Bobby Cox and Logic

Hat tip to The Good Phight.

Another entry for the “NL East Whining” category that I love so much. It seems like the Braves are good for one, maybe two whiny comments about the Phillies and Citizens Bank Park per year. Bobby Cox helped meet the quota last night.

But Lidge, who has allowed four earned runs in his the two previous innings he’d completed this week, pitched around a walk to Greg Norton and then breathed a sigh of relief when left fielder Raul Ibanez ended the game by catching Nate McLouth’s long opposite-field drive along the warning track.

“We played in the wrong park tonight,” Cox said. “If we’re in Philadelphia, we’ve probably got five homers, at least four. The long fly balls just weren’t traveling. I knew Utley’s was out and I knew Howard’s was out.”

Yeah, that’s right Bobby: Ryan Howard’s home run to left-center had nothing to do with Turner Field, but your home park had everything to do with keeping Nate McLouth’s fly ball in front of the fences.

You can’t make up logic like that.

Here’s an idea: Hit the baseball better. Ryan Howard sat on a Rafael Soriano slider and crushed it just like he sat on and crushed a Ryan Dempster slider the previous day. If your fly ball didn’t leave the yard and you don’t have winds from a monsoon blowing the ball in, then you could have done a better job of making contact.

Just once, I’d like to go an entire season without hearing the Braves make some pitiful excuse for losing to the Phillies.

Excuses, Excuses…

If there’s one thing the Atlanta Braves and their fans are good at, it’s whining. At Bleacher Report, a Braves fan posted a screed aimed at umpire Bill Hohn, citing several examples of poor umpiring and a supposed obsession with screwing over the Braves. I’m going to go through and refute these claims.

It started at Fenway back in June when Hohn called a ball on a 2-2 pitch that was right down the middle to J.D. Drew. The next pitch Drew hit an RBI double.

Here is J.D. Drew’s batting game log at Baseball Reference. In only one game did he have a double against the Braves, and he did not drive in a run. Drew has driven in one run in two games against the Braves this season, but in neither did he have any extra-base hits even.

Based on the context of the article, it appears the author is talking about this game.

A few innings later, when Braves reliever Eric O’Flaherty was squeezed on a similar pitch, Hohn tossed O’Flaherty, Bobby Cox, and Chipper Jones. Yes, on the same play.

The Braves lost the game as a direct result of the idiotic ball call.

I think it’s clear that this Braves fan is not recollecting the game accurately. Drew hit his RBI single off of Eric O’Flaherty, as it’s the only game in which Drew had an RBI against the Braves at Fenway.

Here’s the Pitch F/X visualization of the pitch sequence between Drew and O’Flaherty. Click to enhance and enlarge the image.

Yes, the author is correct: Hohn made a poor decision in calling the third pitch a ball. And yes, Drew did follow up with a hit. However, all umpires are not perfect.

Further, O’Flaherty didn’t have to throw a cookie to Drew. How do we know that Drew wasn’t going to hit O’Flaherty anyway? After all, Drew did have a triple and an RBI against him heading into that at-bat.

There’s a lot of assumptions made in blaming the umpire for not only missing the call, but essentially giving Drew an RBI base hit. It was a 1-2 count after what should have been strike three; the count still favored O’Flaherty in a lefty-on-lefty match-up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to justify the umps’ mistakes, it’s just that they should only be blamed for what they can control. Bill Hohn did not throw the pitch that J.D. Drew hit for an RBI single.

The Braves lost the game for a number of reasons: a poor start from Jair Jurrjens, a poor approach to the at-bat against Drew by O’Flaherty, and a Braves offense that hit only .250 with runners in scoring position that game.

Last night the Braves met up with Hohn’s crew again. This time the home plate umpire was Jerry Meals. Hohn was at first.

Meals would cost the Braves the game in the bottom of the ninth by not calling pitches that were right down the middle for strikes.

This time, the author is stretching — the pitches were not “right down the middle”.

