Blogs

Phillips: On Lawrie, Tanaka, pitching injuries and more

Steve Phillips
5/16/2014 12:06:59 PM
Decrease Text SizeIncrease Text Size
Text Size

TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week, topics cover Brett Lawrie's move to second base, Masahiro Tanaka's scorching start, the next MLB commissioner and the epidemic of pitching injuries.

1. While moving Brett Lawrie to 2B gives the Blue Jays a better offensive lineup the player is clearly unhappy making the move going as far as saying he's not a fan of it to the media.  How much consideration should a player's happiness or wishes play into the GM or coach making that kind of move or decision?

The mental part of baseball is often more important than the physical part of the game.  The way a player feels often impacts how he performs, however, it is difficult to predict how any single player will react to a certain emotion.  Sometimes the same emotion can be motivating for one player and paralyzing for another. 

I can understand how a player can be bothered by a position change.  Ball players are creatures of habit.   They don't like change because it makes them uncomfortable.  Brett Lawrie said, “I am a third baseman.”  It is his identity.  Players are their position.  Lawrie needs to change his view of his identity.  He is a Blue Jay not a third baseman.

I remember when I was GM for the Mets and we were considering moving Mike Piazza from behind home plate to first base.  Ownership said,  “Just move him.  We are paying him $13M per year and he should do what he is told.”  I explained that we could do that, but we needed to treat a star like Piazza with the appropriate respect.  If we wanted him to perform, we needed him to buy into the change, plus, we didn't want a controversy with our star because other players watch how you treat your current players.  I told ownership that we needed to treat our stars properly in order to lure other stars.

Brett Lawrie isn't a star.  He is “just a guy.”  He is a borderline starter in the majors.  He is overrated.  Lawrie was hyped when he got to the majors and had a very good quarter season in 2011, but he hasn't lived up to the hype and has been a disappointment.

Seriously, he is complaining?

He should be grateful for the opportunities he continues to get from the Jays.  He has no room to complain.  When I was with the Mets we moved Edgardo Alfonzo from second base to third base when we acquired Robbie Alomar from the Indians in 2002.  Alfonzo had been established as an All-Star second baseman.  He was a bit reluctant, but ultimately realized it was good for the team and moved. He had a heckuva lot more right to be upset than Lawrie.  Lawrie is closer to being out of the Majors than he is to being an All Star. 

If it were me, I would tell Lawrie that we are moving you to second base and, if he has any gripes, I would option him to the minors and see how he likes it.  If he gets mad, but keeps his mouth shut, maybe it will help him.  As I said earlier, emotions aren't all bad.  He hasn't yet earned the right to be comfortable.  The major leagues are about performance.

Be grateful you are a big leaguer Brett.

2. Will Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka's hot start be able to withstand a second trip through the league when teams start making adjustments and to the increased work load as he works his way into the season?

Masahiro Tanaka went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA in 2013 for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of the Japanese Professional League.  He led them to a Japanese Professional Title, winning six more playoff games and finishing the year 30-0.  So far this season, he is 6-0 with a 2.17 ERA.  He has a remarkable strikeout-to-walk ratio of 66:7 in 58 innings pitched. 

He is a remarkable 36-0 over the past two years combined.  That is unheard of.  No one is that good.  There is no way that he can maintain this level of success.  No one can.  Can he?

Tanaka has extraordinary command and control of his pitches.  He shows great poise on the mound.   He doesn't have an overpowering fastball, but he has an overpowering ability to throw his pitches where he wants. He is Greg Maddux-like in that way.  His out-pitch is different than Maddux, as he uses a devastating split-finger fastball to put away hitters. 

Tanaka has the ability to get hitters out with pitches in the strike zone.  Many pitchers use a sequence of pitches with which they try and expand the strike zone, ultimately throwing a pitch off of the plate to get hitters to chase.  Tanaka can do that, but he has the confidence and quality of stuff to also throw his well-located pitches in the strike zone to retire hitters. 

Tanaka has movement, change of speeds, deception and the ability to throw any pitch at any time in the count.  This is a tremendous formula for success. 

