Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Knuckle Ball:Volume nine

Welcome to this segment that I call the "Knuckle Ball" where basically I spew off my thoughts on a few items in the world of baseball. In this entry, as per usual I will look into three matters in the world of baseball that have peaked my interest. In volume nine, what I expect to be the final regular season edition, I first admit a wrong and will give full credit to Ned Yost who has turned around the ship in Northern Missouri where the Royals have supplanted themselves in the wild-card picture and for someone in Yost who I thought wasn't a above average manager, I now carry a different train of thought with the work he's put in this year exemplary. Secondly, I put the Chicago White Sox on full blast for their direction, teetering the line between courteous to the veterans while diminishing the progression of the few legitimate prospects they currently own. As a long time White Sox supporter it does sadden me that this this once proud franchise has been run in the ground by Kenny Williams. Lastly, and a subject near and dear to my heart, I have strong views that the Little League World Series as we know it is a wrecked enterprise. The parody, particularly on the International side has evaporated and it's no longer who has the best "team", it's which country has tipped the evolutionary scale the furthest and have the most thirteen year old pitchers that are built like twenty five year olds. I share below, I thoroughly hope you enjoy.

Last year during which the Kansas City Royals were embarking on their second consecutive World Series appearance, my first observation was that any manager who was privy to the type of bullpen Ned Yost had at his disposal was any manager with even a resemblance of a brain could succeed with this group. In 2014, that saw the Kansas City Royals square off with the San Francisco Giants albeit in a losing effort was the coming out party for Greg Holland(his party was a short one), Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis. I understand that by the time the '14 playoffs commenced, Greg was already a two time All-Star but because he played in relative obscurity, A.K.A Kansas City he wasn't a household name. Going on a brief tangent here, but sometimes I find some individuals who don't have a deep understanding of the sport associate All-stars with certifiable sustainable stardom, and that frankly isn't the case.  I mean truly, who really remembers Ben Grieve or Randy Winn, they indeed were All-Stars at one point in the time. So reverting this conversation back to Kansas City Royal baseball. with the bullpen General Manager Dayton Moore had compiled literally any manager could've stepped in and accomplished the task. I don't remember much about the inner happenings of the '14 playoffs and the twists and turns KC took to reach the  pinnacle but in 2015 being as how the Toronto Blue Jays were involved in the pennant chase, my attention level peaked thus I paid closer attention to the type of team the Royals were illustrating. The lead-up to the playoffs was basic and forgive me if I'm coming across as too simplistic here saw them steal bases and pitch way their to victory and the playoff portion was no exception. In the divisional round series against the Houston Astros and further yet in the championship series which saw them unfortunately saw them prevail against the Toronto Blue Jays, the lineup stayed constant, the bull-pen stayed hotter then a Shea Weber slapshot and the athleticism the Royals showcased one through nine reared it's head in the post-season. When I internally seep through the past few World Series champions, the Giants in even years, the Cardinals and even the Red Sox won in a much different fashion then the way Royals propelled themselves. In last year's every day lineup and essentially the 2016 version that I will touch  on in a bit is no different where they didn't possess one player who's claim to fame is the pure power. Look at this even year Giant teams, they had the Pablo Sandoval and Brandon Belt's of the world that are quasi-sluggers or clearly with the Red Sox they had "Big Papi" David Ortiz and Mike Napoli among others where as the Royals, with the exception of maaaaybe Kendry Morales, they didn't have that guaranteed power that most championship calibre clubs have in their arsenal. I don't know how many ways I can keep attempting to say that the Royals had the perfect combination of the attributes required to win. Let's break it down series by series. Early in the American League divisional series which pitted them against the Astros, early on the 'Stros controlled the series due to an offensive black-out by Yost's crew. In game three, Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel was his dominant self, not sure where the magic went in 2016 but just like the Wild Card win against the Yankees, he was virtually unhittable. Game four of the series is where I effectively waved the proverbial  white flag in my confidence towards Ned. The game is a see saw affair up until the bottom of the seventh where the hinges abruptly began to fall off. The decision that would've maybe seen him handed a pink slip, inserting Ryan Madson into the ball game led to an Astros surge. Many around baseball, including some of the die-hard Royal fans thought their season had gone before there eyes. I do not understand, never will, why Ned Yost elected for Madsen in that spot where Kelvin Herrera or Wade Davis were available. It was an elimination game, and the rule of thumb that all hands are supposed to be on deck and yet they handed the ball off to Ryan Madsen, a bullpen arm they deemed expendable and rightfully so in the off-season.  If it wasn't for a bullpen implosion of their own which was brought on by usually reliable Tony Sipp the season would be over and who knows the narrative for the 2015 campaign. I could go on and on but to the day I maintain that Yost did nothing extraordinary in the World Series run HOWEVER after watching the Royals with Cheese(what the great Cam Stewart used to coin the Royals as) toil their way through injury after injury in 2016, I've taken a 180 towards my stance on the beleaguered manager. Entering the year again as the presumed World Series favourites, you couldn't of dreamt up worse luck. First they lost sure handed third basemen Mike Moustaskas to a season ending ailment, then it was who most pendants labeled the best closer in baseball in Wade Davis hit the D.L compounded by Alex Gordon going from an perennial all star calibre Left Fielder to a player who with a statistical line so abysmal is starting to look like a poor man's Preston Wilson and for those unfamiliar with Wilson this is not a favorable comparison. By saying all of this, the Royals got off to a miserable start and the more I think of it, perhaps more of the credit goes out to  Dayton Moore as his decision not to sell off assets when most General Managers would've assessed the situation and started at the bargaining table speaks volumes to the trust he had in his baseball operations. I don't have the exact numbers in front of me but at the July 31 trade deadline, the Royals were nowhere near competing for a postseason berth but that aforementioned decision by Moore was the kick in the pants they needed, that and the praying mantis to alter the direction of his talented bunch.,One of the main reasons I'm choosing to commend both Yost and Moore is due to the flexibility they've provided some of their top prospects like Raul Mondesi and Cheslor Cuthbert to learn from their mistakes and continue to receive regular playing time.What this has done is create a scary proposition for the rest of the American League as what it's done is you have your core in its prime of Hosmer, Moustaskas and Cain with a new emerging core of the aforementioned Cuthbert and Mondesi along with Paulo Orlando. Full disclosure that it's possible they won't be able to reach a long term agreement with Eric when his contract expires but the blow will be lessened by the re-assurance that they have with these younger commodities being Major League ready. Kudos to all involved and the Royals would be the last team I'd want to see in a one and done wildcard game. 