The pitches were on the edges, and Meals even called what was a ball a strike. We can say that his strike zone was inconsistent, but we can’t say that it was biased towards the Marlins. And we certainly can’t say that Meals’ umpiring caused Soriano to serve up a cookie to Ross Gload. When Ross Gload hits a game-winning home run off of you, you have no one to blame but yourself.

Then came tonight. Hohn was in rare form yet again, calling strikes against the Braves that were literally a foot off the plate.

Yet when the Marlins were at bat, no such luck for Atlanta pitchers.

How often were the Marlins and Braves pitching outside? Looking at Brooks Baseball’s normalized strike zone maps, it looks like the Marlins’ pitchers were working outside a lot more frequently than Braves pitchers, so of course they’re going to get calls on the outside corner.

Every umpire has some variation on the standard strike zone. Some call the high strike more often; some have a postage stamp-sized strike zone. As a pitcher and as a hitter, you are supposed to pick up on that during the game, if not know it beforehand. When the umpire is giving Jamie Moyer a little extra on the outside corner, the catcher’s glove is going to stay on the outside corner nearly all night.

Apparently, Marlins pitchers realized this and Braves pitchers did not.

On Wednesday night Hohn called a strike on Brian McCann that was literally in the right-handed batter’s box.

When McCann said something, Hohn took off his mask to try to pick a fight…

Yes, the author is right: the umpire did make a poor call. But again, umpires are fallible. I’m sure a Marlins fan could make similar arguments about poor ball-strike calling.

The author is also right that Hohn shouldn’t be acting aggressively towards the players. “Trying to pick a fight” might be taking it a bit far, but Hohn has acted similarly in Phillies games he’s umpired. He’s certainly not a great umpire. They say that the great umpires are the ones you hardly notice during the course of a game, and you tend to notice Hohn quite frequently.

Hohn called timeout and walked over to the Braves dugout. He then called Cox to him. They argued a little. Bobby was clearly seen asking Hohn to “just call the game.”

Hohn stood there and then inexplicably took out his lineup card and started fiddling with it to incite Bobby’s wrath.

He got his wish. Bobby said the magic word, and Hohn tossed him after clearly baiting him.

I can definitely see how Hohn played a part in escalating the incident, but it’s not like Bobby Cox never does anything to deserve an ejection. There’s the reason he holds the all-time record in ejections. Cox getting ejected is indicative of nothing.

In perhaps the most maddening moment of the game tonight, rogue umpire Bill Hohn fist-bumped the Marlins catcher after the game was over.

I empathize with Braves fans who are upset about this. If it happened in a game in which the Phillies lost, I’d probably be just as irate. Here’s the fist-bump, with a hat tip to Baseball Think Factory:

However, I’d like to quote a salient post by someone at BBTF that puts this in perspective.

This seems like an overreaction. When I umpired I’d sometimes get a “good game” from players at the end of a game, and it could come from either side, winners or losers. If the catcher turns and extends a handshake (or fist-bump), yeah, the absolutely correct thing to do is not take it, for appearance’s sake. But I could easily see myself reflexively reaching out my hand if the [catcher] extended his. It doesn’t look great, and he should probably train himself to resist it, but in itself I don’t think it means he was playing favorites. I’ve seen plenty of pitchers, including [Curt] Schilling, give a nod or a touch of the cap to the plate ump as they’re being removed or at the end of a game. I’ve always interpreted it as more of a professional courtesy thing than anything.

In contrast to baseball, football, and basketball officials, who leave the field/court immediately when the game ends, soccer refs and linesmen stand together at midfield and accept handshakes from players on both sides after the game. Nobody thinks anything of it, it’s just part of the culture in that sport.

Should Hohn have fist-bumped the Marlins’ catcher? Absolutely not, especially not in a game as controversial as that one. But, as with most of the other examples of “evidence” in this article, you really have to stretch and make a lot of assumptions to assume that Hohn had it in for the Braves and/or had a thing for the Marlins.

No, he’s not a good umpire, but he is not solely responsible for the Braves’ woes.

If you can blame one person or one event for your troubles, it’s a sign that the team could have played better.

