Curveballs and Sliders 04.21.07
FINALLY….The Rock has come back to……………wait, that’s not it.
FINALLY……Sanjaya has been voted off American Idol…….hmm, that’s not it either.
FINALLY……Curveballs and Sliders has returned to 411mania.com. Yeah, that’s it.
Hello all and welcome to a super delayed addition of Curveballs and Sliders. I apologize for the absence but I recently started a new job and couldn’t quite find the time. I know you don’t care about any of that so I will move on, just know that Curveballs is back on a weekly basis going forward.
There hasn’t been a whole lot of news coming out of the first few weeks of the season, other than A-Rod’s phenomenal start of course, but I am not going to address that, at least not at this time. There are however a couple of things I wanted to discuss, so let’s get right into it………….
THE TWO HOLE
This past week could officially spell the end of Charlie Manuel’s tenure with the Phillies. Sure he has not been fired yet, but the writing is on the wall and right now I feel like it will only be a matter of time. The last two seasons the Phillies were expected to win the division but finished second both times. Obviously finishing second is far from terrible, but they did miss the playoffs in both seasons and that would have to mean they were considered failures given the expectations going in. Now this season, when almost everyone thought the Phillies were the team to beat in the NL East, and they are off to one of the worst starts in the Majors. Then earlier this week came the news that Manuel had blown up at a sports radio talk show host even going so far as to challenge him to a fight. At this point it is clear that Manuel is frustrated and it is clear that he has his team underachieving. Say what you want about the team itself and defend Manuel all you like, but I think it is already clear that that the team is not behind him and judging from this week’s Mets series, they have either A) given up on him or B) lost interest in playing for him. Either way, they are not going to turn things around in Philly until Manuel gone. If I was a betting man, I would bet Charlie will be gone by mid-May.
This whole incident got me thinking about all the managers and who else might be fired in the coming months. So who else is on the hot seat? What managers are stone cold locks to keep their jobs for the foreseeable future? Let’s take a look.
FIRMLY ON THE HOT SEAT
Charlie Manuel (Phillies) – See Above
Eric Wedge (Indians) – The Indians badly underachieved last season, marking the third season out of four that Eric Wedge guided them to a sub-.500 record. This year expectations are at an all-time high with many people not only picking the Tribe to win the division, but also the World Series. They have had weather problems early this season and right now sit at only 6-6, if they find themselves hovering near .500 a month from now, Wedge could be fired. If they find themselves in worse shape than that, he will be fired.
Mike Hargrove (Mariners) – Hargrove was considered to be one of the best managers in the game during the 1990’s but has been living on that reputation ever since. After four poor seasons in Baltimore, Hargrove has spent the last two seasons guiding the Mariners to last place finishes. After spending some money over the past few seasons, another last place finish definitely won’t be accepted in Seattle. And if the M’s struggle over the next month or so, Hargrove’s tenure in Seattle could come to an abrupt end sooner rather than later.
John Gibbons (Blue Jays) – Challenging players to fights. Mixing it up with the media. Not exactly ideal characteristics you are looking for in a manager. Speculation was that Gibbons would be fired after last season, but G.M. J.P. Ricciardi has been clear in his endorsement. However, I think that is more because Gibbons has done a good job with the team on the field and it would be hard to fire him based on his actual performance. However, expectations are higher than ever in Toronto and if the Jays fall behind early that could be the excuse they are looking for to cut ties with Gibbons once and for all.
SHOULD GET AT LEAST THE ENTIRE SEASON
Joe Torre (Yankees) – It’s hard to believe that after all he has accomplished that Joe Torre hasn’t earned “not going anywhere” status, but sadly it is true. That’s what comes from leading the New York Yankees and working for George Steinbrenner. During the off-season I thought it was possible that Torre could get the axe in mid-season if the Bombers got off to a poor start, but now I think he will at least get to manage out the season. However, if 2007 doesn’t end with a World Series appearance for the Yanks at the very least, Torre’s time in the Bronx will surely be up.
Clint Hurdle (Rockies) – In five seasons with Colorado, Hurdle has never led the Rockies to better than a 4th place finish, with his best season being 10 games under .500. Entering the season I would have thought of him as definitely being on the hot seat, but then on opening day he was inexplicably handed a two-year extension. I can’t for the life of me understand how he was awarded an extension given his track record and even more surreal is the fact that it was given on opening day. Did Jim Dolan buy the Rockies when I wasn’t looking? Anyway, I would say that the extension definitely gives him all of 2007, but I just can’t imagine him managing in 2008 if the Rockies finish 4th or 5th again.
