August 2005

Bondo is back and shooting for 200…

Bond_2 Tonight in Cleveland Jeremy Bonderman will make his next scheduled start without missing his turn, a thought that seemed highly unlikely last week.  When Marco Scutaro’s line shot hit Jeremy in the wrist last week at Comerica Park, Jeremy not only thought his season was over, but perhaps his career.  The great news is that his wrist is not broken, in fact aside from a little tenderness and some minor aches, it’s ready to go.  Jeremy threw on the side in Boston, first on flat ground and then from the mound.  Reporting no ill effects from the injury, and having thrown all of his pitches in the bullpen session, he will take the mound tonight without missing a start.  It will also keep Bonderman on track to throw 200 innings this year.

If there is one thing you can say about the Tigers rotation this year, it is that they have been very durable and ready to take the ball every fifth day.  In fact, the Tiges could conceivably have three hurlers with 200 innings by the end of the season, which is highly unusual for even the most talented staffs.  If the Tigers make no major changes to the rotation and Bonderman, Jason Johnson and Mike Maroth each get six or seven more starts, the club could have three with 200 innings.  I asked Bob Cluck if he had ever been around a staff with three of four guys that each threw 200 or more innings.  "You’d have to look it up, but the ’93 Astros team is a club that I was proud of.  That staff went the whole season without putting a guy on the DL," he said.  The ’93 Astros did indeed have three guys that threw over 200 innings each.  Doug Drabek, Pete Harnisch and Mark Portugal each did it and Greg Swindell narrowly missed with 190 innings.

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The first team that comes to mind when looking up clubs with strong pitching is Oakland and sure enough they had three starters with 200 or more innings.  Barry Zito, Mark Mulder and Tim Hudson each threw 200 innings in 2001 and 2002.

However, the Yankees had four starters turn the trick in 2003.  Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Mike Mussina and David Wells all reached the 200 innings plateau.

It takes a good dose of luck to keep a staff healthy.  Cluck admits that one of the keys to keeping guys healthy is closely monitoring pitch counts. The strength and training staffs also play an important role.  "Our training staff has been great about keeping on our guys with their shoulder exercises," said Cluck.

                                                                                                                

The next time you wonder why a starter was taken out of a game after eight innings and 110 pitches, it’s all part of the plan to keep them off the DL.  Markfidrych_2Gone are the days of Mark Fidrych throwing 24 complete games in a season.  It’s a different time and era.   

Even in a rain delay,

It’s still a beautful ballpark.

C-MO’s style

20050606vsdodgers_monroe_double I chatted with Craig Monroe in the Tigers clubhouse the other day and asked him about his hitting style.  It is quite different than the approach his teammates take at the plate.  If you watch Monroe hit, it looks almost like he swings one-handed.  His top hand flies off the bat during his follow through.  In reality he loses the top hand only after he make contact and brings the bat through the zone.  It’s a style used by two of the top sluggers in the American League, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriquez.  In fact, that’s by design.  "I’ve worked out with A-Rod, using his hitting drills," Craig said.  The idea, evidently, is to help him stay through the strike zone longer and to keep his top hand from being dominant.  "When the top hand is too dominant in a swing, you tend to roll over and hit easy ground ball outs," he said.

I asked Craig when he first started using that hitting style, and he thinks it was in his minor league days in the Texas Rangers organization.  Jesse Barfield was his hitting instructor and one day he brought in Charley Lau Jr. to help Craig tweak his swing.  Charley Lau Jr. was a minor league hitting coach and the son of Charleylausr01 Charley Lau Sr., the celebrated hitting guru who’s prize student was George Brett .

The style has produced a strong season for Monroe.  His 78 RBI leads the Tigers, and he has posted good numbers despite hitting in the bottom third of the lineup on a nightly basis.  He is on pace for 102 RBI this season which would mark the first time in his career that he would reach that total.  Defensively, he has played all three outfield positions with skill.  Only three American League outfielders have knocked in more runs than Monroe:  Vlad Guerrero, Gary Sheffield and yes, Manny Ramirez.

By the way, I’ve added some photos from the last Kansas City trip.

Sunday whine

Ehobbiescom_1856_109770669 Since the Tigers lost on a walk-off homer last night, I’m not in the greatest mood this morning.  Perfect time to whine about life on the road.  People often ask what the best and worst parts of my job are.  I always answer with two words:  the travel.  It is indeed the best and worst part of the job all rolled in one.  Being able to see other parts of the country that I might not otherwise have the opportunity to see is awesome.  However, it’s not always glamorous.  Here are some questions I have as my travels take me through the league.