UPDATE: Chipper Jones chimes in.

“Shocking,” Jones said of the Hohn-Baker fist bump after Nate McLouth struck out to end the game. “But it kind of makes sense, [considering] how the ebb and flow of the game went, the way the game was called.”

[...]

Jones was asked if he thought Hohn had it in for the Braves.

“Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt,” replied the veteran third baseman, who said the Braves were also upset by Jerry Meals’ strike zone in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss. “The last two games’ performance by the officials is something that makes you sit back and wonder. And as a player, it makes you not want to play when that stuff happens. Because you don’t have a chance.”

Jones’ comments are not exactly sugar-coated. If this story picks up steam in the next day or two, Major League Baseball will likely have to address this publicly in some way, and would not be surprised to see Hohn suspended or, yes, fired.

Phils Smoke Santana, Lose Anyway

Johan SantanaDespite hitting four home runs off of one of the best pitchers in baseball, the Phillies dropped the first game in New York to the Mets, 6-5. Ryan Howard and Raul Ibanez hit back-to-back solo homers off of Johan Santana in the fourth; Jimmy Rollins hit a two-run shot in the fifth; and Chase Utley hit a solo home run to lead off the eighth inning and chase Santana out of the game.

Unfortunately, the Mets’ bullpen — strange as this is to hear — was dominant and kept the Phillies from tying the game in the eighth and ninth innings. Bobby Parnell gave up a single up the middle to Jayson Werth, the first batter sans-Santana. Manager Jerry Manuel wasn’t taking any chances, and brought in left-hander Pedro Feliciano to face Howard and Ibanez. Howard swung at Feliciano’s first pitch and promptly hit into a double play. Raul Ibanez followed suit and weakly grounded out to end the inning.

In the ninth, Jimmy Rollins led off the inning with a single to right field off of closer Francisco Rodriguez, but that was all the Phillies could muster. K-Rod struck out Pedro Feliz and Greg Dobbs to earn his 16th save in as many opportunities.

The Phillies’ lead in the NL East shrunk to two games with their loss tonight. The third-place Braves and fourth-place Marlins also won, meaning that first and fourth place are only separated by six games.

J.A. Happ didn’t have a particularly great outing, but he pitched well enough to keep the Phillies in the game. Like Santana, Happ was also homer-prone, allowing a solo to David Wright in the second and a two-run round-tripper to Carlos Beltran in the third. Relievers Clay Condrey and Chad Durbin didn’t help matters much, as Condrey allowed the Mets to tie and then regain the lead, and Durbin gave up an insurance run in the form of a Ryan Church solo home run to dead center field that gave the Mets a 6-4 lead.

Cole Hamels will face Mike Pelfrey tomorrow night as the Phillies look to even the series. Jamie Moyer will take on the notorious Tim Redding in what the Phils hope will be a rubber match.

. . .

It’s been a while, but I finally have a couple more items to add to the “NL East Whining” category. First is an obvious one: Johan Santana’s bickering with manager Jerry Manuel when he was taken out of the game in the top of the eighth inning after surrendering a solo home run to Chase Utley that cut the Mets’ lead to 6-5. It looked like Santana said, “My ball,” which indicates that he was frustrated about coming out of the game.

After surrendering five runs on four hard-hit home runs, no matter who you are, it should never be surprising when you get the hook.

The next item comes via Baseball Think Factory via the New York Post:

[Chipper] Jones ripped the Mets’ new park in a recent radio interview, blasting the decision to make it play so big.

“It is the biggest park that I have ever played in in my life,” Jones told the show “Ripken Baseball” on Sirius XM Radio. “It is a huge ballpark to center and right center and right field. You know, I actually feel sort of sorry for some of the guys out there because their power numbers are really going to take a hit; guys like David Wright David Wright , [Carlos] Beltran, [Carlos] Delgado. The days of them hitting 35, 40 homers — they’re over.”

Jones also recalled a telling moment from his first visit to Citi Field last month, when the Braves took two of three from the home team.

