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Phillips: Should Jays fans be worried about Bautista?

Steve Phillips
9/6/2013 1:24:38 PM
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1. Jose Bautista has been shut down for the season. That's two straight years with under 120 games played due to various injuries and a declining OPS. Should Jays fans be worried about his ability to carry the team in the coming seasons?

Jose Bautista hit .302 in 2011 while slugging 43 homers and driving in103 runs.  In 2010, he crushed 54 homers and drove in 124 runs.  He was a beast both years. He had become a player that no one ever dreamed he could. He went from being a utility man to "The Man."

Unfortunately since then injuries have limited the games that he has played. Injuries have also impacted his performance.  His injured wrist last season drained some of his power in addition to costing him games.  A bad hip this season has hampered his ability to rotate his hips when he swings the bat. He is starting to feel like one of those players who just can't stay healthy.

But the biggest reason his production has fallen off is because he just isn't as good as his numbers from 2010-11.  Those years were anomolies.  He will never again hit over .300 in a season nor will he ever hit 54 homers again.  He doesn't have enough quality at bats to do either.  He is much more like the .254 hitter that he has been in his career than the .304 hitter he was in 2010.

Bautista will still be an important contributor for the Jays moving forward but he is not a carry-the-team type of offensive player.  You either have to hit 30 homers and bat over .300 or hit 45-50 homers to truly carry a team.  He isn't that guy.  The Jays and the fans need to reduce their expectations of Bautista moving forward to get a true read of their team offense, otherwise they will be disappointed.

2. Joe Mauer is on the DL with a concussion after taking a foul ball off the helmet. He is one of eight catchers to go on the DL this season with concussion-like symptoms -- it's a growing trend. Is there anything MLB should be doing to help protect catchers more?

There is a reason why catcher's careers typically fizzle out by the age of 33. There is a reason why very few catchers win batting titles or home run titles. The job is brutal.  It is tough on any player to go to the gate for 162 games in 181 days; it is most difficult for catchers. The job takes a physical and mental toll like no other.

Joe Mauer is one of only three catchers to ever win a batting title. He won in 2006, 2008, and 2009. The first catcher to ever win the batting title was Eugene "Bubbles" Hargrave. He hit .353 in 1926 while playing for the Cincinnati Reds. The next catcher to win a batting title was Ernie Lombardi in 1938 and 1942. It is amazing to me whenever catchers contribute offensively in an extraordinary way. Their bodies get so worn down over the course of the season.

I had Mike Piazza as the catcher for my Mets' teams.  He was the best offensive catcher to ever play the game.  It was difficult to build my team around a catcher because he needed more days off than any other position to allow his body to recover.  So automatically I knew I would be playing without my No. 3 hittter for 30+ games.  The more serious concern, though, is that I could lose my superstar catcher to injury.

There is always a risk of a catastrophic injury like Buster Posey of the Giants suffered a few years ago in a collision at the plate.  There is a risk to the hands and wrists of a catcher because of the pounding they take receiving thousands of 90 MPH fastballs. Yadier Molina is currently sidelined with the Cardinals because of a sore wrist on his glove hand.  And there are risks of concussion because of potential foul balls and collisions. Some catchers are worth the risks but as a GM I would love to see my guy protected as much as possible.

I don't believe that there have been more concussions for catchers this year than any other year. Our awareness of concussions has grown. Our diagnosis of concussions has become more expansive and the willingness of players to speak up about their condition has grown significantly. All of this is good.

The next step has to be improved technology and equipment. The NFL is continuing comprehensive studies about player safety regarding concussions. The issues for catchers are the same as NFL players. Catchers need to wear better protective gear. I know some catchers have gone to the hockey mask style helmet but I don't believe that is enough. Why shouldn't baseball catchers wear helmets like football players?  Many college, high school and youth football teams in the States are making players wear extra padding outside of their helmets for practices. Why can't a catcher's helmet have extra padding too?  I know there are weight issues and vision issues.  It is 2013; can someone please figure this out?

3. Atlanta has a huge lead. Should they be resting players or playing them to keep sharp heading into the post-season and perhaps risk injury? What is the right strategy?

All teams with large leads in the standings are faced with this dilemma.  Should we play our guys and keep them sharp or should we rest them so they can be sharp again?

The truth is that there is not one right answer.  In fact, there isn't a correct answer from team to team.  It is really a question that has to be considered for each individual player.  What is right for one player may not be right for another.

