Tag: Clayton Kershaw

The Designated Hitter Non-Debate

If you’re looking for objective, unbiased analysis of whether the designated hitter belongs in the National League, look elsewhere. No, seriously. I can picture myself as unborn twinkle in my dad’s eye in the early seventies, hollering at the American League, “Don’t do it!!!”

I may be in the majority, I may be in the minority, who the hell knows? But the notion that the best way of dealing with a professional athlete not being very good at a particular part of his sport is bringing in a ringer to take care of it for him is absurd. Let’s put this in context: The Los Angeles Clippers are having a wonderful playoff run. A bit part of it has been the play of DeAndre Jordan, but there has been some concern. Jordan is a career 42% foul shooter…and I’m rounding up. Are teams going to use the hack-a-Shaq strategy teams used to employ on Shaquille O’Neal when he couldn’t throw a pea in the ocean from the free throw line? Jordan is hardly alone. Dwight Howard makes slightly more than half of his attempts. Rajon Rondo is about 60% for his career, but shot an atrocious 40% in 2014-15. The Rockets have a rookie named Clint Capela who went 4-23 from the charity stripe this season. 4-23. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s 17%. Now, Capela may not be a guy who will ever be considered an offensive force, but the other guys are to varying degrees. They just have that one scoop of poop in their ice cream sundae. They can’t make their foul shots. Essentially, American League baseball absolves these fellas from having to attempt their foul shots. They can have JJ Reddick or James Harden come in and shoot the free throws for them. Ridiculous, right?

Ok, ok, let’s be at least a little bit fair. Advocates for the designated hitter cite several other reasons why pitchers should never hit.

They suck at it: Well, it’s not a lie. Pretty much the entirety of the pitching population hits far below league average. Ok, let’s take a look at this argument. Empirically, you can’t argue with the statistics. But it’s also not as if pitchers are alone in their hitting futility. The funny thing about the word “average” is that it implies roughly half of the sample group is above it, while the remaining half brings up the rear. It’s absolutely true the pitchers represent the extreme back end of the lower population in this argument, but at any given point in time, pretty much every major league line up has a hitter in it who is in the middle of a slump that makes him just as unlikely, if not more than whoever the pitcher is, to have a productive at bat. Take the Dodgers’ Jimmy Rollins. After a half-way decent start to the season, Jimmy hit about a buck over his last 100 at bats. That makes him only slightly more likely than my mother to get a hit. If history is any indicator, Rollins will eventually snap out of his funk to a certain degree, but odds are that if and when he does, another Dodger regular will be descending into one. You can pull up nearly any team’s starting line up from a game this week and find someone in it who is struggling horribly. The Astros’ Chris Carter and the Rockies’ Drew Stubbs are nearly automatic strikeouts at this point. Before his big three-run homer last weekend, the Red Sox Mike Napoli was completely lost at the plate. The Phillies’ Chase Utley is just barely hitting half the Mendoza line. I’m cherry picking names you’ll know or recognize to illustrate my point, but if I wanted to further strengthen my cause, the Mets started Kirk Nieuwenhuis, he of the .111 batting average and .172 OBP against the Phillies this past Sunday. That’s only marginally better than Bartolo Colon.

It’s a sub-par product with pitchers hitting: Max Scherzer said, paraphrased, who do you think fans would rather see hit, Big Papi or some pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? I don’t know, Max, but personally, I get real tired of watching Ortiz step out of the batter’s box for nine minutes between pitches and nobody doing anything about the pace of play rules. Additionally, the notion that a baseball game is only optimal if you have supreme hitters facing supreme pitchers all the time is preposterous. The people who would make that argument are the same ones who would say that a boxing match is only entertaining if both guys end up beaten to a pulp by the end of it. That’s fine if you’re looking to feed your primordial bloodlust, but means essentially nothing if you’re a fan of the “sweet science.” These are probably also the people who will tell you that soccer is boring because there aren’t enough goals scored. While it’s true that a soccer game that ends 4-3 can be quite spectator-friendly, true fans of the game will enjoy watching the world’s finest players compete even in a 0-0 tie. If anything, you can argue that having the pitcher bat actually adds intrigue to the game as managers will have to make more decisions – do I pinch hit, do I walk the 8th place guy to force the other manager’s hand, double switches, etc.

It’s a huge injury risk: Oh, for f***’s sake… Adam Wainwright ruptured his Achilles tendon leaving the batter’s box this season. A few year’s back, Chien Mien Wang suffered a significant foot injury running the bases. Brett Anderson last season broke a finger on a particularly inept bunt attempt. But apart from those guys, you have Scherzer with his thumb owie, and not a whole lot else in terms of pitchers suffering notable injuries while hitting. If you’re looking at risk of injury, how about a line drive to the dome? Clayton Kershaw, Carlos Carrasco, and Archie Bradley this season alone could tell you a little bit about those. In seasons past, Alex Cobb, Hiroki Kuroda, Bryce Florie, Juan Nicasio, and a host of others have been brained. Of the less bloody variety, it seems every other day we hear about another pitcher needing the Tommy John ligament replacement surgery. And this is purely conjecture, but having to spring off of a downward slope to field your position after throwing a ball as hard as you can sounds like there’s more injury risk involved than swinging a 32oz piece of wood at a ball.