“I juiced the ball just right of center field as hard as the good Lord can let me hit a ball, and it hit midways up the center-field wall for a double,” he said. “And every time there was a long fly out or a double that hit off the wall or something, David Wright would run by me and go, ‘Nice park.’

Whining from a member of the Atlanta Braves is really nothing new. Maybe whenever a team is thinking about building a new stadium, they should have the contractor meet up with Chipper Jones first so the park meets his high standards.

Despite the reputation, Citi Field actually has played rather neutral so far this season. However, it does rank 22nd in the Majors in ESPN’s Park Factor using runs. Yet, not even counting the seven homers hit tonight, it ranked eighth in Park Factor using home runs. Citizens Bank Park, which has a reputation as being a bandbox, is 15th in runs and 13th in home runs.

Mets Have 2009′s Built-In Excuse Prepared

In 2007, it was bad luck.

In 2008, it was injuries to a depleted bullpen.

In 2009, what are the Mets going to claim prevented them from achieving success? If third baseman David Wright has nagging problems related to his WBC injury, it looks like Jerry Manuel is going to blame… the WBC.

The New York Mets third baseman stayed in Wednesday’s World Baseball Classic game against Venezuela, despite believing he’d broken his toe fouling off a pitch in the first inning. He realized he’d escaped with nothing more than a cracked toenail only after an X-ray of his left foot was taken after the game.

So the fact that Wright limped to the finish of a game that affected only seeding for the WBC’s final rounds didn’t please Mets manager Jerry Manuel.

“He probably shouldn’t have played if he felt he had a broken toe,” Manuel told reporters on Thursday. “No question about that.”

Another important question to ask is, “How will Omar Minaya overreact to the Mets’ failure during the season?”

Following the ’07 collapse, Minaya went out and signed baseball’s best starting pitcher in Johan Santana. During June last season, he fired Willie Randolph after a win in the first game on a West coast road trip. Over the recent off-season, he acquired not one, but two lauded relief pitchers in Francisco Rodriguez and J.J. Putz, a response to Billy Wagner’s injury that will keep him out for all of ’09 as well as the noxious odors emitted from the bullpen last year.

I’m going to wait for the Mets to really clutch at straws and say something like, “We’re not playing well because we haven’t adjusted to the new stadium yet. We’re so used to Shea.” I should probably copyright that phrase in case someone in the Mets organization happens upon it, at least I can collect royalties every time they use it.

Now that I think of it, I think a new category, “NL East Whining”, would be fitting given the complaints of Chipper Jones recently:

The third baseman, who left the U.S. team this week due to injury, blasted both the format of the tournament and the city that hosted his team earlier this month for the opening round.

“Just way too many days off,” Jones told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the event’s format. “We stayed in Toronto for a week and played three games. I don’t know if you ever stayed in Toronto, but it’s not exactly Las Vegas. To say that we were plucking our eyebrows out one at a time would be an understatement.

“You’re not getting the work in that you should. You’re getting reps, but you’re not getting the at-bats that you need.

“Getting to share a clubhouse with the guys and getting to know people on a different level is the cool part about it. But when you’re talking about a three-week tournament, and you could literally play eight games in three weeks, it’s just too much down time for spring training.”

Jones added he won’t play for Team USA again unless the format is changed.

Whining isn’t exactly a new thing for the Atlanta Braves. I’ve written about it twice back in 2007, though I’m sure there was plenty last year that went unnoticed.

This new category adds a whole ‘nother element to the NL East “rivalries”! I’m so excited!

The World’s Tiniest Violin Plays for the Atlanta Braves… Again

Back on August 13, I wrote about the Atlanta Braves’ whining following a 5-3 loss at the hands of a Ryan Howard three-run homerun. Manager Bobby Cox and right fielder Jeff Francoeur complained about the dimensions of Citizens Bank Park, a tactic not foreign to the Tomahawks — John Smoltz loves to hate the “bandbox,” too.

