MLB

Phillips: On Rasmus-Lewis bunt controversy, Darvish and more

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Steve Phillips
7/25/2014 1:36:47 PM
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TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week's topics include the Colby Rasmus-Colby Lewis bunting controversy, Yu Darvish suggesting a six-man rotation and the difficulties faced by the Colorado Rockies.

1. On Saturday's game against the Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays outfielder Colby Rasmus laid down a bunt in the fifth inning with nobody on base with two outs and the Jays up 2-0.  The shift was on and Rasmus got a base hit.  The Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis took offence with the play after the game.  Did Rasmus break an unwritten rule, or was Lewis simply complaining after a loss?

Bunting for a base hit with two outs in an inning and no one on base is not good baseball.  In that situation, the batter should go to the plate with the intention of getting a pitch he can drive to the gap for extra bases.  That means that it would only take a single to score him.  When a hitter bunts for a single, it means that it will take two singles to score him from first base.  The only time that it is acceptable to bunt for a hit with two outs and no one on is if the man bunting has the kind of speed and ability to steal second base even when everyone knows he is going to try. 

Rasmus's bunt for a hit was bad baseball.  Even with a shift on and the fact that they just about gave him first base on a bunt, it isn't a good play.  He certainly doesn't have the kind of base-stealing ability to justify it.  So Colby Lewis was right about his evaluation of the play.  It was either very selfish of Rasmus or it showed a lack of baseball knowledge.  Take your pick.  Neither is flattering. 

What I don't understand is why Lewis voiced disgust over the play.  Since it was bad baseball by Rasmus, he was doing Lewis a favor.  Lewis should thank Rasmus rather than criticize him.  Lewis just sounds like a pitcher who has a 6.23 ERA and has given up 139 hits in 95 innings leading to a .345 opponents' average. 

Quite honestly, what Lewis did is worse that than what Rasmus did and what Rasmus did is bad.  I guess I would rather be ignorant than whiny.

2. Texas Rangers ace pitcher Yu Darvish told the Japanese media that he believed that if MLB teams switched to a six-man rotation that teams could reduce injuries to pitchers.  What do you think the ideal numbers in a starting rotation are?

How ironic is it that a Texas Rangers pitcher made the suggestion of going to a six-man rotation?  Former team president and Hall of Fame pitcher, Nolan Ryan, is just a year removed from the franchise.  It was Ryan who had suggested that the Rangers' pitchers needed to work harder.  He thought that the organization needed to demand more from its pitchers.  He wanted guys to be like him when he played.  What Ryan didn't recognize is that he was a freak of nature.  Others can't do what he did.
Ryan wanted to do away with pitch counts.  He thinks that today's pitchers are pampered and overprotected. 

Pitchers' arms break down from fatigue and/or poor mechanics. At one point this year, the Rangers have had eight pitchers on the disabled list and five of them have had elbow injuries, four of whom had Tommy John surgery.  Nolan Ryan is no longer with the Rangers' organization, but he has left a mark for sure. 

Darvish's recommendation of moving to a six-man rotation to protect the health of the pitchers is an understandable suggestion.  In Japan, teams typically play six games per week and starters make one start per week.  It certainly has worked for him.  One of the major adjustments for Japanese pitchers coming to the States is their ability to handle the workload.  Masahiro Tanaka got off to a great start with the Yankees, but unfortunately he couldn't handle the rigors of a five-man rotation and tore his ulna collateral ligament in his elbow. 

I think a five-man rotation is sufficient.  A six-man rotation would mean that there would be one fewer position player or reliever on the roster.  This would tie the hands of the manager far too much to be functional.  Adding a sixth starter would also drive payrolls higher, as starters make more money than relievers and utility bench players.  The next suggestion will be to expand the rosters, adding three players.  The MLBPA would support the addition of major league jobs, but owners would reject it as it would drive payroll budgets even higher. 

The answer isn't to add another starter - it is to better manage the innings of the five in the rotation.  Managers need to trust their middle relievers to soak up innings.  They need to make fewer pitching changes and trust that a pitcher who has one solid inning of work can keep pitching for a second inning. 

3. The Colorado Rockies are poised to miss the playoffs yet again and now there are rumblings that their two star players – who are both under long-term deals – Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez are open to being moved.  If you ran the Rockies, how would you try to the turn this franchise around?

