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“took a piece of this and a piece of that and applied it and that worked out for him”

 

OVERSHADOWED BUT RARELY OVERMATCHED: RED SOX OF ALLEN CRAIG HAS MADE A CAREER OF SHATTERING EXPECTATIONS

08.28.14

By Nick Canelas

Jeff Luhnow is leaning against the padded railing at the top of the visiting team’s dugout at Fenway Park, looking on as the Red Sox take batting practice on the field. It’s a Saturday evening in mid-August, and the Astros general manager is in town to watch his team play the third game of a four-game series in Boston.

Within shouting distance is Allen Craig, who is sporting a red jacket with “Red Sox” emblazoned across the chest. Craig quietly works out alone, unnoticed and unbothered. He is testing out the left ankle he tweaked while running over first base in hisRed Sox debut Aug. 1. He rounds third base and heads toward home. He begins shuffling down the third base line and back. He’s preparing himself for a short rehab stint in Pawtucket that will begin two days later.

It’s a simple exercise that doesn’t garner attention. But Craig’s obscurity is prominent as Luhnow reflects on arguably one of his greatest discoveries as the Cardinals’ scouting director.

Luhnow recalls a conversation with Mark DeJohn in the summer of 2006. DeJohn then was the manager of the State College Spikes, St Louis’ Class-A short-season affiliate in the New York-Penn League, and had just coached Craig’s first summer as a professional baseball player.

Back then, Craig was a skinny shortstop who had just graduated from the University of California. He was an eighth-round pick who, at 6-foot-2 and still growing, Luhnow said would need to rely on his bat and versatility in the field to make the big leagues.

In the top 10 rounds of the amateur draft, Luhnow said, teams are looking for players who will impact the major league team. But by the eighth round that probability is slim.

Coming off an impressive senior season at Cal, Craig’s first summer in the pros was expectedly unspectacular. He hit .257 for the Spikes with four home runs in 48 games. But DeJohn saw something special in him that at the time took Luhnow by surprise.

“He came into our system without a lot of fanfare as a senior out of college,” Luhnow said. “€œI remember Mark DeJohn said, ‘This guy is a prospect.’ I said, ‘What makes you think that? He hit [four] home runs.’ He said, ‘This is a hard league and he was tired after a long college season. But this guy is a prospect. Wait until you see what he looks like in the spring.’ ”€

Luhnow had first noticed Craig his junior year at Cal, and had him put on the Cardinals’ draft board after scouting him his senior year. But, as DeJohn predicted, he saw the real Craig take form in spring 2007.

Luhnow saw a player who could hit both the inside fastball and outside breaking pitch, and was a nightmare for pitchers with runners in scoring position.

At the same time, Craig was muted and unassuming. “€œHe quietly went about his business and talked with his bat and his glove,” said Mark Budaska, hitting coach of the Memphis Redbirds, the Cardinals’ Triple-A affiliate.

Craig was never labeled a potential superstar by scouts. He never provoked excitement amongst fans. But his superb focus and work ethic carried him to success at a stunning pace.

“He made it a lot faster and made a bigger impact than any of us in St. Louis anticipated,”€ Luhnow said.

Craig breezed through the minor leagues. By the end of 2013, he was a World Series champion, an All-Star and a regular .300 hitter in three-plus seasons with the Cardinals.

For seemingly unknown reasons, 2014 has been different for Craig. Now with the Red Sox, he is in the midst of his worst major league season, sporting career lows in average (.231) and power numbers (eight home runs, 19 doubles). With such underwhelming numbers as well as injury concerns, questions have been raised about whether or not the Red Sox have received damaged goods.

However, it’s not the first time the 30-year-old has been underestimated, and certainly not the first time he’s been asked to shatter expectations.

* * *

Craig has his back toward his locker in the Red Sox clubhouse. He’s stiff, as if he’s been approached by the middle school bully.

He’s visibly uncomfortable talking about himself. But when asked to reflect on his baseball beginnings, he can’t help but crack a shy smile.

  

Craig returned to action a week ago after suffering an ankle injury in his first game with the Red Sox on Aug. 1. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

His father, Ron Craig, began tossing baseballs to Allen when he was about 3 or 4 years old in their Southern California neighborhood. And once he was old enough to swing a bat, Craig immediately was signed up for tee-ball.

