Phillips: September a tough time to evaluate future talent

Steve Phillips
9/13/2013 2:33:33 PM
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1. What can the Blue Jays learn about their roster in September? Is it really an accurate gauge to determine, for example, if a player like Gose will ever be a good major league hitter?

Baseball scouts and executives are always evaluating players. They look for growth and progress of young players and early signs of deterioration of veteran players. They study hitters and pitchers to see where their weaknesses might be in order to beat them if they are the opposition or to improve them if they are their own.

The two times of year when evaluating talent is most difficult is spring training and September.

Spring Training is difficult because there are so many young players that aren't capable of competing as major leaguers just yet. Plus players are working on things in spring training and aren't necessarily competing to win but rather to improve and adjust. For example, a pitcher may only throw fastballs and change ups for their first couple of outings in Spring Training in order to get a feel for the speed differential and grip. A pitcher may throw a change up when he would otherwise throw his great curveball. If he gives up a home run to a hitter on the change up it doesn't mean the pitcher failed and the hitter succeeded. Sure the hitter hit a home run but it wasn't on a pitch he might have otherwise been thrown during the season. Sure the pitcher gave up a home but not on a pitch he would have thrown in the same count and situation.

September is a difficult time to evaluate as well. It is late in the year and most players are extremely fatigued. They are not at their best physically or mentally. Plus with September call-ups the rosters are diluted with lesser talent as teams give their younger players an opportunity to taste the big leagues. Clubs that are out of the pennant races may not play their more proven major league talent. Some veteran players are less engaged in September if they have guaranteed contracts and their teams are out of the pennant races.

So one doesn't always get a great read on players in the spring and fall.

That being said there are things that Alex Anthopolous and John Gibbons can learn about their team in September. Anthony Gose has tried to re-work his stroke. The mechanics of his swing can be evaluated no matter who is pitching against him. Positive results would be nice in his performance with the new swing but it is not necessary to see whether or not he is better.

Can Ricky Romero throw strikes? The quality of the strikes and his overall effectiveness are not the main issue. When you rebuild a pitcher from scratch you have to walk before you run. If Romero can throw strikes off of a major league mound over the last couple of weeks that could help direct Anthopolous about how viable an option he may be for next year.

Veteran players who play hard and with pride can show themselves to be the cornerstones around which to build. Edwin Encarnacion is not a very vocal guy but I like that he is unwilling to call it quits on the season despite the fact that his wrist is sore. He is a baseball player and he wants to play. I want that guy on my team. Jose Reyes is also continuing to play with passion. He continues to show that he loves the game regardless of the score or the standings and will play with zest and fervor.

Certainly there are more things to be learned about the Jays over the next couple of weeks. They have to be careful though not to over-emphasize the results or they open themselves up to be fooled.

2. Was it appropriate for Jose Fernandez to be told to tone down his act and can doing so have a negative effect on his performance?

Miami Marlin starting pitcher Jose Fernandez is a very talented young 21-year-old. He was an All-Star this year in his rookie season. He was a surprise to even make the majors as he was initially slated to go to Double-A in Spring Training. His talent however justified his call-up to the Marlins.

He is quite a personality. He exchanges chatter with his teammates and the opposition. He brings a lot of emotion to the clubhouse, dugout and field. Much of that energy can be contagious but sometimes he goes over the line.

On Wednesday night, Fernandez shut down baseball's best team - the Atlanta Braves - by throwing seven innings and only allowing one run. Certainly his pitching frustrated Atlanta but not nearly as much as his hitting. Fernandez hit his first major league home run. You should have seen it. If you didn't you can ask Fernandez to describe it for you because he stood at home plate and admired it from start to finish before he started his home run trot. This is a baseball no-no. The Atlanta Braves took offence to Fernandez's actions. Brian McCann and pitcher Mike Minor especially. They had a few words for Fernandez as he crossed home plate which led to a bench-clearing incident.

Marlins manager Mike Redmond gave Fernandez a talking to and tried to get him to understand that even though emotions can be good and personality is appreciated his behavior needs to be more professional.

I think this is a very appropriate conversation. When young players get to the major leagues and their physical ability is more advanced than their emotional and mental aptitude it can lead to issues. Young players have to be taught how to behave appropriately. Teams should not put a bushel over any player's bright light but the player needs to know how to turn his emotions down sometimes.

To Fernandez's credit he is using this as a learning experience. He sought out Brian McCann and Mike Minor of the Braves and apologized for his admiring the home run. He also said he isn't going to change. He showed humility and acknowledged his mistakes. Wouldn't it be great if we could all do that too?