The Rockies have the toughest path to long-term winning because of playing in the high altitude of the Rocky Mountains.  Coors Field is a hitter's dream come true and a pitcher's nightmare.  It is also so dramatically different than playing on the road that it almost feels like a different sport.  Hitters' stats drop significantly almost across the board away from Coors Filed.  At home, pitchers have to cope with the reality that they are going to give up more hits and home runs and it is okay.  Baseball is a mental game.  The mind can play tricks on players.  The roller coaster of emotions takes a toll to the point that players don't know which direction they are going.  It takes a special breed to play in Colorado.

The Rockies have been able to configure winning teams here and there, but the inability to sustain success will forever be a trademark of this franchise.  There swing of the emotional pendulum at home and on the road is so tiring that it will be nearly impossible to consistently win.  

The key to winning in Colorado is to have strike-throwing, ground-ball pitchers.  It is also critical to have a solid defence.  The idea is to not give the opposition free passes on the bases or extra outs in a game.  Because every at-bat can be an extra-base hit at Coors Field, runners are in scoring position when they are on first base.  It is critical to make the opposition earn every base runner and run that they get.  Offensively, contact hitters are critical because, every time a hitter makes contact, they have a chance to do something impactful.

I would not trade Tulowitzki or Gonzalez. As soon as the Rockies get more competitive, they are going to wish they had them.  They are both extraordinary defensive players and impactful offensive studs.  A trade is not the answer. 

Their best chance to win in Colorado is to stockpile pitchers and hope to catch lightning in a bottle with a couple of them.  They need to have at least 20 major league-ready pitchers every year because of the mental toll of pitching at Coors Field. 

They need a full-time sports psychologist to aid in keeping the pitchers sane.  Ballplayers like stats.  Pitchers hate to give up runs.  They try to miss bats when they give up hits and runs.  Rockies pitchers need to understand that giving up five runs over six innings may be a successful result, despite what the stats may say.   The key for the Rockies will be to keep their successful pitchers.  If a guy shows he can handle the stress of performing at Coors Field, they need to secure him for the long term. 

The Rockies are fighting an uphill battle because of the nature of their stadium. That isn't going to change.  So they need to change the thinking of their players as to what is success. They will win again at some point, but I think it will be very difficult to win year after year.

-- This weekend is the induction ceremony for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. It is a big year for the Hall.  Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and Joe Torre, three of the games best managers ever, are being enshrined.  So too are Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux and Frank Thomas.  It will certainly be a weekend to remember. 

Bryant Gumbel from HBO's Real Sports made a really good point this week about the contradiction that exists in Cooperstown, particulary around Tony LaRussa's induction.

Gumbel said, “La Russa is being honored for guiding teams he managed to 2,728 wins — a total that ranks third in baseball history. But here's the rub — about 43 percent of all of those wins were recorded when La Russa was managing Mark McGwire and winning because of his prodigious power. That's the same Mark McGwire who has been denied inclusion in the Hall because voters believe that prodigious power owed a great deal to steroids. By what logic can the guardians of the Hall vilify McGwire for his pharmaceutically assisted feats — yet glorify La Russa, who benefitted most from those same feats — and who, by the way, conveniently played dumb while his slugger morphed into the Incredible Hulk?"

Now the same could be said about Joe Torre, too.  He had multiple players tied to PEDs over the years.   I would add that Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux and Bobby Cox won a ton of games over the years with some PED-users on their teams, too.   Isn't there some amount of shame for all of this year's inductees? 

Now, you can make the argument that all of this year's inductees had to overcome cheaters to earn their success, as well.  The reality is that all of them, in some way, were impacted by steroid-users, one way or another. 

So why discriminate?  The Hall of Fame is a museum that documents the history of the game.  In every era of baseball, performance was enhanced in one way or another. 

Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, two iconic Yankees never faced the best African American players of their time.  Didn't that enhance their performance?  Isn't there some shame in the segregation and discrimination that existed in that era?

The mound was lowered in the early '70s to increase offence. Didn't that enhance performance?

In the '70s, baseball introduced the designated hitter. Doesn't that mean that, every season prior to that, a pitcher's performance was enhanced as they didn't have to face line-ups of the same strength? 

I could go on and on with examples which changes the balance of power in the game. 

The Hall of Fame needs to induct all worthy players based upon their production.  They need to document the era by inclusion and then explanation, not by exclusion. 

This weekend has a chance to be one of the best ever in Cooperstown, but it could be so much better. 

Colby Lewis (Photo: Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)
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