Tag Archives: Misconceptions

NY Baseball Misconceptions- Willie the Winner

Written by Tough Tony

“I don’t worry about Willie as manager. He knows how to win.” Said by a shrinking percentage of Mets fans.

The number of Mets fans who utter that phrase are growing fewer by the day. The average Met fan has no patience for anything less than winning after their historic collapse to end last season. Even Johan Santana got booed pitching in his first game at Shea Stadium this year. But some more level headed Mets fans, and at one time the majority of Mets fans, had a blind faith in Willie Randolph as manager because “He knows how to win.”

The faith that fans have in a baseball manager is perplexing. In Joe Torre’s last few years as a Yankee manager I watched him mismanage the 2004 ALCS against the Red Sox by refusing to play Kenny Lofton and refuse to take chances on the base paths up a few games in the series. Over his last three years I watched him mishandle the bullpen, almost destroying the arms of Tanyon Sturtze and Scott Proctor by over using them, and up until 2006 it would take Chinese water torture to get Torre to play a young guy over a struggling veteran. Yet I still had this strange sense that he was the right man for the job because he was Joe “freaking” Torre.

And there was at one time a similar faith among Mets fans in WIllie Randolph: He has a winning background so he knows how to win, so the Mets would win. Right?

But how does that really make any sense? Sure he managed four championship Yankee teams as a third base coach and he has a heck of pedigree as a former Yankee team captain, five time all star and two time world series champion. He won the silver slugger award in 1980 while leading the league in walks. He was a hell of competitor and defensive second basemen who appeared in the post season in six different years with three different teams. But breaking news: that won’t turn you into Casey Stengel.

It’s only fair to point out Willie didn’t win all the time. He didn’t exactly do much winning in the decade of the 80’s. In his 11 post season series as a player Willie batted .222 and while he “knows how to win” he also has been on some abysmal teams. The 1992 Mets come to mind (though that was the end of his career) and the 1989 Dodgers. So it’s not like when he left Yankee land it was automatic that he brought the winning with him. He manned second base during some of the Yankees leanest years so he certainly knows how to finish in fifth through second place.

Think of some of the super star players who went on to coach in their respected sports. Ted Williams, Larry Bird and Isiah Thomas are the top three legends turned bad coaches or managers. Mickey Mantle coached first base as a day job for the Yankees while he pursued his alcoholism at night. I think all these one time stars understood the game as well as some one like a Tony La Russa or Bobby Cox. I don’t think it was a lack of empathy or lack of fundamentals that was missing in these superstars turned coaches. Their playing credentials just didn’t carry them to wins as managers like some people assumed.

Part of this faith in Willie Randolph the person could be that he has some of that Yankee mystique that the Met fan says he hates but really envies. He won two world series as a second baseman in 1977 and 1978 and appeared in the post season as a Yankee base coach every season from 1995-2004. Winning four championships in the process. He certainly has post season experience. But obviously there is a difference between coaching third base and managing in the playoffs. One might liken it to co-piloting an airplane while its on auto pilot and and then actually being in charge of landing the thing.

More than any other profession football head coaches seem to get their jobs from being part of winning teams. Almost every head coach today seems to have coached under Bill Walsh or Bill Parcells at some point. Almost every coach from the Patriots 3 Super Bowl teams is a head coach some where else now. I understand the thought: Winning breads winning. But even successful horse trainers will tell you just because the mother is a stud doesn’t ensure the next of kin won’t be an injury prone mess that you have put out to pasture eventually.

And on the human side of things: Just because you won in one place doesn’t mean you win another. (Did Lou Piniella dream those years as Devil Rays manager?) And I think most sports fans understand this concept. Willie Randolph was a great player and a fantastic third base coach but I am just trying to show how perception is in the eye of the beholder. Or what ever the phrase is.

Mets fans can certainly be a fickle bunch. After becoming manager Willie brought the team their first above .500 finish in three seasons. He led them to game seven of the NLCS his second full year but then in 2007 the team blew a seven game lead with 17 games to go. Listening to WFAN after a Met loss this year sounds like a suicide prevention line. Even the female Mets fans are depressed. Have you ever heard women who sound like Fran Drescher complaining about a baseball manager? Nails on a chalk board sound better, more coherent and more sober.

But before the collapse, Willie was viewed as a pretty good manager. And while the ready to jump off the Queensboro Bridge fans are all ridiculous to be panicking this early, it’s the few that are not panicking that I am addressing.

Willie is a smart baseball manager. He happens to have a good record managing the Mets in one run games. In 2006 he had you tied going into the ninth inning of game seven of the NLCS. One inning away from bringing you to a World Series and his second best pitcher out of the bullpen served up a home run to a weak hitting catcher. Did Willie throw that pitch?

I just want to assure you that if Willie guides this ship to the promised land it won’t be because he won as a player and bench coach for the Yankees. It will be because your bullpen doesn’t keep blowing games and because Carlos Delgado finds his swing again.

Until those two things happen though I guess it’s time for another call from a frantic Mets fan from Flushing. Go ahead Franny, what’s on your mind?

NY Baseball Misconceptions- Cano’s Power

Written by Tough Tony

“Once Robinson Cano fully develops he will hit over 30 home runs a year.” Said by Joe Bronx

You have heard your annoying Yankee friend say it. Probably multiple times. Maybe even non Yankees fans say it who are tying to fit in. The hype on Cano started when he got called up to replace Tony Womack early in the 2005 season. He got the promotion because the Yanks were sputtering and they needed to shake up and inject youth to the line up. It worked. Yankees fans started to like Cano’s solid hitting and the YESNETWORK started to plan an early Yankeeography for him but somewhere the hype went a tad too far.