But tonight, the Braves lost by a similar margin, 5-2, to the Phillies and starter Kyle Lohse, who went six and two-thirds innings, allowing only two runs — both at the hands of Chipper Jones. But was that enough for Larry? Of course not. It wasn’t Buddy Carlyle’s fault he went only one and two-thirds innings in the loss, and it wasn’t the Braves’ fault for getting 10 baserunners on base and only scoring 2 of them. It’s the home plate umpire’s fault they lost.

Courtesy FOXSports.com, we have a gem from Mr. Jones:

The first pitch to me with the bases loaded was in my batter’s box, inside. Now you tell me how I’m supposed to hit that. We have to get Questec here in this ballpark. We’ve got to. Umpires have got to be held accountable. That’s Little League World Series stuff right there.

It’s a joke. I’m tired of it. And baseball can fine me whatever they want. I do not care. Somebody’s got to say something. I’ve got more walks than strikeouts in my career – I know what a strike looks like.

You’re going to see frustration from now on as long as the officiating is abysmal. Major League Baseball ought to be ashamed. It’s abysmal. It’s awful. Not all of them but some of them. It’s awful.

Are Jones’ complaints valid? Let’s look at a screenshot of the at-bat on MLB Gameday:

Chipper Jones

Yes, the first pitch was a ball, but it was close. If MLB Gameday is accurate, part of the pitch went across the plate, if only a sliver.

Jones’ complaints are nothing more than [warning: amateur psychoanalysis] pent-up frustration from a season gone awry as a result of the Braves winning only 6 of their last 19 game, and now 8.5 games behind the Mets in the NL East, and 5.5 games behind in the Wild Card. After 14 straight seasons of making the postseason from 1991-2005 (excluding the strike-shortened ’94 season), losing is probably an unpleasant foreign concept to Chipper.

The Atlanta Braves are often said to be a classy organization, and for the most part, they are, but their players and manager act childish when things don’t go their way. They’re sore losers.

Perhaps [warning: more amateur psychoanalysis] it’s the realization that their NL East dominance is fading. Maybe it’s the realization that John Schuerholz and Bobby Cox are close to resigning from their current positions. Maybe it’s that the ownership changed. Maybe it’s the uncaring fanbase (10th out of 16 NL teams in attendance this season, and they’ve given their fans more than enough reason to come out to the ballpark).

For what it’s worth, Carlos Ruiz’s solo homerun (to view it, click here, then click “Top Play: 350K” and select “Ruiz’s Homer” from the list) in the top of the second inning barely cleared the 380-foot mark in left-center. I’m waiting for the Braves to complain about the “bandbox-ish” dimensions of their own ballpark.

The Smallest Violin Plays for the Atlanta Braves

As the Atlanta Braves often do following losses to the Phillies, they whined after tonight’s 5-3 loss to Jamie Moyer and the Phillies. The Braves love to whine about the Phillies, usually for their own imagined reasons.

July 2005: John Smoltz says of Citizens Bank Park, “I’ve played a long time, and some of the balls that are leaving there–it’s not right. It’s a joke.” [Link]

At the time Smoltz said that, Citizens Bank Park was only one and a half seasons old. The CBP homerun tally between the two teams in 2004 and 2005: Braves, 26; Phillies, 16. And the Braves enjoyed an 11-8 record against the Phillies in Philadelphia.

Flash forward to the bottom of the fifth inning in tonight’s nationally broadcast game (meaning the game comes with complimentary terrible commentary by Jon Miller and Joe Morgan) when Atlanta starter Buddy Carlyle starts off the inning with a walk to Jimmy Rollins. Carlyle got the next hitter, Tadahito Iguchi, to hit a ground ball to second baseman Martin Prado, who quickly flipped the ball to shortstop Yunel Escobar for the force at second base. Escobar got off a nice throw to first that was a hair too slow to get Iguchi at first base.

As soon as Escobar released the ball to first base, he caught the umpire’s “safe” motion and threw his arms up in the air as if he was accused of first-degree murder. To add insult to injury, Iguchi was called safe at first, so that was a huge double-whammy for Escobar. And replays showed that Escobar didn’t even come close to touching second base. He was trying to get the throw off as fast as possible with Jimmy Rollins heading full-throttle in his direction.

