Stephen Strasburg: The Real Reason Why Pudge Rodriguez Was Signed in the Off Season

June 9, 2010

When Stephen Strasburg made his major league debut last night for the Washington Nationals, the catcher behind the plate was Ivan (Pudge) Rodriguez.

It is interesting but early yesterday morning, neither Strasburg or Rodriguez were on the Nationals active roster. Strasburg had yet to be promoted and Rodriguez had yet to be activated from the disabled list.

But the phenom was promoted and the future Hall of Famer was activated. It was a game the HOFer Rodriguez did not want to miss.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman said that there was no way that Pudge was going to miss this game, but he still had to go through the machinations of getting clearance from the medical staff.

The young Nationals starting staff of John Lannan, Craig Stammen, Luis Atilano, Scott Olsen (before demotion) were big reasons for the Nationals signing Pudge. Even young pitchers in Triple A such as J.D. Martin and Shairon Martis will eventually benefit from Pudge’s expertise behind the plate.

But the real reason was last night’s starting pitcher, Mr. Strasburg.

I remember there was not a lot of positive news when the Nats signed Pudge last December at baseball’s winter meetings. People were ripping him here, here and here, with the last one a big rip of the deal from former Nationals GM Jim Bowden.

All those quotes and blather from Bowden kind of makes him look like a buffoon.

The problem for many pundits was not that he was signed, but the duration of two years and the total cost of $6 million was deemed too much. Pudge did not hit very well last season in two major league stops in Houston and Texas. His slash line of .249/.280/.384/.664 OPS was easily the worst of his career.

And it continued a decline from his last really good offensive season, in 2004, his first season in Detroit.

That is understandable, but current Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, had other ideas when he signed Pudge.

Once again for Mr. Strasburg and company. It has not been the first time Pudge was acquired with the intentions of having him work with a young pitching staff.

In the aforementioned 2004 contract with Detroit, Pudge signed a 4 year/$40 million deal to help the Tigers build a winner. The Tigers were coming off one of the worst seasons for any baseball team in history. They already had some bats, but six Tigers pitchers in 2003 had double-digit starts, and all were 26 and under.

Included in this group were 23-year-old Mike Maroth and 20-year-old Jeremy Bonderman, who was the key player the Tigers picked up in the Jeff Weaver to the New York Yankees deal. Nate Robertson would join the rotation in 2004, the same year Justin Verlander was drafted by the Tigers.

Three seasons into his contract, and the Tigers were in the World Series,with a staff anchored by the youngsters Verlander, Robertson and Bonderman.

Prior to signing with the Tigers, Pudge helped the Florida Marlins win the 2003 World Series, his only season in sunny South Florida.

And make no mistake about it, but Pudge was a hired gun, a mercenary player brought in for one thing – help develop a young pitching staff. That staff included Josh Beckett (age 22), Brad Penny (24), A.J. Burnett (25), Ryan Dempster (25) and Carl Pavano (26).

And they did win the World Series, with Pudge being a big part of the post season, both with the staff and the bat.

So the Nationals remembered those two instances and figured if it was good for the Marlins and the Tigers, why can’t Pudge be good for them, too? Plus, I-Rod is also producing with the bat, slashing at a .331/.356/.449/.815 OPS.

Combined with the good bat and last night’s performance by the new pitching phenom, so far so good with Pudge’s signing.

And Jim Bowden is left wondering why he is not a major league GM anymore.

Florida Marlins OF Mike Stanton: The Other National League East Rookie Phenom

June 9, 2010

He has been hyped since he was a top draft pick for the National League East team that selected him. Sound familiar?

After dominating the Minor Leagues, he made his major League debut on June 8, 2010. Sound familiar?

He performed very well in his first game. Sound familiar?

However, his game was not shown on the MLB Network, but I still switched back and forth between four games last night. Being in the Southern New Jersey area, I get the New York Yankees, New York Mets, and Philadelphia Phillies local cable stations.

Despite the prestige that Stephen Strasburg was getting about two hours south, Florida Marlins rookie Mike Stanton was getting three base knocks off of three separate, and distinctly, different pitchers.

Stanton beat out two infield hits, showing good speed for a big man, and smacked a rocket line drive off to right field against the tough Jose Contreras.

His final at-bat produced an infield single off of Phillies closer Brad Lidge. If not for Lidge getting his glove on the ball, the grounder would have been through the middle for a run scoring single, keeping the Marlins late rally alive.

After humiliating the Double-A Southern League for the better part of the last two months, Stanton was brought up to the Majors, skipping Triple-A entirely.

At Double-A Huntsville in 2010, Stanton played in 52 games and hit 21 home runs with 52 RBI. He slashed .311 BA/.441 OBP/.726 SLG. Simply amazing numbers.