His passion for the game was instant. There was nothing he enjoyed more than hitting.

“€œI loved it. I always loved playing the game and hitting, especially, and just wanted to get better at that part of the game,” he said. “It was a fun thing growing up just to play Little League with my friends, playing travel ball and just the whole deal.”

Craig always was appreciative of the opportunities baseball afforded him, even when he was young. At about 14, he went to Venezuela with his father to represent the United States in the Pan American Games. He played against some of the best young talent in the world in front of large crowds.

Little did he know then that such events were only the beginning of a baseball career loaded with full stadiums and monumental pressure.

“Looking back, experiences like that helped prepare me for where I am today,” Craig said. “It’s funny because you don’t think about it at the time. But looking back it’s pretty cool.”

It was in high school that Craig built his reputation as not just a hard worker, but perhaps the most driven player David Barret, his coach at Chaparral High School in Temecula, California, had ever seen.

Barret would drive by the field late on a given weekend night, and almost every time he’d spot Craig fielding ground balls from his father and taking batting practice.

If Craig felt as if he practiced poorly or wasn’t prepared for the next day’s game, Barret said, he’d stay on the field until he believed he was ready.

“€œHe knew at a young age what it took to be successful,” Barret said. “€œThat’s unusual for a kid to have a goal, have an expectation and a level of play that he’s used to, and knows what it takes to get himself ready for that next game to perform at the highest level possible consistently.”

Craig already was hitting the ball to both fields regularly while playing against what Barret called a “hotbed of baseball talent”€ in the Southwestern League, which was ranked by MaxPreps.com as the No. 1 high school baseball league in the country.

Barret said Craig reminded him of a right-handed version of Jason Giambi – a player Barret coached against when the former Yankees slugger was in high school –€“ for his smooth stroke and his ability to spread the ball all over the field.

But most importantly, Barret said both players were “€œtough as nails in the mental toughness category.”

That mental toughness was what made Craig Temecula’s Mr. Clutch.

It was rare for Barret to call up underclassmen to the varsity squad, but Craig made it in the middle of his freshman season and thrived.

Barret highlighted multiple clutch performances in postseason games, including a two-homer effort in the state quarterfinal Craig’s sophomore year and a three-run blast in the first inning of the state championship game his senior year, as well as multiple walkoff home runs. According to Barett, Craig always was Chaparral’s go-to player.

“What set him apart in all the years that I coached, that if it came down to the last inning with the game on the line, the person I would choose would be Allen Craig,” Barret said. “That coolness and calmness that he has at the plate that you hope all the players would have. But it’s really tough to teach, and Allen has that. That’s what I felt he had above everyone else.”

Craig hit .585 with eight home runs as a senior to earn Southwestern League MVP honors. Up next was a four-year stop in Berkeley.

But before he began his college career, Craig had an unforgettable summer ahead of him.

* * *

Looking at the numbers 12 years later, Edgar Soto still couldn’t believe it.

Now the athletic director at Pima Community College in Tucson, Arizona, Soto coached the United States 18U national team to a bronze medal in the IBAF World Junior Championship in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in the summer of 2002.

It was a U.S. team loaded with big personalities and standout talent. Seven of the 18 players on that team were future first-round draft picks, six of whom came right out of high school a year later.

There was Delmon Young, the boisterous outfielder who launched a tournament-record nine home runs that summer and led the team with a .513 average in eight games. There was Lastings Milledge, the speedster who could hit for power and also was a wizard with his glove. There was Chad Billingsley, the hard-throwing right-hander who went 3-0 with a 2.45 ERA in three appearances. There were other future major league cynosures such as Ian Stewart, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ian Kennedy as well.

Then there was Craig, the soft-spoken shortstop destined for college with likely another four years before he’d get his shot at the big leagues. He didn’t hit 400-foot home runs or frighten opponents on the basepaths with blazing speed, but he hit .485 –€“ good for second on the team –€“  and was third on the team with 10 RBIs.

His demeanor was so modest, his approach so workmanlike and his efforts so subtle that his consistently exceptional production sometimes could go unnoticed.

“You know what was funny was, with him, at the end of the day you’d say, ‘Hey look, Allen Craig had three hits today,’ or, ‘Allen Craig did this,’ ”€ Soto said. “The numbers were always there, and that’s how he made the team. You might’ve not seen him because it wasn’t a Delmon Young hit where he hit it to the moon or over a scoreboard, but he got his hits.

