The Warning Track: One Month Later

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest lie. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

Does the National League Designated Hitter Have Its Posey?

Last weekend, in a game against the Brewers, Cardinals’ ace and superstar Adam Wainwright lookup up at a popup, needlessly started for first base, and then, as 40,000 Cardinals fans and the rest of baseball took a collective breath, he started limping.

He would come out immediately, of course. And over the next few days, major league baseball would be partially turned on its head as the Cardinals would confirm Wainwright being out for the rest of 2015 due to an Achilles tear.

So, naturally when a pitcher who ranks first in total innings pitches since 2012, and right at the top of most major pitching statistics, goes down in his unnatural habitat – behind the plate – the questions arises: to DH or not to DH in the National League?

Some of the game’s biggest hurler have already made some of their opinions known on the issue.

And the man who went down himself.

One may find it surprising what Wainwright thinks of the situation, given his current situation. But if you really knew Wainwright or follow St. Louis baseball, it also isn’t too startling.He’s always been a man of the game, and, like Bumgarner – who is one of the better-hitting pitcher in the league in his own right – he respects tradition.

I myself was conflicted on the issue for a time. As a Cardinals fan, obviously my immediate reaction after even the first hint of speculation that Wainwright might be out for an extended period of time was “It’s time for the DH, plain and simple. No pitcher should be out for a year after getting injured at the plate.” I even talked myself into thinking I would be saying the same thing if someone like Kershaw or Cueto or Bumgarner went down – and I probably would.

That perspective strengthened as I read various opinions from figures in the sport, columns from baseball writers. It also weakened as I read others.

Now, it’s almost completely diminished. I agree with what many have said: it was a freak accident that could happened at the plate, on the mound, in the shower, walking on the street.

More importantly, as Wainwright said, baseball is a game of tradition. Tradition dictates that the pitcher is in the lineup. It adds a whole new dimension to the game, calls for much more strategy on the manager’s part, and is a huge reason as to why major league baseball is the only one of the “Big 4”American sports – NBA, NFL, NHL being the others – that has a legitimate distinction between it’s two leagues/conferences, as well as a legitimate reason as to why there is an MVP handed out for both leagues at season’s end.

Having the pitcher bat makes the National League special, just like having the designated hitter makes the American League special. It shouldn’t be messed with. Even though one superstar’s injury caused one of the most drastic rule changes in recent memory, injuries to pitchers at the plate simply aren’t common enough. Otherwise it would be a different story.

Wainwright’s injury has revived the debate, there is no doubt about that. And it will continue throughout the season, perhaps the offseason, maybe into next year. It’s always been there. It’s simply a bit louder now. But a truly legitimate argument for the adoption of the designated hitter into the National League is yet to arise. It could be to revive the offense, an ongoing topic of discussion. It could be that pitchers are restless of having to worry about putting in work at the plate, which is almost unseen.

The argument isn’t here yet. It may come next year. It may come in ten years. But Wainwright’s freak occurrence – and that’s exactly what it is – simply isn’t reason enough to change the way the game has been played for over a hundred years in a major way.

And no, Commissioner Manfred, your ongoing initiate to infuse more excitement into the game isn’t valid enough.

 

The Right Priorities? First-year commissioner Rob Manfred has been working on all fronts toward a primary initiative in the short time he has led major league baseball: making the game more exciting and adapting it to entice a younger generation that for the most part prefers to tune in to football.

I can write a whole other column about my not-so-agreeable thoughts on that, but I’m going to focus my argument on something else that has been prevalent in the league in recent years: the drastic increase of players taking trips to the disabled list.

The problem with today’s game isn’t its pace – something I’ve recently touched on – it’s an alarming amount of injuries that impact clubs, and sometimes their entire seasons. Once the first pitch of the season was being thrown by Jon Lester in Wrigley a month ago, there were already some big names sitting out to start the season, including Justin Verlander, J.J. Hardy, and a record 113 others. 

And then, for some reason, when Wainwright went down last weekend, a handful of other stars in the game followed suit. Jed Lowrie will be out 2-3 months. Masahiro Tanaka has a torn UCL after enduring an injury-prone 2014.  The Dodgers’ Carl Crawford, a career. 292 hitter, has an oblique strain.  All those players, major components of their respective teams, hit the DL on Tuesday.

What should we really be focusing on? If Manfred argues that the new pace-of-play protocol will hopefully spur greater interest in the sport, what argument does he have for the fact that people getting into baseball aren’t able to cherish it’s greatest athletes?

 

 

There is so easy fix to something like injuries. But there is an issue, that much is clear. The Rangers used a record number of players last year, while a record number were hurt.

In 2014, a major point of discussion across baseball was the alarming number of pitchers missing entire seasons due to a Tommy John epidemic. ESPN’s baseball insiders acknowledged there might be no easy fix for the issue in professional baseball, where players make careers on the health of their arms.

The amount or pitchers forced to undergo Tommy John surgery has astronomically increased in the last ten years.
The amount or pitchers forced to undergo Tommy John surgery has astronomically increased in the last ten years.

 

Certainly that’s a place to start the conversation, considering the role that pitchers have in the game. And if the conversation is present, and it is prevalent – which it should be, as the numbers show – Rob Manfred to enter it, be fully engaged in it and lead it.

