After a decade out of the dugout, Valentine is playing catch-up
The Red Sox organization lives on the cutting edge of statistical analysis. It has reams of information available for the field staff and is not shy about making hair-splitting suggestions about how to deploy it. It employs stats guru Bill James. And yet manager Bobby Valentine posted a lineup in the clubhouse Wednesday thinking righthanded Twins starter Liam Hendriks was lefthanded. He checked his cell phone and got it wrong.
Valentine's mistake seemed to be no big deal. Catcher Jared Saltalamacchia noticed the lineup looked inappropriate and alerted the manager, giving him time to construct a proper lineup. The Red Sox win, everybody gets a good laugh and moves on.
And yet the lack of basic preparation should be unnerving, especially when piled atop his awkward start in Boston. (Managers get opponent's probable pitchers at least the day before a series.) Valentine hasn't managed in the American League in 20 years. It was so long ago that Nolan Ryan was on his pitching staff. And being manager of the Mets in New York 10 years ago does not prepare someone to manage in Boston today.
"This game is not one where you can be out of the mix for 10 years," said one NL scout. "When you talk about being a manager or a general manager, the game has changed so much in terms of media influence and especially the influence of the front office on matters on the field. It looks like he's been in a time warp."
And that was said
• Didn't have a lineup planned in advance for the third game of the year, leaving Kevin Youkilis to find he was not in the lineup when he showed up at the park that day. (Most managers will give veterans a heads up to a lineup change, especially when it is so easy to script that early in the season.)
• Has admitted leaving pitchers in too long, such as letting lefty Justin Thomas get beat by Toronto's righthanded J.P. Arencibia, and letting Daniel Bard lose a game with walks.
• Created an unnecessary firestorm by challenging the commitment of Youkilis. I doubt Valentine meant harm with his words, but the media blowback seemed to catch Valentine off guard.
• Had no lefthanded reliever ready Wednesday when the Twins -- without righty Josh Willingham available to pinch-hit -- had three straight lefty hitters due (Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Chris Parmelee) against a tired Clay Buchholz. Valentine brought in a righty, Scott Atchison, to pitch to Mauer (39 points better against righties), who ripped a two-run single off the pitcher's foot. If the logic is that Valentine doesn't have confidence to even warm Thomas or Franklin Morales with a five-run lead, this roster is more problematic than we think.
• Started his runner at first base with one out in the ninth April 18 -- down four runs with two on. A line drive double play to first base ended the game. It's basic Baseball 101: you don't risk runners when you don't even have the tying run to the plate yet.
I'm on record saying the Valentine hire was a good one: a smart baseball man for a team that needed a new voice and accountability. I still think he will prove his worth over time. But I underestimated the learning curve of being dropped into Boston after not being in a major league dugout in a decade. Think about cranking up a treadmill to nine miles an hour and then jumping on it.
Valentine was booed often at Fenway Park during the last homestand, and the Youkilis comments seemed to influence such a reception. But that was mostly talk radio nonsense. Posting a lineup without knowing whether the opposing pitcher is lefthanded or righthanded is a more serious comment on job readiness, and yet received far less attention.
Michael Pineda has a tear in his pitching shoulder and faces a long road back. There were many questions about Pineda when the Mariners traded him to the Yankees, and that's not a second guess, as I
Pineda had elbow trouble in 2009, had questionable mechanics, had a poor second half (5.71 ERA after July 4), finished last year throwing 90 mph when he began it at 97, was gaining weight at a rapid pace (the fact that he showed up for spring training this year overweight was another bad sign), lacked a true third pitch to throw to lefthanded hitters, threw too many innings last year for a team out of contention (his innings jumped by 31 2/3 at age 22, putting him on my red flag list) and, as a young, cheap pitcher under control for five years, was too available.
This in no way implies that Seattle knew Pineda was a breakdown waiting to happen. And the Yankees did their due diligence with standard medical information before making the trade. Injuries can happen to any pitcher. The point is that a great part of baseball is risk assessment. And because of those risks, the Yankees' acquisition of Pineda generally was overrated at the time.
Pudge Rodriguez announced his retirement from baseball this week at a news conference in Arlington, where he is remembered as one of the greatest players in Rangers history. Refusing to take questions at an otherwise celebratory retirement announcement, however, struck a weird tone.
Rodriguez clearly was emotional, and days before the event, anticipating such emotions, he opted to stick to a statement. Rodriguez did play the game with great joy and the admission that this was the end to that joy did seem to hit him hard.
But at least as an ancillary benefit, if you don't take questions, you don't have to answer for claims from former Rangers teammate Jose Canseco that Rodriguez, with Canseco's help, used steroids such as Deca-Durabolin and Winstrol, as well as HGH.
You don't have to explain how a catcher in the heat of Texas can hit .369 and slug .631 in the second half of the 1999 season while taking off only eight games and winding up as the MVP of the league. You don't have to explain how someone could catch 141 games and slug .558 -- something nobody in baseball history has done except Mike Piazza, another steroid suspect. You don't have to explain how your body shrunk dramatically with the publication of Canseco's book in 2005, as well as your adjusted OPS (127 before, 85 after). You don't have to explain your bizarre answer when once asked if you tested positive during 2003 survey testing for steroids ("Only God knows.").
Texas was one of the main veins in the growth of steroids in baseball. The influences and temptations were great. I get it. And Rodriguez deserves to go out the way he wants to go out.
What I don't get is how the media, in the face of mountains of evidence in how the Steroid Era corrupted baseball, continues with its willful ignorance. There are two overused crutches in the media that never should be used and were trotted out in defense of someone who didn't bother to defend himself. The first is, "He never was named in the Mitchell Report." If George Mitchell didn't have Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee, his report was no better than a middle school Language Arts assignment. It was never meant as anything remotely close to comprehensive. The man had virtually zero cooperation from players.
The other crutch is, "He never failed a test." Hello? There were no tests at the height of Rodriguez's prowess. Mark McGwire never failed a test, either.