrifice. Why not? It takes away the double play (which has killed us) and puts two men in scoring position with one out. What gives Joe? By the way I'm a huge fan. Thanks.

Well if you are Cubs fan, you should look at the positive and say well they are getting a lot of men on base. But, that said you gotta move these guys up. Sacrafice or hit and run doesn't matter to me, I would never try to tell Dusty what to do, you gotta trust him, but those runners are certainly the key to winning close ballgames.

[Mike: OK, here's a log of all situations in which the Cubs had men at first and second with fewer than two outs in the first two games:

Game 1:
1st inning: Lofton on second, Sosa on first, one out, no score. Moises Alou grounded into a double play. But should you bunt in the first inning with your cleanup hitter?
3rd inning: Wood on second, Lofton on first, one out, no score. Grudzielanek and Sosa struck out. Again too early to bunt.
4th: Moises Alou on second, Aramis Ramirez on first, no outs, Braves led 1-0. Karros singled—bases loaded. Alex Gonzalez and Paul Bako struck out. Kerry Wood popped up. I wouldb't have bunted with Karros, and I wouldn't have squeezed that early.
6th: Alou on second, Ramirez on first, no outs, Braves led 1-0. Karros singled—bases loaded. PH Simon struck out. Bako grounded out scoring Alou. Eventually four runs would score. I see no opportunity to bunt here.
7th: Sosa on second, Ramirez at first, one out, Cubs 4-1. Karros and Ramon Martinez struck out. Again no bunt opportunity.
8th: Bako on first, no outs, Cubs 4-1. Wood attempted a bunt and struck out bunting foul on the third strike.

Game 2:
1st inning: Lofton at second, Grudzielanek at first (both walked), no outs, no score. Sosa doubled scoring Lofton. No bunt opportunity.
3rd: Sosa on second, Alou on first, no outs, Cubs led 2-1. Ramirez struck out. Karros GIDP. I wouldn't bunt with those hitters this early on.
4th: Miller on first, one out, Cubs 2-1. Zambrano bunted into a fielder's choice. Miller out at second.
5th: Sosa on second, Alou at first, one out, tie score. Ramirez flied out. Bunt a possibility if Ramirez capable of getting one down.
7th: Lofton on first, no outs, Braves led 3-2. Grudzielanek GIDP. Bunt was a possibility but away teams tend to play for win in later innings.

There aren't a lot of opportunities to bunt in there. That's the first point.

The second is why would you bunt with men at first and second anyway? You trade first and second with no outs or one out for second and third with one or two outs. Using Mike Wolverton's 2002 Run Expectation table, going from first and second with no outs to second and third with one out decreases the number of runs one would expect your team to score (from 1.5106 to 1.3580 runs). This is even more true with men at first and second and one out (from .9365 to .6327). Then there's always the chance that the batter will strike out, fall far behind in the count, pop up, or worst yet lay down a bunt that allows the defenders to nail a lead runner.

Indeed all of Wolverton's run expectations indicate that the sacrifice bunt, even when successful, lowers the run expectation for the inning. The only times that a bunt makes sense is when you have a pitcher at bat, when you are in a close game in late innings and one run is all you need. ]

Oh, one last point, the Braves left more men on base in the first two games anyway (18-17).]

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