Sam Perlozzo (Orioles) – Everyone was worried after last season that Perlozzo would be fired having never really been given a fair shot at turning things around. Well he was kept on board and the Orioles spent some money this winter and I am sure Peter Angelos is expecting some improvement in return. Obviously Perlozzo is not a miracle worker and the playoffs are not a fair expectation, but anything south of 80 wins could cost him his job.
Ned Yost (Brewers) – Yost did a great job with the Brew Crew in 2005 leading them to a .500 record, but the team took a surprising step back in 2006. Expectations continue to grow for this team in Milwaukee and while a playoff appearance still may be a reach, Yost could be in trouble if the team finishes under .500 again.
Bob Melvin (Diamondbacks) – Melvin has guided the D-Backs to nearly identical records in his first two seasons, both under .500, but this season much more is expected of him. If the team fails to break .500 again he could be gone, but he will definitely get the entire season to get the job done.
MINIMUM OF TWO SEASONS LEFT
Terry Francona (Red Sox) – They key question here is how much time did winning the 2004 World Series buy Francona? Normally a manager gets at least two seasons of grace time after winning a World Series, but there really is no precedent for this case. The Red Sox waited 86 years to win the Series and Francona was the man that finally gave it to them. He will forever be a hero in Boston and I would think that would buy him even more time. On the other hand, the Red Sox are now at a Yankee level where they expect to make the playoffs every year and a second straight season of missing the playoffs could spell doom for Francons. However, I expect them to make the playoffs this season and even if they don’t, I think Francona will be back in ’08, but then the pressure will really be on.
Ozzie Guillen (White Sox) – I was originally going to put Guillen in the category above for those with possibly only one season remaining, but then I realized a couple of things. One is that Ozzie Guillen is only in year two if the above mentioned grace period after winning a World Championship, and he had a pretty good season in 2006, which generally buys another year of grace. The problem with Ozzie is that he is a loose cannon and you never know when he might say something stupid or have a blow up that makes him fall out of favor with the organization. In other words, he is kind of always on probation. But then I realized the second thing, that his G.M. is just as crazy as he is. So Ozzie stays for a couple more seasons.
Joe Maddon (Devil Rays) – Last year was Maddon’s first season in Tampa Bay, and it was a bad one. This year hopes are high for improvement and I would be shocked if they didn’t show measurable improvement by seasons end. Even if they do end up with 100 losses again, I think the D-Rays will stick with Maddon for at least one more season. They have proved as an organization that they don’t have a quick trigger finger when it comes to firings and they also feel Maddon is the right man to teach their young nucleus. It would be counterproductive to replace him in the middle of their development.
Ron Washington (Rangers), Bob Geren (A’s), Manny Acta (Nationals), Fredi Gonzalez (Marlins), Bud Black (Padres) – I have grouped these five first-year managers together based on the assumption that no team would fire a manager after only one season in the big leagues. I would hope that all of the above teams would give these managers at least two full seasons to see what they can do, but of course you never know with some of the finicky owners today. Just look at Joe Girardi. Still, that situation was extremely unusual and I feel confident in placing this group of managers here.
Lou Piniella (Cubs) – Piniella obviously is one of the top managers in the game and he earned that reputation over the course of a 20-year managerial career. The Cubs brought him to stay for a while and to win, and of course that is the plan now. The only reason that Piniella doesn’t get “not going anywhere” status however, is the fact that he clearly gets to a point where he rubs his owner the wrong way and you never really know when that point will come. I don’t see “Sweet” Lou being fired within two or even three years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he hangs it up for good before he wears out his welcome.
Buddy Bell (Royals) – This seems strange considering that Bell has been a loser everywhere he has been, but he has always been with a bad team in a bad situation. The Royals are finally starting to look up after a decade of failure and they feel Bell is the man to lead them, at least until they get there. He is great with young players and this team is full of them. If they don’t see some improvement in 2007 (improvement meaning losing fewer than 100 games), bell could get the axe, but its more likely that he will still be around in 2008.