And let me be perfectly clear: Cano is a very good player. Though he has the same stigma as Alfonso Soriano when it comes to lackadaisical defense he seems to care more. He turns the double play well, has descent range and is an excellent contact hitter. (He also seems to like getting a late start to hitting each year.) But if anything is going to improve and take him to the next level it is going to be his plate discipline not his home run power.

Now, I’m not a baseball nerd. I can’t break out stats that will dazzle your senses and wow your imagination. I can just tell you what I see from having watched almost every game of his carreer: Cano is a solid hitter who doesn’t have the swing or the power to mash 30 home runs a year. And even though he is young, let’s be honest: Young is a reletive term when it comes to baseball players south of the border (Just ask Miguel Tejada and ESPN) Cano looks pretty grown up and I don’t think he is going to get any bigger. I’m not saying he is a Dominican Gary Coleman, I’m just saying he seems fully developed. (It sounds weird to call a man fully developed but I just did)

His first season in 2005 Joe Torre casually mentioned to some reporters that Cano’s swing reminded him of Rod Carew’s and the Yankee PR machine took off and ran with it. Every game YES would show Rod Carew highlights when Cano was batting. If you were deaf and your closed captioning didn’t work you would think Robinson Cano was Rod Carew’s illegitimate son. And I’m not saying it’s a bad comparison but then people started going wild with Cano’s potential and everyone just started assuming he would double his early home run production and easily hit 30 home runs a year eventually.

But why was his home run potential so assumed?

Rod Carew never was a home run hitter. His career high for a single season is 14 home runs. He did it twice. Did the Yankee PR machine fail to mention that?

I love Robinson Cano. He was named after Jackie Robinson. He’s a free swinging line drive hitter who can spray the ball. From all accounts he seems like a good guy who enjoys the game. In 2006 he hit .342 without playing a full season, finishing third in the AL. There’s no reason not to think that one year he will hit well from April through September and win a batting title.

But where this forgone conclusion about home runs came from I’ll never know. Cano hit 14 his first year, 15 his second and his third year he hit 19. I reasonably expect him to top out at 27. Maybe one year he will hit 30 but to say he will be a perennial 30-40 home run hitter is absurd.

If you go to baseballreference.com and look up similar hitters by age you will see that Cano most favorably matches up with Tony Lazzeri, Jason Kendall and Joe Mauer. I know, I know, the 3 biggest home run hitters not in the 500 home run club. Oh, Cano is also compared to another guy by the name of Shanty Hogan. That’s actually not Hulk Hogan’s poor nephew but a catcher in the 1930’s who’s career high in home runs for a season was 13. None of these players ever have or ever will hit 30 home runs in a season. Of the top ten most comparable hitters by age only Nomar had a significantly higher slugging percentage and he actually did hit 30 home runs his first full year.

If you think of some of the other modern day 30 plus home run guys they all reached the 30 home run plateau within their second year in the majors. Gary Sheffield hit 33 his second full year. Troy Glaus hit 29 his second full year. Andruw Jones hit 31 his second full year. Vlad hit 38 his first full year. A-rod hit 36 his first full year. Soriano hit 39 his second full year. Manny Ramirez hit 31 his second year (after playing 91 games the year before.) The list goes on and on. It took Ken Griffey till his 5th year to hit over 30 but he hit over twenty his second through fourth year in the Majors.

There’s a vicious cycle when it comes to the Yankees and Red Sox young players in this day and age. Most of them are over hyped. (Think of the the Craig Hanson, Ian Kennedy, Jon Lester situation) Some of them are under hyped because we assume they are over hyped by each team’s propaganda machines. This usually makes people not want to admit what they are seeing to be true. We heard so much about Kevin Youkilis’ pate discipline before he came up to the majors that when we finally saw it for ourselves it became old news. The guy is the definition of OBP. I’m pretty sure Bill James has a poster of him in his bathroom.

And in Robinson Cano’s case I think he gets under valued because he is a Yankee. People assume his production is because of the line up or it’s just the Yankee hype machine. But Cano has a chance to be truly great. Probably a lifetime .310 hitter with solid but not spectacular defense who has the chance to threaten Tony Lazzeri, Joe Gordon and Willie Randolph as the best Yankee second basemen ever.

But what I just don’t see is the 30 home runs a year potential. And who says he needs to? Look at some of the legends Cano’s stats favorably compare to: Lazzeri, Bill Dickey and Yogi Berra. All are Yankees and all are in the Hall of Fame. No reason Cano can’t get to Cooperstown on 20 home runs a year. (Don’t repeat that to Steve Garvey though.)

The next time the annoying guy in the bar tries to propagate this myth that Robinson Cano’s home run potential is coming: call him on it. You’ll feel like Will Hunting when he puts a verbal beat down on the annoying Harvard guy in Good Will Hunting.

“Yea well Robinson Cano is gonna hit 30 home runs one year and you’ll still be serving my kids fries on our way home from a ski trip.”

“Yea? Maybe your right on the fries thing but who says Cano needs to add power to his game. No one said he needs to be Jeff Kent. At least Cano can say he’s original.”

Or something like that.