Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Misery Loves Company

Sure, Barry Zito is having a lousy season. As I write, he's 2-10 with a 5.88 ERA.

But get this: there are several other major-league starters whose numbers are just about as bad. Of course, few of them are being pilloried in the way Zito is because their contracts aren't quite as eye-popping. Still, here's a multi-million dollar Hall of Shame among starting pitchers, complete with links to their full stats:

I could go on. And I didn't even mention poor Dontrelle Willis, who signed a fat deal with the Tigers, got hurt, pitched badly, and was shipped off to Class A ball to see if he could do something about his 10.32 ERA.

Barry, you're not great this year, but you're not alone.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Rock Star Tim

He looks like a pleasant enough fellow. By all accounts, he is a nice guy. But make no mistake. That fresh-faced kid is dangerous.

Tim Lincecum turns 24 years old in a couple of days and he's rapidly becoming a nightmare for big-league hitters. He arrived in the majors last year with a stupid-fast fastball, a slightly-askew delivery, and that Opie Taylor look.

People wondered, at first, if the Giants were rushing their prized first-round draft choice. Nobody's wondering any more.

Lincecum still has the blazing fastball, but he's added a nasty little curve and his changeup is now on a par with the best (think Trevor Hoffman in his prime). What's a hitter to do? Often, in Mike Krukow's words, "Grab some pine, Meat!"

But the best thing about watching Lincecum pitch is his attitude. There's that little sneer on his face when he throws. And there's a growing sense of a guy who is lord of all he surveys. In last night's game against the Rockies, he appeared to have retired the side on a swinging strikeout. Lincecum was almost across the foul line on his way to the dugout when he realized the third-base umpire had ruled a foul tip, a call you almost never see.

No worries for Rock Star Tim. He went back to the mound, struck the guy out again, and then fixed a nice steely glare on the ump as he left the field. He may look like a scrawny kid, but he's large and in charge.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bad Bats

Baseball needs to do something about those maple bats.

If you've been watching any ballgames the last year or two, you've undoubtedly noticed an increasing number of shattered bats. "So what?" you say. Broken bats have always been part of baseball.

Not like this. In the past, the broken bat was a hallmark of a good pitch--in on the hands. Now, you're seeing bats explode even when hitters get good wood on the ball.

The question is: what kind of wood? For many years, the predominant material for bats was ash. But once Barry Bonds started swatting homers in record numbers using a maple bat, lots of other players switched to maple, too. It's harder than ash, but harder can also mean more brittle. For the record: there's no proof that a harder maple bat adds anything to how far a guy can hit a ball. But try telling that to ballplayers, who will buy or do anything if they think it'll help.

The problem with the maple bats is not that they change the game itself. The problem is that they are dangerous as hell. At least one fan and one coach have been badly injured by bat shrapnel. Several pitchers have been hit (though so far, none have been seriously hurt). But it will certainly happen eventually.

Look, if baseball can make a big deal out of making on-field coaches wear batting helmets and stay within the lines of their coaching boxes because one guy was killed by a line drive (an incident regarded by almost everyone in the sport as freak occurrence), then it can damn well ban the maple bats to protect everyone at the ballpark.

Let's not wait for someone to be killed.