Saturday, July 14, 2012

I Know! We Need Gamers!

I admit that it's not fair for me to be critical of other bloggers.  This thing we do is really not as easy as we want to believe it is.  Sure, you think it's going to be easy.  "Oh, I'll start a blog.  I'm important.  It'll be easy!"  However, you find yourself trying to find subjects to write about or wondering if anyone cares or wondering if you even care.

But when someone writes nonsensical stuff like "Braves need more gamers to compete at highest level," you can't avoid the desire to go over it like a bad episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000.

For those who don’t know, Simmons broke his pinky by sliding into second base on a single that he stretched out when the center fielder lollygagged his throw back to the infield. Now, many people would probably criticize his aggressiveness, particularly his headfirst slide, which Braves fans know the dangers of. After the game, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he had been pushing his players to play with that level of competitiveness and he couldn’t really fault Simmons for pushing the play.
No, Fredi can't really fault Simmons for pushing the play, but it wasn't his aggressiveness that got him in  trouble either.  It was the head-first slide into second base.  See, if he slides cleats-first, there does remain a chance that Simmons gets hurt, but there is also a chance that he spikes Utley (who had his leg down blocking the bag) and sends a message that you better watch out.  And while sliding face-first might present more along the line of impromptu moves during the slide to better the chances of being safe, there is just too many risks to go with your face-first slide that it should be argued against.

Listen, being aggressive is awesome, but you also need to try to be safe.

I see both sides, certainly. On one hand, you want your players to play safe ball and stay healthy throughout the season. On the other hand, a team can find a lot of success by pushing the pace and the energy of the game.
Enter the “gamer.”
Ah, yes, the "gamer."  I admit that these quasi-romantic terms do nothing for me.  Like obscenity, the user of the term seems to know it when he sees it.  People who love these terms love them because they bring a sort of unforeseen force to the game, making it more of a religion.  When asked what exactly they may, they tend to focus on vague descriptions.  He works hard.  He sees the ball well.  He's clutch.  He just always seems to be in the right place.  Seriously, this shit annoys me because it doesn't respect the work ethic and effort that typically allows for the "gamer" to shine.

Braves fans have been wowed by Simmons on many levels. His speed is an obvious improvement to the team, an asset the Braves haven’t seen a lot of in the past. They play more small ball than they’ve relied on power, but speed has come at a premium. But Simmons also brought a sense of the game that not every player has, as well as an arm like a cannon and a fairly reliable bat. What more could you ask for?

Right now, a healthy shortstop.  But really...Simmons' speed?  Rafael Furcal (2000-05), Edgar Renteria (2006-07), and Yunel Escobar (2007-10) must have been a lot slower than I remembered or their stats have informed me of.  No, I do get it that Simmons defense has been extraordinary and by no means am I saying that he's not a better defender than that trio, but Simmons, while fast, is definitely no more faster than Furcal.  Renty swiped 28 bases in his two years here.  As for the Braves playing small ball...I'm told by every traditionalist I come into contact with that the Braves need to play more small ball.  By the way..."small ball"...another vague, non-nonsensical term to go with "gamer."  Finally, "Simmons also brought a sense of the game"...really?

Let’s go back to his “baseball sense” for a moment. This is an instinct for the game that isn’t easily taught. Brian McCann has often been picked out for his natural talent for the game and was let off the leash early as a catcher, meaning he was calling pitches and plays because he had the head for it. Chipper Jones has that sense, which is supported by his numbers at the plate. I think Jason Heyward has that sense, but has kept it somewhat under wraps for the start of his career.
Instincts by definition are not taught.  I think you are confusing "instincts" with skills.  When combined, skills can really take off.  McCann's knowledge of the game comes from years of watching baseball and as he has perfected the art, he has become better at using video and scouting reports.  That's not so much natural as it is a learned art.  While obviously, catchers tend to have a "head" for the game, they often get there because they have to be a sponge and take in a wealth of knowledge on hitters, tendencies, who's hot/not?, defensive alignment, calling pitches to fit that alignment, pitcher's abilities, baserunner's abilities, and so on and so on.  Why belittle that by saying McCann has a "sense" for it?  Dude works his ass off.  If he had a "sense" for it, his footwork wouldn't be so bad.  Chipper is even a bigger example of this.  Chipper is known and respected for his knowledge and his ability to seemingly access memory at will.  That was instilled in him at an early age with Larry Sr. and has continued for 20-plus years as a professional in this game.  It's not a sense, but a concerted effort to be the best.