Bobby Cox came out to argue to no avail, and no, he wasn’t ejected. As a Phillies fan, I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing, considering he’s on the precipice of managerial history in terms of ejections.

Pat Burrell popped out on the seventh pitch of the at-bat, and made way for Ryan Howard, who had a walk and a strikeout to his name at that point.

In his first at-bat, Carlyle stayed away from him low and away, and walked Howard on five pitches. Howard wasn’t so fortunate in the third inning, when Carlyle grooved a fastball high and outside for a called strike three.

Carlyle wasn’t so fortunate on Howard’s third try. He tried getting him high and outside again, but Howard was a step ahead of him and drove the pitch 391 feet to left-center for a three-run homerun, staking the Phillies to a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Keep the homerun distance in mind, as it is an important fact that the Braves will conveniently ignore in their post-game whining.

Hit that fast-forward button again to the bottom of the ninth inning. Phillies closer Brett Myers easily retired Andruw Jones and Brian McCann, leaving the Braves’ hopes with pinch-hitter Willie Harris.

Myers threw Harris five straight fastballs, all at least 94 MPH, and all but one were low and outside. The last pitch, a 96-MPH called strike three on the outside corner, elicited some barking and gesturing from Myers at Harris and the Braves’ dugout, who didn’t take very kindly to his actions.

As Michael Radano notes on his blog,

If you saw the final strike of the night, you may have seen a little extra showmanship from Brett Myers.

Understand that Myers knows Braves hitter Willie Harris. The two were in the minors together and while they like to compete against one another, they have a good talking relationship.

Anyway, back in A-ball, Harris abused Myers. Always a leadoff hitter, Myers tried to overpower Harris with his fastball with little luck as Harris would slash away. Finally, Myers decided to “**** with him” and threw him a curve to start a game that Harris more than struggled with.

According to Myers, he faced him once this year and threw the curves, prompting Harris to challenge Myers manhood in a face-to-face.

Myers being Myers, he saw the final at bat of the ninth as a challenge. Fastball No.1 drew a smirk from Harris. Fastballs two, three and four allowed Myers to look in and at one point, show Harris four fingers. On the fifth fastball, Harris froze and began his walk back to the dugout.

“I wanted to show him I have *****,” Myers said with a grin.

That’s not it, though. The Braves were not exactly gracious losers. Some quotes, courtesy ComcastSportsNet.com.

Bobby Cox on Howard’s three-run homerun (remember the distance — 391 feet), said, “It was a little fly ball. It was out here and Cincinnati, and maybe Houston.”

391 feet is only out of Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Houston’s ballparks? It would’ve been out of yours too, Bobby. From the Braves website, the left-field power alley is 380 feet. Howard’s homerun would have been at least 3 or 4 rows back at Turner Field.

Jeff Francoeur was a bit more subtle. “We lost on a ball that just happened to go out of the ballpark. That’s all I can say. It’s tough to lose that way.”

Just happened to go out? Was Jeff watching the same homerun the rest of the country was watching?

And just for convenience sake, a recap of tonight’s whining from the Atlanta Braves:

- Yunel Escobar’s “throw your hands up in the air if you care” routine when he clearly didn’t touch any part of the second base bag, and Bobby Cox’s subsequent argument with the umpires (both at second base and at first, as he felt Iguchi was also out at first).

- Willie Harris and the Braves’ dugout yapping following Myers’ called strike three to end the game.

- Bobby Cox and Jeff Francoeur pouting about Ryan Howard’s game-winning, 391-foot, three-run homerun that would have left any ballpark.

Can someone get these guys on The Montel Williams Show? It is so unfortunate that they have to play in such a bandbox, where the other team gets more offensive innings than they do! (For those without sarcasm detectors, the Phillies had 8 offensive innings; the Braves had 9, so they had more chances to hit “little fly balls” for homeruns.)