Reveille 1/6/13

by Jason Epstein

Good morning.

Here are several links from the past week that will make the first Monday of 2014 a bit more bearable:

  • Bleed Cubbie Blue’s Al Yellon believes that Masahiro Tanaka on this season’s Cubs would likely result in the club’s “mak[ing] significant steps forward.” However, Yellon’s collague thinks the North Siders should allow the Japanese phenom to sign elsewhere and instead secure the services of free agent Ubaldo Jimenez
  • At MLB Trade Rumors, Charlie Wilmoth interviews analyst C. J. Nitkowski. Wilmoth asks the former big-league reliever, who also pitched in Japan and Korea, about what it was like playing overseas:

What’s the most surprising about playing your first season in Japan?

The coaches. They’re light years behind on sports psychology compared to where [US baseball is] these days. And even then, over the evolution of my career, when I first came up, there were no mental skills coaches, and there were by the end of my career. That became pretty common. I don’t know about every team, but probably pretty close.

Over there, they’re a good 20, 30 years behind. Expectations can be pretty unrealistic. That was tough. I had a couple very difficult coaches, and a couple instances where they were really, really tough on me, and it seemed pretty undeserv[ed].

You mean expectations in terms of your work ethic, or they wanted you to be a superstar, or what?

Just more on-the-field performance. They would say the wrong things. I remember my translator coming out with the pitching coach one time. I had just got done warming up. I was a reliever in Japan. And my pitching coach, through my translator, says to me, “Hey, I really need you to pitch perfect today, in this game.” Of course, that’s ridiculous. If I could pitch perfect, I wouldn’t be in Japan.

The first time I got sent down to the [Japanese] minor leagues, they were really upset because I [allowed] a base hit to a left-handed hitter. He hit a line drive over the shortstop’s head after I got ahead in, like, a 1–2 count. And they were really upset about it. At the time, my ERA was under one and a half, and I got sent to the minor leagues. And I was like, “This is crazy.” I think I was probably in a more stringent coaching situation [with] the team that I was on. Not all the teams are like that. But mine definitely was.

How is playing in Korea different from playing in Japan?

Korean baseball, even though they’re years behind as far as how long they’ve been playing the game, especially professionally, they have a little bit closer to an American style of baseball. They’re a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, and generally, as a culture, they’re a little bit more aggressive. That definitely plays out on the baseball field. They’re just behind. The country is obviously smaller, too. If they had the same population size and they had been playing the game as long, I tell people the Koreans would be better than the Japanese. You get a little bit more of an aggressive style of play. [In] Japanese baseball, [there's] a little bit more contact, a lot of running, not a lot of power. And I hate to use the phrase “small ball,” but that is kind of how they play. They’ll bunt in the first inning in Japan, where you won’t necessarily see that in Korea.

Now I’ll throw a team out there, and you can guess how many runs they saved by controlling the running game.

Ready? Dodgers: How many runs did they save!


That doesn’t seem like a lot. Eleven runs, everything else being equal, is one W.

Here’s the punchline, though: The Dodgers were the best at controlling the running game. The Dodgers were the only team that saved more than seven runs that way. All that effort was rewarded with an extra victory . . . but that’s without accounting for all the slide-steps that might have made things easier for the hitters, or the fastballs thrown to make things easier for the catcher in obvious steal situations. Almost makes you wonder if teams just shouldn’t worry much about the running game at all.

On the other side of the ledger, the Tigers lost 16 runs and the Athletics 12 . . . and this is where I’m contractually obligated to mention that both of those teams won division titles. Which, again, makes you wonder. . . .

  • This next post is dedicated to NRO reader and prodigious Tweeter @pbsenerchia, with whom I debated on the question of whether a runner on a bang-bang play at first base should dive head-first or run through the bag. David Kagan’s piece in the Hardball Times tends to side with @pbsenerchia and other base-diver champions. 
  • In response to the average game length hitting a new high in 2013, Tom Tango offers readers recommendations on how to improve the pace of the game.

  • Jerry Coleman, Korean War veteran, second baseman for the Yankees, and Hall of Fame broadcaster for the Padres, died yesterday. The 1950 World Series MVP was 89. Bill Madden of the New York Daily News and Darklighter of Gaslamp Ball offer retrospectives. (I hadn’t realized that Coleman took a year off from broadcasting to manage the 1980 Padres.)

That’s it. Have a walk-off week!

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.