The league will make some adjustments to him.  He will ultimately lose a game or two, bbut the only real threat to him will be fatigue.  In Japan, starters typically make only one start per week.  He is now taking the mound every fifth day. At some point, this may present a challenge. 

The Yankees have so much unpredictability this year but that certainly doesn't include their #1 starter, Masahiro Tanaka.

3. What will the newly formed search committee be looking for in the next MLB commissioner?

The search committee will be gathering ideas from all 30 teams while overseeing the process of selecting a new commissioner. The seven-person committee of owners/CEOs/chairman is as follows: Bill DeWitt (Cardinals), Dick Monfort (Rockies), David Montgomery (Phillies), Arte Moreno (Angels), Bob Nuttig (Pirates), Jim Pohlad (Twins) and Jerry Reinsdorf (White Sox).

The Cardinals' DeWitt, is serving as the chairman of the committee.

"Our committee will conduct a thorough, discreet process and ultimately will provide guidance to the Executive Council on identifying a successor," DeWitt said in a statement. "All of the parties involved share the goal of acting in our game's best interests…”

As the committee searches for candidates they are going to have to consider the business of baseball more than ever. The game is losing its luster and is trending old.  As baby boomers get older so do baseball fans and as the world has evolved in the way that it consumes sports and information in a quick-hitting, fast-paced way, baseball has gained a perception of being slow and boring.

The next commissioner needs to find a way to engage the younger sports fan.  He also needs to better market the game's stars.  Baseball players are rarely found on the most popular athletes lists.  Football and basketball do a much better job in connecting the fans with their players. 

Baseball needs a salary cap.  The union is staunchly against it, but the long-term health of the game needs it.  The playing field needs to be leveled to maintain the financial viability of its franchises. 

Baseball needs a change in perception.  Baseball has the toughest drug testing program and penalties in all of sports, yet it is still perceived to be soft on PEDs.  Because Bud Selig is perceived to be the "Commissioner of the Steroid Era of Baseball," any new face in the office should change that perception.

So who are the candidates? -

George W. Bush, the former Texas Rangers owner and former President of the United States.  President Bush understands the game and the owners.  He also understands unions and the economy.

Rob Manfred, Executive Vice President MLB.  Manfred is Selig's right hand man.  He is a Harvard Law School graduate and a brilliant man.  He has been part of the last two collective bargaining negotiations with the union and oversees Labor Relations and Human Recourse for MLB.

Andy McPhail, former executive for Twins, Cubs and Orioles.  His teams won two World Series while he was with the Twins.  His father and grandfather are both Hall of Famers.  He is a very well-respected baseball lifer who is known for both his business and baseball acumen. 

David Dombrowski, current president and general manager of the Detroit Tigers.  Dombrowski worked his way up the baseball ranks starting as an administrative assistant for the White Sox in 1978.  He worked his way to the top through the Expos, Marlin and Tigers.  He is the most highly thought of executive in the game.  He is bright, mature, thoughtful and talented.  He has great communication skills and treats people the right way with a strong presence.  He has a thorough understanding of both the baseball and business sides of operations. 

Bob Bowman, oversees the billion dollar business of MLB Advanced Media which includes MLB.com and MLB.tv.  He is an aggressive, combative business man who has a vision and the ability to execute it.  He gets business, he gets baseball fans and he gets technology.  If owners truly want to grow the industry and connect with fans, Bowman may be their guy.  His style may rub some of the old guard the wrong way, but maybe that is a good thing. 

Finally, Steve Phillips, former NY Mets general manager.  He may be overqualified for the position but still worth consideration. He lives in the proximity of New York City, understands the baseball and business sides of the operations and has strong opinions about where the game should go.  A major obstacle could be his unwillingness to give up his weekly column on TSN.ca.

I am sure that more candidates will come to light over the next year. 

If I were picking today, I would vote for David Dombrowski of the Detroit Tigers as he is respected by owners, general managers, the PA and the media.  Not many other candidates can boast that clean sweep.

Wait...I didn't vote for myself! What am I thinking? 

