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Phillips: On bean wars, Hoffman, and Verlander's struggles

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Steve Phillips
6/6/2014 5:49:45 PM
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TSN Baseball Insider Steve Phillips answers several questions each week. This week, topics include the "bean wars" between the Red Sox and Rays, Blue Jays' draft pick Jeff Hoffman, Justin Verlander's struggles, and surprising all-star voting results.

1) In light of the “bean wars” between Tampa Bay and Boston, what should the league do to reduce the number of retaliatory on-field incidents? Are the suspensions enough of a deterrent?

Major League Baseball has reduced the number of on-field violent confrontations in a pretty significant way from the 1980s and before.  The issuing of warnings to teams after a potentially intentional beaning has reduced the number of retaliatory responses.  As we saw in the Rays/Red Sox series, boys will still be boys but it is better now than it used to be. 

Baseball also has a “heads up” program where umpires are alerted prior to a series about any bad blood that exists between the teams.  Umpires can issue warnings before a game if they believe the lingering animosity could surface.  This pregame warning serves as a deterrent and puts players on notice that at the first sign of monkey business there will be action taken. 

There are two changes that I would make to further address this issue. 

Firstly, I would encourage umpires to eject the instigator in a bean ball situation.  Too many times the pitcher who strikes first suffers no penalty.  Rays' pitcher Davis Price hit Res Sox slugger David Ortiz with a pitch that may have been intentional.  The umpire chose to only issue a warning to both teams. That was done with the intent of heading off possible retaliation against the Rays. That warning didn't work and Brandon Workman, Red Sox pitcher, was later ejected for throwing a pitch behind Rays' third baseman Evan Longoria. If Price had been ejected, then the Red Sox would not have felt as compelled to bean Longoria for payback.  Price didn't get a suspension at all.

Second, I would institute a “no third-man in” policy.  If there is a fight on the field, no other player can leave his position on the field or in the dugouts and bullpen.  If they do then they face an automatic 10-game suspension. This should serve as a team deterrent that will keep all-out brawls from occurring.

Thirdly, I propose that penalties become stiffer for the initial combatants as well.  If you fight, you know you will serve at least a five-game suspension for a position player and relief pitcher and a 15-game suspension for a starting pitcher. 

It would be great to end all on-field violence.  It won't ever happen but these changes would get us a bit closer.

2) The Blue Jays used the ninth-overall draft pick on Jeff Hoffman on Thursday; a player who just underwent Tommy John surgery. What does this say about the Jays' development strategy, especially in light of Alex Anthopoulos' drafting habits in the past?

The Blue Jays have been drawn to the high-ceiling type players in the first round under Anthopoulos.  They have shot for the moon.  They want impact from their first round pick.  Nowadays, many teams like predictability in first round selections.  They will take less impact and a lower ceiling for a greater likelihood that the player will get to the majors.  Not the Jays.

Jeff Hoffman was thought to be one of the top three picks in this draft prior to injuring his arm and undergoing Tommy John surgery.  This selection makes a statement on so many levels. 

First, the Jays believe that Hoffman is an extraordinary talent.  Why else would any team take a baseball player whose injury prohibits him from doing what he does best? 

Secondly, the Jays believe in Tommy John surgery.  It isn't quite as predictable as getting one's tonsils removed but the track record of success is very good.  The Jays fully expect Hoffman to be 100 %. 

Thirdly, the Jays are saving money.  Hoffman is a value because they took him with the ninth pick when many thought he could go as high as second overall.  With the injury, the Jays will likely save some money but they are also assuming some level of risk and that has dollar value. With multiple first round selections, the Jays gave themselves the financial flexibility to get their picks signed this year.

The fact that Hoffman is a college pitcher means that he is a bit more advanced in his development than if he were a high school pitcher and therefore missing some playing time now should not set his development back much at all. 