Maybe there is something that can be implemented on the farms to reverse the injury trends. Maybe the way players warm up, work out, cool down can have an impact. There needs to be ideas, and there needs to be focus and attention on the issue.

Baseball players are seemingly getting hurt every day. That’s only the slightest of exaggerations.


dl graph

 

If people really want to get through a baseball game with their families as quick as possible so they can get home, fine. But what would they rather pay for: a two-hour and 10-minutes game with lineups back of minor leaguers as starters warm the bench, or a two-hour, 30-minutes matchup between two teams that are as even matched as could possible be?

Something to think about, Commish.

 

 

April Fools?

There was a whole lineup of surprises in the first month of regular season baseball, mostly due to over performing clubs and individual players putting MLB’s parity on full display. Here’s the top five things we did not expect to begin the 2015 campaign.

 

1.The Astros blast off to a 15-7 record

The Houston Astros, basement dwellers for a decade in the NL Central before assuming the same position in the AL West for the last two seasons, have come alive with a vengeance. They have the second-best winning percentage in baseball (.696) and lead a division in which, perhaps even more surprisingly, they are the only club over .500. Those other teams include the Angels, A’s, and Mariners.

Talk about flipping the script.

The Astros have been on an absolute tear as of late, winning. seven straight and nine of their last ten. And they don’t exactly have an advantage by way of their schedule; they’ve been beating the Angels, Mariners, Padres and A’s as of late, all of those clubs expected postseason contenders.

They’ve been led mostly by their pitching: they have an AL-best 3.04 team ERA and are in the top five in team WHIP, opponent average, and innings pitched. Reigning major league hits champion Jose Altuve is off to another incredible start, hitting .373 and second only to Miami’s Dee Gordon for the major league lead in hits. Who knows if the Astros will be able to keep this up, but for a team that has averaged a 62-100 regular season record since 2010, their April was pretty special.

2. Something’s up with Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw hasn’t been himself this season. Like, at all.   As in, he has an ERA close to 4.00 through five starts. As in, he has yet to have an outing where he hasn’t allowed an earned run. As in, he’s already almost halfway (4) to allowing the number of home runs he gave up in his 2014 historic campaign (9). Maybe that’s just it. Maybe we’re looking too much into this – I certainly have done my share – when Kershaw has just set his standards at level that simply can’t be maintained. For the first time in a long time, he looks vulnerable. For the first time in a long time, he’s beatable. His current record stands at 1-2.

Nothing's been the same ever since CardinalNation attacked.
Nothing’s been the same ever since CardinalNation attacked.

It would be foolish to even suggest that his reign of dominance may be over – he just turned 27, after all, and he’s healthy so far as we know – but until he can regain the form we’re all accustomed to seeing, Kershaw has looked, dare I say it…human. And it’s just weird.

The Kansas City Royals are an offensive powerhouse

We all knew Royals pitching was good, even with James Shields’ departure. We all knew their defense was solid, probably the best in the bigs. We all knew they would score runs…wait, no we didn’t!

The Royals, amid all their drama on the field, have scored 119 runs. They’re on pace to bring 880 across the plate for the season, 149 more than 2014. Oh and remember that deadly pitching, led by Yordano Ventura and an elite bullpen? Combine those two facets of the game, and the Royals lead major league baseball in run differential in April, with a +45.

They’re right up there with the best records in baseball, tied with the Astros in winning percentage, trailing only the Cardinals. But make no doubt about it, they are the most complete team in baseball. It’ll be all on them to keep up the high-octane start.

 

4. A-Rod’s Resurgence

The Yankees, who haven’t played in October since they last won it all in 2009, are back on the throne of the AL East at 15-9. And they are led by none other than Alex Rodriguez himself.

What an interesting , conflicted situation that club is in.

Remember that $6 million bonus the Yankees owe Rodriguez if he ever tied Willie Mays’ fourth-place spot on the career home run records list? Maybe it was the cynic in all of us – okay, it was the cynic in all of us – that thought “No way 39-year old Alex Rodriguez is going to hit six balls into the stands this season, especially when we don’t know if he’s ever hit a clean longball in his carrer.”

Welp. Here we are, at the beginning of May, and A-Rod’s asterisked name is officially in the baseball annals.

Can he keep it up? Who knows, and that’s a question more of his body’s durability at this point in his career more than anything. But he might have to keep hiting, along with a dominant Mark Teixeira, for the Yanks’ sake. Oh, the irony.

5. Kris Bryant has yet to hit a major league dinger

Seriously, guys, what’s going on. Kris Bryant’s been in the bigs for a few weeks and he hasn’t hit one out of the park? What the…what?! Kris. C’mon, man. Don’t tease us with your nine-homer Spring Training, only to come up empty in your first couple weeks in the bigs!

I kid, of course, but not really.

 

Power Rankings

1. St. Louis Cardinals (17-6)

Ranking two weeks ago: 3

2. Kansas City Royals (16-7)

Ranking two weeks ago: 2

3. New York Mets (16-8)

Ranking two weeks ago: 5

4. New York Yankees (15-9)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (14-8)

Ranking two weeks ago: Not ranked

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. He is a student at the University of New Mexico. 

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