 What's happened to the south side of Chicago?  This once proud franchise is a shell of it's former self and nobody is to blame more the White Sox executive Vice president Kenny Williams. I harken back to preseason 2015 when I looked at the White Sox roster and declared them as my 2015 American League favourite. I suppose I could take some solace in correctly identifying the winning division but not much else as it's crystal clear my boyhood love affair with the Chisox clouded my vision and I couldn't look past the gaping holes this squad has and had. My infatuation with the White Sox began with them playing in the first game I attended live when they visited the old Metrodome in 1999.  Frank "Big Hurt" Thomas and Magglio Ordonez were prevalent for the White Sox back then  and throughout that tenure they were built around power. I know the following statement will frustrate some and prove to be gravely inaccurate but the White Sox were digging the long ball before that style of baseball was cool. Late nineties nostalgia aside, the current yield of Chisox had legitimate promise........that is until Kenny Williams thought it was a good idea to go against conventional wisdom and make short sighted acquisitions. The two that come to mind are Todd Frazier and James Shields.  Let's first discuss the reasoning behind James Shields. For an organization that envisioned contending this season, I can certainly buy into the justification of making a move for a starter, because for the at the time 29-26 unit, the rotationw as fairly thin behind Chris Sale and Carlos Rodon. It's so much about my displeasure towards why they got, it's moreso who they acquired that I refuse to accept the logic. Let's eulogize the career path of James Shields for a second. Not a popular opinion I'm sure but I think his contributions were overstated while a member of the Tampa Bay Rays as their was always someone who was ahead of him on the depth chart whether it was David Price or Scott Kazmir, the baseball world has yet to see him singlehandedly carry a pitching staff and that was part of the reason why, although his outings weren't unconducive to the Royals World Series short fall while Shields was Kansas City property, the "ace" they thought they were receiving was anything but. Full credit goes out to James Shields and he used the World Series appearance to mangle his way to a long term contract with the San Diego Padres, the Pads quickly realized, perhaps not soon enough that Shields wasn't going to be enough to turn around  a Padres franchise that hasn't been competent since 1997. The question I have for Kenny Williams is on what earth, basing this opinion off off James' recent workload was Shields a good fit for his club in desperate need of a top flight starter after getting knocked around so consistently in San Diego. Sometimes the old adage in sports is by making no move you're actually making the best move, case in point the resolution Dayton Moore came to that I already touched on.  The reason for feeling so strongly about withholding from making this transaction is due to the fact after closely examining the White Sox prospect pool, I've come to the determination that the best course of action would've been to let one of their top horses in the stable, Matt Purke stay up with the big club and start every fifth day. What angers even more and is one of the sole reasons for my disdain with Kenny is that any knowledgeable baseball official would've taken a quick second to look at the forecast of the American League central consisting of the defending champion Royals and the surging upstart Cleveland Indians and known that 2016 was not the year to make such an aggressive move. By holding on to the chips that it cost to make the trade which admittedly was not much  but nonetheless holding on too all pieces that would've aided a 2017 run was a much more beneficial strategy. It's rolling out Shields every fifth day that is going to set back the development of Purke and many more hurlers. Now with Todd Frazier, when you pull up his statistics it's easy to ascertain that he possesses desirable power numbers but his strikeout rate is alarming especially when you consider a few other members of Chicago's core have the propensity to strike out more than not, stalwarts such as Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera have long carried the swing for the fences mentality. This kind of strategical linueup management can work in rare situations, ala the Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays but their are more examples who try to load up on power and fall flat on their face, ala Shields former Padres and the Seattle Mariners. Another unpopular opinion(I'm just full of them today) is I wish they would have been more patient with Alexei Ramirez because if Williams could smell the roses and hire a hittiing coach with even a slight affinity to improve plate approaches something you would've thought current Hitting Coach Todd Steverson would be amicable to considering he learned his craft in the Oakland A's, small ball line of thinking. Steverson isn't vocalizing the message of improving approaches well enough and that has stunted the growth of a plethora of offensive talent, including Alexei who the staff couldn't reel in and now Todd who for all purposes has given up on hitting the ball the other way. To summarize this tangent, for Shields it's the wrong fit at the wrong time and for Todd Frazier, the decision to give up on Gordon Beckham at the expense of hauling in Frazier wasn't advisable as he's just another swing and miss bat for  a lineup that's filled with them already.

