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Ferguson: Hit batsmen and a just-missed draft for the Jays

Scott Ferguson
10/11/2013 12:03:29 PM
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Things got a little nasty this week in the Arizona Diamondbacks camp when general manager Kevin Towers fired a couple of the team's coaches, including pitching coach Charles Nagy.

It didn't end there.

Towers, during a radio interview, slammed his pitchers for not executing "eye for an eye" justice by not hitting opponents with the pitches after their own players had been plunked. Towers added that he wanted a pitching coach with more fire who would convey the message that the D'backs pitchers had to have more "fire in their bellies" and do a better job of protecting their teammates.

That made me wonder if there is any correlation between pitching staffs hitting batters and those teams making it into the postseason.

This season, for instance, Pittsburgh lead the Majors in hit batters with 70 and made it to the Wild Card game before losing the division series to St. Louis in 5. Cincinnati was second with 66 and lost the Wild Card game to the Bucs. The Central-winning Cardinals hit 64 batters.

The top American League team was Texas with 65, and the Rangers made it to the tiebreaker game where they lost to the Rays.

Arizona, surprisingly, fits in right after that with 60; which is a bit surprising considering what Towers had to say. I suppose he was just more than a little upset that his team led the NL West early, only to see the Dodgers overcome a horrible start and go shooting past them to win the division.

L.A only hit 43 batters while the other National League playoff team, Atlanta, nailed 51. In the American League, after Texas, Cleveland hit 58 and then the numbers drop off from Tampa Bay at 52, Boston 47, Detroit 42 and Oakland just 35.

A year ago, Towers had two of the top pitchers in hitting batters - Ian Kennedy with 14 and Trevor Cahill with 11 - but this year he wound up trading Kennedy to San Diego.

You don't have to hit batters to be effective but you can't be afraid to pitch inside either. Cleveland's Justin Masterson certainly qualifies. He led the Majors with 17 hit batsmen this season. The Tigers' feisty right hander Doug Fister was second with 16. Interestingly, the Blue Jays' two winningest pitchers also plunked the most. R.A Dickey with 10 and Mark Buehrle with nine, accounting for a combined 38 per cent of the Jays hit batters.

If you look at the all-time career list, Gus Wehhing - who played the bulk of his career in the 1800's -leads the way with 277. Randy Johnson tops the modern era and is fifth overall with 190. Based on my perceptions growing up, I would have pegged Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson as being near the top of the list, but Drysdale checks in at number 18 with 154, while Gibson may be the most intimidating and greatest pitcher I ever saw was only tied for 79th place with 102.

The biggest surprise name on the list was 38-year -old Jamie Wright who's still pitching  out of the Rays pen with 151.  He's number 19 all-time.

If you don't count Roger Clemens, the highest ranking Jays pitcher is Dave Stieb who nailed 129 batters. That's good for a tie for 37th place and 37, of course, just happens to have been his number. A certain synchronicity to that, I guess.
 
Watching all of these brilliant young pitchers in the postseason, you wonder what might have been if one had landed with the Blue Jays.

In the 2011 June draft, the Blue Jays had no chance to get Gerrit Cole, as he went number one overall to the Pirates. The one who may turn out to be the best pitcher in that draft, Jose Fernandez, went number 14 to the Marlins while Sonny Gray, who starred for the A's down the stretch and into the postseason, went 18th overall. The Blue Jays chose Tyler Beede at 21, but then were unable to sign him as he chose the college route.

The 2012 draft is a little more frustrating. The Blue Jays opted for outfielder D.J Davis at number 17 and while he may turn into a solid Major Leaguer, St. Louis at 19 grabbed right hander Michael Wacha out of Texas A&M.  The Jays took hard throwing right hander Marcus Stroman at number 22.  Though he could start next year at Triple "A" Buffalo, he could appear with the big club at some point next year.

Although the draft order could change a bit after all the free agency wheeling and dealing in the off season, right now, the Blue Jays will pick ninth overall in 2014 and also at number 11 (compensation for not signing their first  round pick in 2013, right hander Phil Bickford at number 10). This could be the Jays' most important draft in a decade, especially when you consider the average age of their pitching staff this season was 30.9 years old' second eldest in the Majors behind the Yankees at 31.8.



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