When I say that, I mean that when Heyward came on the scene, no one could say enough about the potential he had as a ballplayer. His bat and speed were the high points; he was projected to bring new power to the Braves and be a strong outfielder. But his first year, while good and somewhat eye-opening, wasn’t what I expected from all the talk. I certainly didn’t expect his second year to be such a letdown. Sure, it was shadowed by some injuries (headfirst slide!), but his bat all but died and people began to wonder if they hadn’t been premature in their speculation.
Since 1980, only two position players have posted a better than 5.1 WAR while spending most of the year at 20 years-old.  Heyward's 5.1 WAR ranks behind Alex Rodriguez's 9.8 WAR and Ken Griffey Jr.'s 5.3 WAR.  Those guys are Hall of Fame-bound.  That not eye-opening enough for you?  Maybe it wasn't Mike Trout good (he will likely better Heyward's 5.1 WAR), but it was still a damn good accomplishment.  People need to understand how awesome Heyward's rookie season was.  I don't know if people felt it was less than astonishing because of his terrible follow-up season or if they just don't get it, but Heyward was extraordinary in 2010.  I think people who soured on Heyward after his sophomore season aren't very smart or capable analysts.

The Braves need to perform like a gamer team. I think over the last few years, including the transition from Bobby Cox to Gonzalez, they’ve lost a little of that excitement and energy that used to come so easily to them. That can certainly be changed with youth, who tend to bring a fresh-faced energy with them, but it helps for it to be infectious, to encompass the whole team.
Again, no real definition.  The Braves, last season, were around the average in both hitters' age and pitchers' age.  Their pitching was the fourth oldest in 2010 and hitters were around the average.  In fact, there hitters haven't been amongst the youngest since back-to-back playoff misses in '06-'07, but really, that's not all that important.  What is important is that excitement and energy are fun and everything, but it doesn't mean a lot if you aren't winning and winning games comes down to pitching well, fielding your position, and getting on base.  I promise you that you can have a team of guys with loads of energy vs. a team that calmly goes about their business but is more talented and the more talented team will typically win.  Unless they are managed by Fredi that is.

Matt Diaz probably has more energy than anyone else on the team.  He hustles, tries hard, does everything he can.  He's still dragging the team down.  Energy never replaces talent.  Tyler Pastornicky didn't suck because he wasn't excited about being in the bigs or coming to the park with fresh-faced energy.  He sucked because he's not a particularly gifted player.  This isn't basketball where a high energy can seems to really change the game.  There are no Anderson Varejao's in baseball.  There is simply a gap between talent and untalented, performing and nonperforming, coaching and Fredi Gonzalez.  The Braves don't win because they "out-energied" the competition.

Gamers are a fun cliche, but the fact is the Braves need more than cliches.  They need a starter capable of posting a solid K/9 rate and good WHIP.  They need a shortstop capable of walking upright.  They need bench players who get on-base.  Jack Wilson doesn't suck because he doesn't gamer-it-up enough.  He sucks because he sucks.  I know he tries hard.  He's a professional!  Nonperforming players typically last even shorter if they don't have energy and don't try hard.  They made it to the major fucking leagues.  750 people on a given day accomplish such a feat.  But when you get to the bigs, things change.  Either you can hit a curve or you can't.  Either you can throw your fastball for quality strikes or you can't.  No amount of energy makes up for a lack of range.  You aren't a gamer if you take the extra base...you're simply doing your job.

You know who was a gamer?  Brooks Conrad.  Dude gave everything he had and still couldn't field a ball in the 2010 playoffs.  But being a gamer ultimately doesn't beat anyone.  

But seriously, Fredi sucks.

No comments:

Post a Comment