My guess is that sooner or later he will figure it out. He is a great young pitcher who is going to be successful for a long time. He will have many more opportunities to over-celebrate. He may make a mistake or two again but in the long run I'm betting he will figure it out.

3. Who are these A's and how are they doing it this time? Is this more Beane magic?

Have you seen "Moneyball" with Brad Pitt? Pitt plays general manager Billy Beane in the show. It is actually a very good movie. It gives you a pretty good idea how general managers go about their business and make decisions. As I am sure you know it was a book before it was a movie. In general the book is a business book that promotes the importance of finding value in an industry where others may not see it. The book addresses Bean's obsession with on base percentage (OBP). His thought was that other teams put so much emphasis on other aspects of the game yet OBP was a crucial factor in what allowed teams to win. If he rostered a team of guys with good OBP he would win.

What the book and movie didn't point out was that Beane's A's teams did not have a very good OBP. His hitters weren't nearly as patient as many other teams. Where OBP was important was with his pitchers. They didn't give up OBP to the opposition. That is why they were very good in the early 2000's.

This current version of the A's is successful as well. The won their division as a surprise last year when many predicted they would finish in last place. They got very good pitching from a young staff and had a surprising offensive team.

This year the A's are even better. Moneyball is really working this time. It is not only the pitchers who are limiting OBP and shutting down the opposition but the offence is equally as good. This team actually has a better chance to win a World Series than the A's of the early 2000's that had Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder leading the way.

The names of this current A's team are mostly unfamiliar. They are a combination of young players drafted and developed by the A's; young players acquired in trades; players who showed flashes of success in the past but fizzled out (players whose careers have been rejuvenated by Bean's belief in them); and a few veterans. Bartolo Colon may be a recognizable name either because of his suspension for steroids or because he looks like Harpo Marx. Yoenis Cespedes may sound familiar as he won this year's Home Run Derby. Coco Crisp may be a name you remember because it is a cool name.

The A's will win the AL West and will head to the playoffs as an underdog but don't be surprised if they go to the World Series.

Fair or Foul

Another September 11th has gone by when we remember the sacrifices and loss of lives of many of the world's citizens that came at the hands of terrorists. This past week former Rangers, Mets and Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine took some shots at the New York Yankees for their lack of action after 9/11/2001.

I was general manager for the Mets at the time and Valentine was my manager. The team was in Pittsburgh on that fateful morning. I was driving into the stadium when I heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. At the time it was unclear that it anything more than a small commuter plane that at times flew around the city. Then a few minutes later I got a call that another plane had hit and that it was likely a terrorist act.

The team stayed in Pittsburgh for a few days while we figured out what was happening. Once it became clear that the season was going to be suspended for some time we bussed our players home. We let our players connect with their families and regain a sense of safety while we all sorted through the emotions of what happened.

Shea Stadium became a staging ground for supplies and personnel to be delivered to Ground Zero. There were huge trucks moving in and out of the parking lot around the stadium. Firefighters from around the world came to the stadium to be shuttled to the city. When they returned after their shifts they slept on cots in the bowels of the stadium. Many of the firemen would come on the field when we held team workouts to mingle with the players. Our organization had direct access to Ground Zero in a way very few others did.

I was very proud of our players and staff. Led by Valentine our guys worked to load trucks and greet the workers as they went to and from the city. Our guys went to firehouses and hospitals. They went to Ground Zero numerous times to show support and appreciation for the efforts of those that worked so hard. We did a lot.

The Yankees as I recall also participated in the healing process. Joe Torre and his staff and his players went to Ground Zero and numerous other places around the city.

Because Shea Stadium had a huge parking lot it was conducive to being used as a staging ground. That gave the Mets access and opportunity to make a difference 24 hours a day that the Yankees didn't have. Our stadium and our personnel were seen constantly on media reports documenting the recovery efforts. This is access that the Yankees didn't have because Yankee Stadium didn't satisfy the needs the way Shea did.

I personally have no doubt that if Yankee Stadium had a huge parking lot and Shea Stadium did not that the Yankees would have appeared to have been more engaged than the Mets organization. If that were the case it would not have meant that we would have cared any less than the Yankees about New York City.

I know we keep score in baseball. There are some who even keep score of the back pages in the New York papers. September 11th was an extraordinary tragedy. We lost on that day and the score was 2,977 to 0. That is the number of victims who died in the attacks.

Anything that lessens our remembrance of the victims from that fateful day takes away from the significance of the loss. Who cares who did more? That is a game that I chose not to play. I don't believe a single Mets or Yankees player gave of their time and energy in order to be recognized for it. I don't believe that Bobby Valentine did either despite his comments.

Can we all please just get along? I hope we have learned something from the past.

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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