You’re just holding on to tradition!: No. I’m not. Change for the sake of change is stupid. We have 40 something years of evidence that the designated hitter adds nothing to the game from a fan friendliness or competitive perspective. When MLB introduced interleague play a couple of decades ago, the reasoning was obvious. Generations of fans had never gotten to see games like the Cubs against the White Sox in any game that mattered. Dodgers and Angels. Yankees and Mets. The opportunity to attract new fans as well as win back old ones was ripe. There was ABSOLUTELY a reason to give that a shot. The DH, not so much.

The players want it: Maybe a couple of them do. But the prevailing majority don’t. Even Scherzer, who sort of kind of spoke up for having a DH in the National League quickly said his comments were taken out of context once Madison Bumgarner basically said he was a nincompoop. And when Madison Bumgarner, who is enormous and can pull tractors with his teeth, says you’re a schmuck, well, who am I to argue.

 Sorry, folks. “Why not?” is simply not a good enough reason.


Are the Dodgers Being Transparent About Clayton Kershaw’s Injury?

Well, if you’re a Dodgers fan, you hope so. But I have my doubts.

Kershaw has been on the disabled list since the end of March, retroactive to the day after his start in Australia, with an injury to the teres major muscle in his upper back. The high end of the projected 2-3 weeks he was supposed to spend on the DL would have him ready to return the week of April 20th. Sorry, folks, I just don’t think that is going to happen. Here’s a few reasons why:

  • Jurickson Profar, the outstanding middle infield prospect for the Texas Rangers, is out an estimated 10-12 weeks with an injury to his teres major muscle. His injury is diagnosed as a tear, and therefore more serious than Kershaw’s, but he’s also not a pitcher who is expected to throw 100+ pitches every fifth day, many of them in the neighborhood of 95 miles per hour.
  • There’s a proximity issue when it comes to the shoulder and the teres. Now, I’m not a doctor (more on that in a moment), but if there’s a chance that there could be a rotator cuff injury if they don’t take proper care of this back thing, you can bet they are erring way on the side of caution. A rotator cuff tear means a year on the sidelines. If they have to wait two months to ensure that not happening, you can bet they’re gonna.
  • Me. That’s right. No, not because I’m telling them anything, but because ten years ago, I had a strain of my teres major on the right side. I tweaked it at the gym, it still hurt a few days later, so I got it checked out. Know what the doctor prescribed? Three weeks of rest. Then ease back into my gym routine. Ease back. Don’t jump back. Ease back. Sure, I am not and never have been an elite athlete, but ten years ago I was in fact 25, in pretty good shape, and a quick healer. 

Now, why am I suspicious you ask? You probably didn’t, but I’m imagining you did so just go with it. Well, dig back in the recesses of your memory and think about how injuries were reported 10-15 years ago. Guys didn’t have plantar fasciitis, or a lisfranc injury. They had a sore or sprained foot. Guys didn’t have teres major muscle strains. They had a sore back. This isn’t in any way to minimize injuries, but why use the technical or medical terminology when 99% of the population doesn’t know what the hell it is anyway?

Well, that’s simple. A decade ago, you didn’t have Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or any other variety of social media outlets that let people instantly share whatever the hell is on their mind. Idiots with blogs like yours truly over here were in small supply. The Internet was alive, well, and thriving, but not to the degree that it is now. People actually have jobs these days where social media is part of the description. Imagine that. 

Why does this matter, you ask? Please, just take a minute and ask. Out loud, please, just so I feel a little less crazy. Thank you. Well, here are a couple of scenarios for you. Humor me.

  • The Dodgers announce Clayton Kershaw has injured a muscle in his back, close to his shoulder, and will be on the shelf for a couple of months. Ned Colletti and Don Mattingly give their obligatory press conferences and say things like, “Clearly, this is a significant loss for us, but we are hopefull Clayton will be 100% as we chase the division title this Summer.” Meanwhile, social media goes crazy. Every news outlet in the LA area, and most on a national level that cover sports, analyze the hell out what it means to the National League West Division chase. Every single question for weeks that Dodger players and coaches get is about Kershaw. It becomes a huge distraction. They struggle with it, and meanwhile, a capable San Francisco Giants team opens up a big lead in the division. Now, there’s a rush to get Kershaw back, and he may not be 100%.
  • The Dodgers announce Clayton Kershaw has a minor injury to a little known muscle in his upper back, but fret not people, he’ll be back in a few weeks. They know this is unlikely, but they have faith that a capable crew of starting pitchers led by Zack Greinke, Hyun Jin Ryu and Danny Haren can hold the fort down in his absence. Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley are nearing readiness, and the offense scores plenty of runs for the Blue Crew to win plenty of games. Three weeks go by, the team is playing well, and the question comes up. Where’s CK on his path back? Well, the answer can now be, “He’s progressing nicely. We feel he’ll be ready soon but now is not the time to rush him. We’re gonna take our time with him, make sure he’s 100%. The team is playing great right now so we’re just going to take it one day at a time.”