The Little League World Series is a unique yearly tradition that showcases eight international countries along with eight American states in a double knockout event with the end goal of crowing a "World Series Champion" This is an event I've tuned into for as long as I can remember because I enjoy the concept of these kids being thrust into the National spotlight and for 98% of them, experiencing their fifteen minutes of fame. Sure, there are exceptions such as Devon Travis, Jason Bay,Jurickson Profar, and Charlie Hayes among surely many others amounted to have formidable big league careers but like just mentioned, for most this is where the line ends.  Within the Little League Mission statement the word equality is referenced and judging from the last few series, the equality of competition has simply not been there. Not to create a cultural stereotype, but when pulling up stars from other sports,  a eery trend is being forged where the Internationals seem to develop quicker then others, look at women's's to no surprise that the Asian ladies find success quicker at younger ages then the average North American lady and at the avoidance of digressing, it's no longer a phenomen to witness an Asian Little League team, South Korea being the example this year where they fly into Wiliamsport, Pennylsvania and brush away the competition.  I have theory behind this. In North America, and as a multi sport athlete growing up I can speak from experience we get raised encouraged to partake in all sports, sports specialization is a rare breed here but over seas the kind of pressure to focus on one sport is foreign to us over in North America. I could continue to expand on my example, I already referenced the Asian domination on the LPGA but what about the finesse sports such as Diving and Figure Skating? You tell me, if you're a grade three student and skating for the first time with your elementary class and your teacher notices you're an advanced skater, is he or she going to tell you to try figure skating?? Absolutely not, hockey will get pushed because that's the Canadian way.In baseball, much more popular then the two sports I just mentioned but is played as a summer sport and unless you're residing in the deep south U.S.A your only participating for three-four months  a year. It's an anomaly when winter baseball clinics are offered and when they are they're generally targeting the high performance Bantam/Midget aged athletes IN the Dominican an Asia, the countries that have historically laid down the law in the LLWS are playing year long which leads me to my gripe with the current tournament structure, I was chatting with a friend about this and what I explained to him was that when you look at the 2016 World Series Canadian entry, a thirteen year old kid who absolutely lit the lamp on the mound by the name of Loreto Siniscalchi. He was a lanky righty who based on proximity could throw up 80 MPH and overpower these young kids, and the Japanese team learned this first hand. The problem however is with the format after a pitcher like Sinischalchi exhausts himself after the opening performance he must wait three days to pitch again which cripples the chances in a double knockout because the only reason he saw action again was a due to a fortunate rain delay. I didn't doubt, and I made this known to the buddy I was conversing with that any game that  Loreto sees the mound, Canada could reign victorious but the gap between him and the number two was just too great. A team like South Korea who was so forceful up until the championship final when they bowed out against New York had ten "Loreto's" and it honestly looked like a Midget AAA Travel team was playing against Canada when accounting for the size differentiation. So how could the tournament be improved, well for starters I'd love to see an alteration where Canada finds itself in the North American side and to even out the numbers include Mexico to and then add two addtional entries on the International side and make it a twenty team event.  Simply put, the novelty has worn off seeing Canada strike out fifteen times in a game against a superior bigger team. Alluding to the mission statement, it's time for Little League Inc. to sit down at the table, ask themselves how the tournament can become more competitive and starting initiating an action plan. The tournament is prestiguous, let's not lose that luster. 

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