Phil Garner (Astros) – Talk about grace periods, well Garner piled up a bunch of them in a one and half year stretch from 2004 to 2005 despite not winning a championship. In ’04 he took over the team at mid-season and led them to a stunning turnaround and playoff appearance. The following year he took them to the World Series for the first time in franchise history. Combine those two accomplishments with the fact that this season the ‘Stros lost two of their top three pitchers and it’s safe to say that no matter how many wins the Astros have in ’07, Garner will be back in ’08.
Jerry Narron (Reds) – Jerry Narron and the Reds were one of the big surprises of last season finishing just two games under .500. They were widely predicted to finish either 5th or 6th in the division and instead ended up 3rd, just three and half games out of the playoffs. Perhaps they overachieved in ’06 meaning that Narron has a tall task ahead of him for this season. However, even if the Reds regress in ’07, their ’06 campaign was enough to buy Narron at least two more seasons as the manager.
Jim Tracy (Pirates) – I don’t really know what to say here and quite frankly, it doesn’t really matter. No matter who is managing the Pirates, as long as Kevin McClatchy and Dave Littlefield are on board, they won’t be winning anything. The Buccos have been slow to fire managers in the past so I am sure Tracy will get a fair chance, the problem is he ultimately has no chance of succeeding no matter how long he stays.
Grady Little (Dodgers) – Poor Grady Little, you just get the feeling that no matter what he does the stigma of the 2003 ALCS will follow him around forever. I have said before that I think Little is actually a pretty good manager and is overshadowed by that moment and he did lead the Dodgers to a division title in his first season with them. That alone should buy him this year and the next, the problem is he will always be given a short leash going back to 2003. Any collapse or screwup will be greatly enhanced because it will revert back to Little’s reputation, no matter how unfair that is.
NOT GOING ANYWHERE
Bobby Cox (Braves) – The best manager in the game just signed an extension to stay in Atlanta through the 2008 season. At this point, he will pretty much be in the Braves dugout until he decides otherwise, and rightfully so. There is talk that he may retire once this contract is up, but you will never see the words Bobby Cox and fired in the same sentence.
Jim Leyland (Tigers) – After guiding the Tigers to a 24 win improvement in 2006, it is safe to assume that Jim Leyland has secured his job for quite a while. Even if 2007 was a complete catastrophe, there is now way Leyland is out of Detroit before 2010, that is unless he leaves willingly. However, based on last season and his reputation as well as his seemingly solid bond with his players, Leyland will call Detroit home for as long as he likes.
Willie Randolph – Who would have ever thought we would see the day where the Mets manager had more job security that Joe Torre? Not me, but that is the case now. Willie has won over the players, the fans and the organization and after leading the Mets to their first division title in 18 years, has won the right to hold onto his job for quite some time. At this point it would take at least three straight seasons of the Mets missing the playoffs for Willie to get fired, meaning he could be around for a while.
Tony LaRussa (Cardinals) – Just when it seemed that LaRussa might be wearing out his welcome in St. Louis he goes and wins the World Series. Now he has at least the two year grace period discussed above and probably even more as a potential Hall of Fame manager. The Cardinals may be looking at a down season in 2007, but the fans will still be soaring from the World Championship in 2008, so LaRussa is safe for the foreseeable future.
Ron Gardenhire (Twins) – I have said many times in this column how great of a manager I think Gardenhire is and I still think he doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves. However, Terry Ryan is one of the brightest G.M.’s in the game and I am sure he recognizes it and won’t be letting Gardenhire go anytime soon.
Bruce Bochy (Giants) – I am sure the Giants must have a multi-year plan in place for Bochy after they lured him away from the division rival Giants. Obviously Bochy is tied into this year, what should be the clubs last with Barry Bonds. After that they must expect to rebuild for a season or two and then make another run and I would expect that all to happen with Bochy at the helm. Meaning he will be in S.F. for at least the next five seasons.
Mike Scioscia (Angels) – Scioscia’s championship grace period ended a few years ago, but he has kept his job because he has continued to win. He has led the Angels to wo division titles in the last three years but missed the playoffs last season mostly due to injuries. If they bounce back this year and win the division again Scioscia will buy several more years in L.A. at the very least. If they miss the playoffs again, he still won’t have to even begin worrying about job security until after the 2008 season.