His Minor League numbers can be viewed here .

And what is most impressive is that he cut down his strikeout rates from a high of 33 percent in his 2007 rookie season (age 17), to 28 percent in Low-A (age 18), to 21 percent in High-A (age 19). When Stanton advanced to Double-A in the middle of last season, he did strike out in 29 percent of his plate appearances.

But, this year at the same Double-A level, Stanton has whiffed on only 22 percent of his PA.

At age 20, Stanton is cutting down on the worst thing a hitter can do—that is to strike out.

He was drafted 76th overall in 2007 , a second-round pick out of Notre Dame HS in California. And for those who are saying, “How can so many players be picked ahead of Stanton,” please be aware that Stanton had a full ride scholarship offer to the University of Southern California (USC) for baseball and football.

Pete Carroll, then coach of the Trojans, viewed Stanton as his future starting tight end, even personally visiting him to persuade the youngster to attend school . So there were other factors involved, including another sport.

But he decided to sign with the Marlins for a little under $500,000. A bargain, you think?

Stanton hit terribly his first season in the pros, a brief session in Rookie and Short season league. In his short season stay in the New York Penn League as a 17-year-old, Stanton played mostly against top college players, and the results were indicative of the difference in ages.

I spoke to a current NY Penn League coach and asked him if he remembered Stanton. He did because not too many current-season-drafted high school kids get an opportunity to play there. It is mostly college kids, Latin players, and older high school kids usually drafted a year or two earlier.

The Latin players and high schoolers have had the advantage of at least a full year of instructional ball before they are fed to the wolves.

Stanton had no such prep time and struggled.

Stanton was overmatched, but kept his composure.

That is likely what the Marlins wanted to see. Does a player with such enormous talent and potential like Stanton have the temperament to withstand any failures, in a game widely known for failures?

He did, and that is probably the reason he was allowed to skip Triple-A. He has the positive make up that if he struggles at the Major League level (and he will at some point this season), he will handle it like a professional.

That early test at age 17 allowed Stanton to get to the Majors earlier than he was “supposed to.”

Hanley Ramirez’ Over Blown “Dogging It” Situation

May 22, 2010

Hanley Remirez kicked the ball evenfurthre downthe left field line, but inretrieving the ball he wasn’t able to run harder than witnessed. He appeared to be jogging after the ball instead of in a full out sprint.

He appeared to be “dogging it.” But Ramirez did foul a ball off his ankle prior in the game, taking several minutes before he stepped back in the batters box.

When he did finish his at bat, Hanley only jogged down the first base line on an infield grounder.

He was clearly hurting after the foul ball off the ankle.

When Ramirez was jogging after the ball in the outfield, even the announcers were mentioning during the play itself that Ramirez was not hustling. After Ramirez came  in to the dugout, Marlins manager Fredi Gonzalez asked about the situation, then pulled Ramirez from the game.

THe official reason was that Raqmirez has a sore ankle.

Gonzalez appeared not to be asking Ramirez about his ankle, but was finding out why Hanley did not hustle.

Gonzalez and Ramirez got into a verabll altercation through the press, each attacking the ohter via words. Ramirez was quoted as saying Gonzalez ” never palyed in the major leagues.”

In going after his star player for lack of hustle, Gonzalez could do no wrong here.

He was in the biggest win-win situation ever.

Chastise Ramirez publicly and get praised for stading up to a superstar the way Jim Leyland stood up to Barry Bonds in 1991.

Or chastise his player publicly, get the wrath of the Marlins management, get fired…..

And manage in Atlanta next year after Bobby Cox retires. Gonazlez was Cox’ bench coach in Atlanta for several years and the Braves management loves him.

Not a bad position to be in.

Otherwise known as the Joe Girardi “get me the hell out of here” scheme.

Let it die down and all will be fine. Ramirez should be in the lineup tonight after apologizing to his teammates. And the big heros here are Tony Perez and Andre Dawson, both Hall of Famers who spoke to Ramirez about his attitude.

I think both played in the majors. But all the Marlins players (and manager) can still hate Ramirez and it has no bearing on the team.

The early 1970’s A’s hated each other and won three straight World Series titles.

The late 1970’s Yankees hated each other and won two straight titles.

What did these two teams have in common? A prima donna who was only worried about himself.

His name was Reggie Jackson.

Still, baseball is the one sport where selfishnes does not necessarily hurt the team. It is a team sport, but a very individualistic team sport.

Ramirez can go 3-5 tonight with a home run, two runs, a stolen base and two RBI, but not run out a grounder or a pop up and still be way too productive in tonight’s game.

I am not saying that would be good to see, but the three hits certainly outweight the two dogging it plays.