“€œYou couldn’t overlook him because when it comes down to it you’d get to his name and say, ‘You know what, that guy had a great game. He did this, he did that.’ You were able to see it. The ones that would stand out would be, ‘Hey, did you see Delmon Young‘s home run over the scoreboard?’ ”€

Added Soto: “He was kind of overshadowed by some of the teammates that he had, but man, he was solid, he was consistent.”

Soto said Craig reminded him of Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy, whom he coached in 2000, because both players “€œnever really brought too much attention to themselves. Just humble guys that played hard and that you felt like you can count on all the time.”

Craig, however, said he never felt overshadowed by his teammates. In fact, he called that summer one of his “€œgreatest baseball memories.” That experience taught him the blue-collar approach that he’s employed throughout most of his career.

“€œMy main goal was to focus on the level I was at,” he said. “€œNot getting too far ahead of myself, just trying to get good at high school baseball, get good in college and then when I got to the pros.”

Soto said he never doubted Craig’s potential. Ken Jacome, the pitching coach on that USA squad, called Craig a “no-brainer big leaguer.”

Both coaches admitted they couldn’t have predicted just how successful he would be. However, neither was surprised by how he got to that point.

“If you look back at that team, he wasn’t one of our high-profile guys,” said Jacome, who’s now an assistant coach at the University of New Mexico. “Allen was going to be a college guy. He was going to go to school, he was going to go play and get a degree and do all that stuff, so I think he was a little overlooked as far as just being that high-profile top prospect. He was that guy that was going to outwork everybody and put his time in in college.”

* * *

David Esquer prides himself in molding an unfinished product into a big league-caliber talent. The Cal coach searches for the hardest-working players, the ones most determined and most capable of seismic improvement.

 

Craig stayed all four years at Cal in part to put himself in better position to succeed at the major league level. (Michael Pimentel/GoldenBearSports.com)

Craig perfectly fit that billing.

“€œI knew that he was a good player with the ability to get better,”€ Esquer said.

Craig’s first two seasons at Cal were unremarkable, but the progress was there. He hit .285 both his freshman and sophomore seasons, upping his power numbers with more at-bats as a second-year player.

The turning point for Craig came midway through his junior year. He hit .304 with 35 RBIs and 40 runs scored in 57 games as a middle-of-the-order-presence in a Pac-10 lineup.

At that point, Esquer said, Craig was talented enough to be drafted into the major leagues. However, neither he nor Craig felt it was smart to make that jump.

“I remember that what he was hearing from some clubs was not going to be good enough for him,”€ Esquer said. “€œHe made a very mature decision that it would be in his best interest to come back for his senior year.”

Said Craig: “I started off slow my junior year, finished off strong and really had a chance to get drafted, maybe not. But I knew that school was really important to me and it got me closer to graduating. My senior year was important and it just didn’t work out after my junior year. I knew I wanted to have an even better senior year.”

Craig did exactly what he set out to do. He led the team in batting average (.344), slugging percentage (.561), doubles (15) and home runs (11) — the kind of numbers that drew interest from scouts such as Luhnow and the Cardinals.

“€œYou can never underestimate the ability of driving in runs, and that’s what he can do,”€ Esquer said. “He could hit the breaking ball and he could use the whole field.”

* * *

Luhnow, then-general manager Walt Jocketty and the rest of the Cardinals front office staff had a select group of college seniors on their radar entering the 2006 draft. But those players weren’t the hot commodities. That was reserved for the high school phenoms.

However, drafting an 18-year-old with the expectation that he’ll be an impact big league player in three or four years is a gamble. In 2014, more teams are realizing the value of college players, Luhnow said, because “you let the schools do the weeding-out process on your behalf.” That, in turn, raises the likelihood the college player will succeed.

The Cardinals projected Craig as a fifth-round pick. Other clubs didn’t feel the same way, though, and St. Louis was able to wait until the eighth round to select him as the first college senior the team picked that year.

“€œBy the eighth round we had enough people saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to lose this guy if we don’t take him right now,’ ”€ Luhnow said. “We made the right decision.”

* * *

Craig was penciled in to return to Low-A ball in 2007 after a pedestrian showing at State College the previous summer.