4. So, I am officially ticked off.  Jose Fernandez of the Marlins and Martin Perez of the Rangers are now the 18th and 19th MLB playersto need Tommy John surgery this year alone.  There is all kinds of speculation about the reasons for the glut of surgeries.  I have written about them here in the past.  For each individual pitcher the reasons may be different, but we have a pretty good idea about the list from which the reasons come.

So why would any baseball coach anywhere believe that allowing a pitcher to throw 194 pitches was acceptable?  This week media reports documented a game of a high school pitcher in the state of Washington in which a young man, Dylan Fosnacht, threw that 194 pitches in a game in which he was allowed to pitch 14+ innings. 

This is criminal.

To make matters worse, the catcher in the game, Dustin Wilson caught all 17 innings of the game and then pitched all seven innings of the second game of the doubleheader. 

The coach should be fired and I rarely, if ever, make statements like that.  This is absurd.  An official with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association told reporters that the only rule they have about pitch limits is that if a kid throws four or more innings in a day he must be given two days off before pitching again.  Really???? So Fosnacht could throw 194 pitches on Monday and another 194 on Thursday. 

Arm injuries are wear and tear injuries.  Even when they happen in an acute way, they are from wear and tear.  If a pitcher throws a pitch in the Majors and his ulna collateral ligament snaps in his arm, it is not solely because of the pitch he threw that day, but a by-product of all of the throwing he has done in his career. 

We can protect innings pitched and install strict pitch limits on MLB pitchers, but guys will still break down.  Why?  Because they are allowed to throw 194 pitches in a high school baseball game. 

Enough.  It is time for baseball associations, Leagues, conferences or whatever groups are overseeing kids playing organized baseball to get this issue under control.  Install pitch limits everywhere and at every level.  Make sure that the boundaries that are in place are comprehensive and clear. 

We have to protect kids against themselves.  If a coach asks a player if he is ok after throwing 120 pitches, he will most likely say yes because he doesn't want to disappoint the coach.   Protect the coach against himself.  If he wants to win so badly that he is willing to risk a kid's health, then legislate it that he can't. 

Parents where are you?  My experience is that baseball parents are some of the most meddling youth sports parents.  The number of dads (and moms) who relive their youth through their kid's baseball career is astronomical.  Parents, you are at the games.  You are there watching.  Advocate for your kids.  Hold the coaches accountable.  Sure, it may mean a confrontation or a difficult conversation, but so what?  The risk of not speaking up is significant. 

Youth football has started a campaign to educate coaches, parents and kids about concussions.  They teach everyone what signs to look for.  Coaches now have to attend clinics to teach proper form and technique to better ensure health.  The child's well-being is made a priority. 

What are we waiting for in baseball?  We need to educate coaches, parents and kids about what to look for with arm fatigue and injuries.  We need to teach proper throwing techniques at a much younger age before bad habits get formed.  Parents and coaches need to agree on what appropriate pitch limits are for kids whether it is legislated from their leagues or not.  There must be better communication between coaches if players are playing in multiple leagues.  Parents need to get involved to ensure the communication. 

There is a big difference between complaining to a coach about your son's position or playing time and advocating for his health.  You are not causing trouble by speaking about pitch counts and innings limits. 

I am speaking from experience on this.  There have been many times that I should have spoken up sooner than I did.  Plus, my sons have told me at times that their arms are sore and I told them to go out and give it a try and see how it feels.  That was a mistake.  If a kid's arm hurts, he shouldn't pitch or throw.

Pitch limits and pitch counts in the major leagues can help, but they are only putting a bandage on wounds that may be decades old from abuse at the youth level. 

It is time to speak up!!!!




Cabbie on TSN.ca

New York-bred hip hop artist Action Bronson discusses his friendship with Kevin Love, his jumpshot, Mike Napoli's beard, obscure sports references and Derek Jeter's Brand Jordan commercial. More...

He has speed in his DNA, learn more about Olympic champion Donovan Bailey's nephew, Jaden and his success on the gridiron in the latest Powerade 24. More...

© 2014
All rights reserved.
Bell Media Television