Final_home

Why is it that every cab I get into in Chicago in July and August has a broken air conditioner?  Always pleasant to take the ride to U.S. Cellular Field in a coat and tie with no air.  Also, feel free to put the radio on anything but NPR.  NPR is very educational, but I really don’t want to get any smarter as I watch my tie turn different shades of blue from the sweat rolling off my head.  On the topic of cabs, why is it that every cabbie in Boston cusses at me because the ride to Fenway is only a $6.00 fare.  "I thought you were going to the airport, I can’t make any money taking you to Fenway," they all say.  Here’s a hint slick, don’t park your cab in front of the team hotel.  Ninety percent of us want to go to the ballpark.

212pxhamburger Why is it that every room service bill includes the food charge, tax, automatic 18% gratuity and an additional line to include a tip?  Isn’t that what the automatic gratuity is for?  Why am I tipping twice?  Just wondering.  Mmmm, that $30.00 burger and tap water was delicious.

Why is it that on mornings that I decide to skip my workout and sleep in, the hotel maid "accidentally" bangs her vacuum cleaner into my door five or six times.  I get it, you want me out of the room so you can clean it and go home.  Please go away.

Why is it that everyone pronounces my name "Mary-oh" in Canada?

Gotta go.  Placido is stepping in the box to lead off the game.  It’s a sunny day in Toronto and the roof is open.  The game always brings you back to reality.  This is the best job in the world, no matter how they pronounce your name.

Walk this way

One of the things that seems to be constant every year is the walk totals of the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics.  Those totals, for the most part, have been some of the highest in the American League for the past few years.  Not coincidentally, the Sox, Yanks and A’s seem to be in the playoffs every season or at least in position to claim a spot.  The ability to draw a walk however seems to be a lost art for the Tigers.  At this point, the Tigers have drawn 287 walks on the season, putting them on pace to draw 415 at season’s end.   To give you an idea of how low that total is, consider that in the last ten years, only two teams have drawn fewer than 415 walks in a season:  the 2002 Tigers (363) and the 2001 Kansas City Royals (406). 

Remember the old saying we used to use in Little League as kids, "A walk is as good as a hit?"  Well, the Tigers are passing up a lot of "hits" this season.  If you take the combined records of the top three teams in walks, you get an impressive 190-147 record.  The combined records of the bottom three teams in walks meanwhile have a combined mark of 134-205.  Are there exceptions to the rule?  Of course.  The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Chicago Sox of White don’t walk much as a team and they are both in first place.  However, they don’t strike out much either.  Walks do much more than give a team a baserunner.  Hitters that are willing to take walks often see better pitches.  More walks also means a higher pitch count for the opposing starter, which means geting into the other team’s bullpen quicker.  That may be the biggest benefit to walking.  Afterall, the reliever is probably not as good as the starter, otherwise he’d be starting.

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As the road trip continues, here’s a shot of the Rogers Center.  It will always be Skydome to me.

Farnsworth fallout

Ph_430638One day after the Kyle Farnsworth trade, sports talk radio in Detroit is on fire.  Many local hosts and fans have been critical of the latest Tigers trade, which has sent Farnsworth to the Atlanta Braves for a pair of pitchers.  Yet, I am willing to bet that 99.9% of those who are up in arms have never seen Roman Colon (it’s Roman, not Ramon) or Zach Miner pitch. 

This is one of those trades that can’t be evaluated immediately.  To think so otherwise is shortsighted.  Think back to July of 2002 when Jeff Weaver was dealt at the deadline.  There was overwhelming sentiment that the Tigers had made a mistake.  Many screamed in disgust and wondered how the club could deal away it’s best pitcher for a pair of minor leaguers and Carlos Pena.  That was then, and this is now.  That trade only netted the Tigers the cornerstone of the rotation for the next ten years potentially.  Nobody is complaining now.

T1_0717_royalstigers_ap Fact is, the Tigers front office and scouting staff is responsible for bringing in some pretty good talent the past couple of years.  Bonderman, Shelton and Robertson are just a few.  While Miner is admittedly considered a fringe prospect, Colon is not.  I’m willing to trust those who make a living scouting talent and then make trades based on those opinions.  Am I happy to see Farnsworth go?  Not a chance.  It was fun to watch him hit 100 on the gun and pile drive Jeremy Affeldt into the ground like a crash test dummy (Hey, nobody got hurt and admit it, you thought it was fun too).  The fact remains however, that the Tigers made an offer and it was not accepted.  Kyle is a free agent at the end of the year and it’s understandable that he wants to see what he is worth on the open market.  There is risk in that however.

Good Luck Kyle, it was fun watching you pitch.  Feel free to rejoin the club as a free agent this offseason.  After all, you did say you liked it here.