But, as DeJohn had anticipated, Craig blew the Cardinals staff away with his bat that spring and wound up on the High-A Palm Beach Cardinals roster.

Playing in what Luhnow called a “very pitcher-friendly league” and ballpark, Craig hit .312 with 21 home runs and 77 RBIs. “He just started mashing,” Luhnow said. “We knew at that point we had something special.”

Craig had similar success the next year for the organization’s Double-A team in Springfield, Missouri, but he never drew the kind of excitement players like Colby Rasmus, Jon Jay or Shelby Miller did.

The players who had fans raving, Luhnow said, were the ones with exceptional scouting tools, the ones with speed, the ones who threw hard and the ones with hulking power.

“Those are the guys that get Baseball America excited,” Luhnow said. “I don’t think Craig was ever a top-100 prospect, yet his major league career is probably going to be better than 95 of those 100 guys on the list when he was not on it.

“It’s really an under-the-radar, just keeping performing and you’ll get the chance.”

The minor leagues weren’t as easy as Craig made them look, however. In fact, he said those years were the most mentally challenging of his baseball life.

Craig was producing at an incredible level. But the goal wasn’t to be a great minor league player. He wanted to excel in the big leagues, where he could travel on charter flights instead of buses and play in front of packed stadiums with passionate fans.

No matter how close Craig got to that goal, it never seemed close enough.

“€œSometimes things don’t happen in the timetable that you’d like them to,” he said. “For me it taught me a lesson to be patient and focus on what I’m doing, where I’m at and things will happen in time. But it was challenging. Getting through the minor leagues is tough.”

The most difficult part came in Craig’s first season at Triple-A Memphis in 2009. He hit .268 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs through the first three months of the season. He was abysmal in May, hitting .252/.293/.400 with 30 strikeouts.

The problem was the direction with Craig’s stride, Budaska said. He stepped across his body too much during his swing and had troubling handling inside pitches.

The two spent extra time working on his flaws. Budaska adjusted Craig’s approach and the results were evident. Craig clubbed 10 home runs with an .829 slugging percentage in July and hit .386 over the last 57 games of the season.

Craig credited Budaska for such a drastic turnaround. The teacher lauded his student’s own desire to make the extra effort.

“He was always open-minded and was a good listener,”Budaska said. “He was intelligent enough — he’s a real intelligent player — to listen for information about individuals that had some experience in the game and took a piece of this and a piece of that and applied it and that worked out for him.

“Everything doesn’t work for everybody, so you have to be able to take in information, look at the adjustments, process it and try it to see if it’s going to be right for you and go from there. He was really good at that.”

In 2010, Craig had finally achieved his goal of making the big leagues. He spent much of the year bouncing between Memphis and St. Louis, giving Cardinals fans glimpses of what he could be.

Up to that point, Craig had been overshadowed by star talent on countless occasions.

After the magic he performed in the 2011 World Series, though, he wouldn’t be overlooked in St. Louis again.

* * *

Barret deemed Craig clutch in high school. Soto praised his blue-collar attitude with Team USA. Esquer referred to him as deadly with runners in scoring position.

Cardinals fans got to see those attributes come together over the next three seasons. The world got its first look at it in the 2011 postseason.

At 27 years old, Craig was playing in his first World Series. He didn’t start either of the first two games against Texas, but he capitalized in the way he does best. Just days after ripping a two-run pinch-hit single in Game 6 of theNational League Championship Series against Milwaukee, Craig did his best Kirk Gibsonimpression by turning on a 98 mph Alexi Ogando fastball for the go-ahead pinch-hit single in the sixth inning of Game 1 of the Fall Classic.

Craig did it again in another pinch-hit situation in Game 2, driving a 96 mph heater from Ogando to right field to break a scoreless tie.

Craig joined Amos Otis and Duke Snider — whose grandson, Brandon Snider, played with Craig at Chaparral — as the only players to drive in go-ahead runs in the sixth inning or later in consecutive World Series games.

“I met him a couple of times,” Craig said of the elder Snider at the time. ‘”To read that was special to me. I know it’s not the all-time home run record or anything like that, but it’s special to me to be in the same sentence as Duke. That was pretty cool.”

Craig then hit home runs in Games 3, 6 and the decisive Game 7 to help the Cardinals win the World Series. He didn’t just energize all of St. Louis, he was a hero back home, too, where Chaparral would retire his high school jersey number months later.