And you know what? If the second scenario plays out, it will be accepted. They can even mix in a bogus sinus infection or bruised pinky toe for an extra week. 

Instead, they’ve opted for descriptions like “sub-maximal throwing program” to describe what he’s doing. Why not just say, “He’s going to play catch with the coaches to keep his arm loose.” Today is April, 6th and here’s how I see this going.

  • For the next two weeks or so, he continues his “sub-maximal” program and plays toss.
  • Around April 21st or so, he’s going to have a bullpen session where he throws maybe 20 pitches, all fastballs, under the close eye of coaches and team physicians. For the next two to three days, they’ll monitor how his body responds.
  • He’ll throw another bullpen session four or five days later, maybe even a simulated game, and throw about 40 pitches, working in a few off-speed pitches. 
  • Assuming he comes out of that with no setbacks, he’ll be sent out on a minor league rehab assignment. He won’t have seen any game action for a month now, and whatever arm strength he was able to build during an abbreviated spring training thanks to the Australia trip (nothing negative meant there at all. For real.) has been compromised. 
  • Seeing as he’s essentially starting spring training over, he’ll probably need at least three rehab starts. One where he goes three innings, one where he goes five, and another where they try to get him 100 pitches. 

Assuming I’m close to right, we are now in the middle of May. If any part of the way I see this going is delayed by some soreness, rain, you name it, we could be pushing the end of May. If I am right, we can probably expect to see Clayton Kershaw rejoin the Dodgers’ starting rotation around the beginning of June. 

Could I be wrong? Of course I could, and I sincerely hope that I am. I hope that I hear tomorrow or the next day that he’s feeling 100% and should be ready to come off the DL when the three weeks originally prognosticated are up. But I’m also realistic.

Do I think what I’m essentially accusing the Dodgers of doing is wrong? Not really. I get it. They are doing what I think they feel they need to do in order for the team to traverse the period of time without the planet’s best pitcher as best it can. 

Do you agree with me? Disagree? There’s a button below that enables you to comment. Please do so!


$215 Million: Breaking Down the Clayton Kershaw Deal

The number is staggering. 215 million. That’s how many dollars the Dodgers will be paying Clayton Kershaw, baseball’s best pitcher, for the next 7 years, provided of course that Kershaw does not exercise his out clause after five years. For those of you counting at home, it works out to just under 31 million a year, or roughly 10 million a year more than the Houston Astros’ entire player payroll in 2013.

And you know what, the Dodgers got a bargain. Let’s make some assumptions here, never a great idea, but for the purposes of argument, you have to take some liberties. Assumption one, Kershaw does not suffer an injury that requires Tommy John surgery, or something similar that costs him an entire year. Assumption two, Kershaw does not suffer a sudden and precipitous decline in performance along the lines of, say, Dontrelle Willis. That’s it. Just those two. I’m fine making them because you can bet the Dodgers’ front office made them when they offered the contract.

So, why did the Dodgers essentially get a steal here? Let’s take a look at what baseball’s other top paid pitchers are making. Cliff Lee? 25 million per. CC Sabathia? 23 million. Hell, Tim Freaking Lincecum makes more than 22 million per, and he’s been hardly average (save for his brilliant no hitter) the last two seasons. Other top paid guys include Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and teammate Zack Greinke. Now, you can argue that most of these guys are true number ones, and despite baseball salaries being on the bloated side, are paid proportionately what they should be. There’s also one other important thing they have in common. They’re all at least 29 years old. Lee is 35. Sabathia 33. Seven years from now, in the final year of his contract, Kershaw will be 32. Again, assuming no horrid injuries and that Don Mattingly doesn’t leave him in for 16 innings in a meaningless September game, there’s no reason to think Kershaw won’t be still able to perform at peak level at age 32.

Here is some more food for thought. During the course of Kershaw’s contract, here are some of the other stud pitchers who will become eligible for free agency for the first time: Stephen Strasburg and fellow Nat, Jordan Zimmermann, Madison Bumgarner, Mat Latos, and Marlins phenom Jose Fernandez. What do you think those bad boys are going to command a few years down the line? 35 million per? 40 million? I guess it all depends on their performance. But you can say this, apart from Hernandez, upon whom the jury is still out on just how awesome he can be, none of those guys are on Kershaw’s level. Even the older guys, what do you think Adam Wainwright would command right now if he were a free agent? Well, he’s 32 now, so he should still have juice in the tank. He’s coming off a marvelous season, and let’s be frank, is simply brilliant. Wouldn’t he get more than Cliff Lee’s 25 million annually? What about a similar pitcher who hits the market in, say, 2017 after a brilliant year. 20 wins, and a sub 3.00 ERA. If baseball’s average annual salary continues to increase annually at a consistent rate, that pitcher’s annual salary will blow Kershaw’s out of the water. And in 2017, Kershaw will still only be 28 and presumably an ace.

Oh, one more thing for perspective. The injured Johan Santana was due to make 25 million in 2014, a figure the Mets paid 5.5 million to not have on their books.

Still not convinced? Go to your fridge, pop open a beer, and read this again.