My all-time favorite accomplishment to watch in sports is a no-hitter in baseball. There is nothing more exciting than watching a pitcher go after a no-hitter as every single pitch is of the utmost importance. This past week we already saw the first no-hitter of 2007 as Mark Buehrle shut down the Texas Rangers. This was interesting to me because of the rarity that no-hitters have come around in recent years. There was a time in the 1990’s when you could expect to see at least a couple per year, but since 2004 there have only been three of them and Buehrle’s was only the 8th single pitcher no-hitter of this decade. Here’s a look back at the no-hitters by year dating back to 1990 and you can clearly see the dropoff in frequency over the past few seasons.
(Note: Pitchers in bold threw Perfect Games)
1990: Fernando Valenzuela, Terry Mulholland, Angels (Mark Langston/Mike Witt), Randy Johnson, Nolan Ryan, Dave Stewart, Dave Stieb
1991: Tommy Greene, Dennis Martinez, Braves (Kent Mercker/Mark Wohlers/Alejandro Pena), Nolan Ryan, Orioles (Bob Milacki/Mike Flanagan/Mark Williamson/Gregg Olson), Wilson Alvarez, Bret Saberhagen
1992: Kevin Gross
1993: Darryl Kile, Chris Bosio, Jim Abbott
1994: Kent Mercker, Scott Erickson, Kenny Rogers
1995: Ramon Martinez
1996: Al Leiter, Hideo Nomo, Dwight Gooden
1997: Kevin Brown, Pirates (Francisco Cordova/Ricardo Rincon)
1998: David Wells
1999: Jose Jimenez, Eric Milton, David Cone
2001: A.J. Burnett, Bud Smith, Hideo Nomo
2002: Derek Lowe
2003: Kevin Millwood, Astros (Roy Oswalt/Peter Munro/Kirk Saarloos/Brad Lidge/Octavio Dotel/Billy Wagner)
2004: Randy Johnson
2006: Anibal Sanchez
As you can see, things really drop off around 2000, although nothing will ever compare to the run from 1990 to 1991. What’s more amazing glancing down this list is the pitchers that have thrown no-hitters. Some astonishing names in the bunch looking back as a lot of them never amounted to anything. In fact there is a surprising lack of excellent or very good starters on the list. Perhaps this proves that no-hitters are more about luck than skill. Let’s quickly break down the list into groups by quality, for the purposes of this list I have left off multiple pitcher no-hitters, though it is worth mentioning how amazing it is that Kent Mercker has been involved in two no-hitters.
Hall of Fame Pitchers
Nolan Ryan (2)
Randy Johnson (2)
Very Good Pitchers
How did they do that Pitchers
Ok, so I guess there were fewer ridiculous names on the list than I made it out to be, but the point is still the fact that so few “great” pitchers have thrown no-hitters, and often times it is just random guys that had great stuff for one particular day.
Over the next few weeks in “The Greatest” we are going to evaluate the present day superstars rather than the superstars of the past. Beginning this week, we will be ranking the 10 best players at each position, doing two per week, until we have covered all eight hitting positions, as well as starting pitchers, relief pitchers, closers and pinch-hitters. This week we will begin with the Catchers and Right Fielders. An odd pairing I know, but I figured, what the hay, you know. With that I present…………
“The 10 Greatest”……………………………Catchers in the game today
10) Russell Martin – Los Angeles Dodgers
09) Michael Barrett – Chicago Cubs
08) Ramon Hernandez – Baltimore Orioles
07) Paul LoDuca – New York Mets
06) Jorge Posada – New York Yankees
05) Pudge Rodriguez – Detroit Tigers
04) Kenji Johima – Seattle Mariners
03) Brian McCann – Atlanta Braves
02) Joe Mauer – Minnesota Twins
01) Victor Martinez – Cleveland Indians
“The 10 Greatest”…………………………….Right Fielders in the game today
10) Brian Giles – San Diego Padres
09) Jeff Francoeur – Atlanta Braves
08) Ken Griffey Jr. – Cincinnati Reds
07) J.D. Drew – Boston Red Sox
06) Michael Cuddyer – Minnesota Twins
05) Alex Rios – Toronto Blue Jays
04) Magglio Ordonez – Detroit Tigers
03) Jermaine Dye – Chicago White Sox
02) Bobby Abreu – New York Yankees
01) Vlad Guerrero – Los Angeles Angels
That will do it for this week, again I apologize for the absence, but we will now be on time (Thursday) for the rest of the season. Be sure to check back next week when we present a very special Curveballs and Sliders in honor of a very special occasion. To commemorate this very special edition we will unveil the Top 50 Icons in Baseball History. Don’t miss it!!! Until then…………………………