This is where a manager has to truly know his team.  Some players may need a rest and recover physically and mentally while others may need to keep up with the routine of playing.  It comes down to communication and trust.  The manager and coaches need to listen to the players and how they feel.  Then they have to match those words to what their eyes are telling them about a player's performance.

Have you ever been really tired but you ignore it because you have a project to complete or you are really busy?  If at some point you decide to take a break and sit down for a bit, you can start to feel your body shut down.  You tell yourself you better get up and keep moving because if you don't you know you won't be able to get up at all.  That total shut down is what a manager needs to guard against when he rests his players.

Typically for most teams and players some combination of rest and playing makes sense.  A player can be given rest without messing up his routines and rhythm. A manager would prefer to rest those who need it prior to the last week of the season if the standings allow for it.  This way the players are back in the lineup for the last five or so games before the playoffs begin to sharpen their skills.

If it is a close call between giving players a rest or keeping them on the field, I would always keep them on the field. Remember; the playoffs automatically allow for some physical recovery as there are built in travel days in each series.  The players have the entire off-season to rest.

Writing this has made me tired.  I need a nap.

Fair or Foul

Hip Hip Hooray!  The Pittsburgh Pirates (81-58) have clinched their first non-losing season since 1992.  What a thing to celebrate.  I guess that is what you do when you have lost so many games for so many years. They teased us a few times over the last twenty-one years. Even just last season they were 11 games over .500 in July only to collapse and finish 79-83.  I didn't want to believe this year and be disappointed again.  But it finally feels safe to believe that they will have a winning record.  They have to be able to win at least one more game.... Right?

Actually, the Pirates have been a nice story.  They sit atop the NL Central as you read.  Whether they hold on or not to that they will likely make the playoffs.  They have delivered hope to a hopeless fan base.

The Pirates' pitching staff has the second best ERA in the NL.  They have lowest opponent's batting average and have allowed the fewest home runs as well.  Their rotation has been good while the bullpen has been even better.  They have the second most wins from a pen and the second fewest blown saves.  Pitching has clearly been the key to their success this year.

Offensively, they are middle of the pack in most categories.  They don't have extraordinary team power or speed.  They don't hit well in the clutch as evidenced by their .225 batting average with runners in scoring position.  In other words they have scored just enough to support their pitching and win games.  This is a formula that has worked for the San Francisco Giants over the past couple of years.

Pittsburgh is a blue collar town with a blue collar team.  They have reenergized their fan base.  They are excited.  The fans think this is great.  Old time baseball fans are remembering the "We are Family" Pirates from back in the day.  Expectations have changed.  The fans are going to get greedy now.  A .500 record is no longer the goal.  Now it's the playoffs and soon the goal will be a World Series.

I want to get excited for and about the Pirates but I know the truth.  This team isn't going anywhere. They may hold on and win the division.  Sure they may make a run in the crap shoot that is the baseball playoffs.  In a short series anything can happen.  But they don't have the type of roster to sustain success.  So many of the young players have outperformed their abilities and the veterans aren't this good.  They have track records that prove this.  I wish it was different but it's not.

Small market cities get excited when small market teams compete.  It gives them hope.  But it is very difficult for them to sustain success.  Just ask the Astros.  Give the Twins a call.  Check out the Padres. Sure Tampa and Oakland are on a decent run.  But they haven't won anything.  And neither will the Pirates.

Plus, MLB is praying that the Pirates don't advance deep in the playoffs if they make it.  They are a good story, but at some point a no-name Cinderella team lacks appeal.  The networks want a Red Sox vs. Dodgers World Series.  Fans won't watch the Pirates vs. Rays.

So, good for Pittsburgh.  It is a good little story.  Clint Hurdle has done a masterful job managing his roster.  Neil Huntington has made some very astute moves as the general manager.  The players have played hard. All parties deserve credit.  They have found some success.

Unfortunately it will be short-lived and it will fall short.  I hate to be so pessimistic because there is finally some hope but the facts are the facts.  They don't have enough impact talent and the talent they have won't be affordable in a couple of years.  So enjoy it while you can.  It may be another 21 years before they do it again.

Steve Phillips was general manager of the New York Mets from 1997 through 2003, helping lead the club to a National League championship in 2000 and its first World Series appearance in 14 years.

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