3) Justin Verlander's 2014 numbers have been less than inspirational. He's 6-5 on a first-place club, has an ERA over 4.00, is presently sporting the worst WHIP of his career, and hasn't logged a complete game since 2012. Should the alarm bells be going off for the Tigers?

The Tigers should be alarmed about Justin Verlander.  He is still a good pitcher but the dominant overpowering ace from a few years back is no longer on their roster. 

Verlander has thrown 1,885 innings in eight and a half years, which includes seasons of 251, 240, and 238 innings pitched in individual seasons. He has thrown the most pitches in baseball this year. In fact, he has thrown the most pitches in baseball since 2009. He has led the league in pitches thrown every year but one from 2009-2014. In 2010 he finished four pitches behind Dan Haren for second most.

Verlander is a workhorse. He loves to go deep in the game and he loves to strike out hitters.  He has been an amazing pitcher. The fact that he has such great stuff is a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because he has won a ton of games for Detroit.  It is a curse because he has been so good that he works deep counts since he strikes out so many hitters.  And he has always been a better option for the manager than anyone in the bullpen, so he pitches deeper in the game.

All of this has taken a toll.  He is wearing down a bit.  We have seen CC Sabathia fall off over the past couple of years because of the same reasons.  The arm only has so many bullets and they have both used their fair share. 

Verlander can still be successful, but he is going to have to make adjustments.  Command has to be more important than velocity for him.  He used to regularly run his fastball into the high 90s.  He no longer can pitch there.  If he tries to generate too much velocity from delivery, his command suffers.  Verlander needs to try and retire hitters on three pitches or less with well-located pitches.  Velocity can't matter.  This will allow him to be more efficient now and give him more years on the back end of his career. 

4) The most recent All Star vote tally had some very interesting results. 

Toronto's Melky Cabrera, is ranked third among AL outfielders in voting.  Orioles designated hitter, Nelson Cruz, passed Red Sox slugger David Ortiz for the top DH.  Brewers' outfielder Ryan Braun is in a close race in the NL outfield as well. 

Why are these results so significant?  All three of these players have served suspensions for performance enhancement drugs. Yet, the fans seem to be putting that aside as they consider their performances this year.  The fans believe that what they are seeing on the field is legitimate and real. They don't think it is enhanced.  It is just good ol' fashioned baseball. 

The All Star balloting has long been a popularity contest.  The fans votes don't always coincide with the players' votes or the stats.  If the fans like a certain player, he has a shot to be an all-star regardless of his numbers. 

What is even more amazing is that the fans aren't holding grudges like they have in the past.  It had seemed that fans wanted to send a message to cheaters that their actions were unacceptable.  One of the few ways they could do that was with their voting.  But that feeling seems to be waning.  Fans are either forgiving the players for past wrongs or just accepting of what has happened to the game. Either way, we all win.

I have learned that giving forgiveness is not for the other person but it is for me.  When I forgive someone they may react in any number of ways.  But when I give forgiveness it releases a burden on me. I no longer feel pain and resentment. 

Baseball fans are showing healthy growth by surrendering their anger to baseball players.  It shows growth.  It shows a certain trust in the drug policy.  It shows compassion and understanding.

My hope is that baseball writers will take the lead of the fans.  Writers feel duped by players.  They feel like they were made fools of for celebrating home runs and record-setting accomplishments.  They resent it and don't ever want to get burned that way again.  My hope is that the writers will move to a place of forgiveness of the players as well.  It is time to move forward. 

The writers need to look at the steroid era as just that, an era.  It wasn't done to them.  It was just what happened and they were there to document it.  So they should document it.  Vote steroid users in the Hall of Fame.  Let's appropriately remember what happened so we don't repeat our mistakes.  The writers should make history by passing that history forward. 

It is time to heal. It is the right thing for all of us that made mistakes in the steroid era of baseball. 

So let this day start the all-out campaign for Melky Cabrera, Nelson Cruz and Ryan Braun for the All Star team!

David Ortiz (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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