“All of Temecula and Chaparral was thrilled to see him get those pinch hits in the World Series,” Barret said.

It was the type of performance that made those who first saw his big league potential proud as well.

“When you get a guy that can help you win a World Series like he did in 2011, that’s all the return you ever want,”Luhnow said. “To think that I played a part in selecting him and he played a part in delivering that championship in St. Louis, that’s all the return I ever needed.”

Craig continued that kind of production over the next two seasons. Just as in 2011, he was at his best in the most important moments. He hit .407 with runners in scoring position and .483 with the bases loaded from 2011-13. He was an All-Star selection in 2013.

After missing most of September and October last season with a Lisfranc injury, Craig was back in time for the World Series against the Red Sox. Although he is most remembered in Boston for his role as the baserunner in the obstruction call that ended Game 3 at Busch Stadium, he posted a team-high .375 batting average over the course of the series with an .849 OPS.

Craig finally appeared to be nearing his peak.

* * *

It’s Aug. 21 and Craig’s name appears on the lineup sheet to the right of the entrance to the Red Sox clubhouse for the first time since his debut. Once the media is allowed in, Craig is approached one by one by reporters seeking comment on his health and his return to the lineup.

On this day, he won’t be ignored.

For all the glory that came with Craig’s last three seasons, 2014 has bordered on disastrous. Poor numbers, falling victim to the trade deadline, health concerns and a logjam in the Red Sox outfield has left Craig with plenty of uncertainty going forward.

However, Craig said he doesn’t concern himself with the future. Whether it’s learning new positions after college — he’s primarily a right fielder for the Red Sox — or revamping his swing, Craig has had a knack for making the right adjustments and thriving.

His baseball journey has been unconventional, and frankly a little hectic. But in that time he’s adopted the kind of values — such as his work ethic, patience and quiet confidence — that make a great athlete.

It’s enough where he believes he can once again catch people by surprise.

“I guess you could say that I was a little bit of an underdog, but I’ve always been confident in my abilities and that’s not something that’s ever left me,” he said. “I never looked at things like that, like I was an underdog. I just tried to focus on what I needed to do, play the game and get better, and that’s that.

“This year has been a little bit difficult, but I understand baseball is a tough game and things don’t always go the way you want them to and sometimes you need to learn from experiences, and the first half of this year was definitely a learning experience. I feel like I’m better for it. I’ve been going through a little bit of a struggle, but I feel good now.”

Whether his own confidence is convincing or not, he undoubtedly has the backing of those who helped shape him as a player.

“The game of baseball is hard and you’re always constantly making adjustments, and he made those adjustments while he was here. It’s just the nature of the game of baseball,”Esquer said. “Seeing how he started and went through his career here and ended up with his best season, he was able to make those adjustments. So I have no doubt he can make those adjustments.”

Said Soto: “Whether good or bad, he always seemed to have short-term memory. He was always on to the next at-bat, the next play, so I think that’s helped him along the way. I’ve never seen him overreact on anything. He was always kind of an even-keeled person.”

Added Budaska: “I think he’s going to continue to have a long and successful career, and this happens to be over in Boston now.”

http://fullcount.weei.com/sports/boston/baseball/red-sox/2014/08/28/overshadowed-but-rarely-overmatched-red-sox-of-allen-craig-has-made-a-career-of-shattering-expectations/

 

“Any time something affects your clubhouse, I think as the manager you have to handle it.”

 

 

TENSION GROWING BETWEEN ASTROS' MANAGER, GM

Ken Rosenthal

0

K R

The Astros need an intervention. Or maybe something stronger.


General manager Jeff Luhnow and manager Bo Porter are at odds, according to multiple major-league sources.

Porter expressed his frustration with Luhnow to owner Jim Crane in a conversation earlier this month, sources said.

Luhnow and Crane declined comment. Porter also declined comment, saying, “My focus is on managing and finishing the season strong.”

Porter’s frustration stems from a lack of input and from his belief that Luhnow engages in excessive second-guessing of his in-game management, sources said.

Losing exacerbates tension for every club, but the Astros appear to be dysfunctional on multiple levels.

Those critical of Luhnow say that he keeps a small circle, communicating mostly with director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal and others while rarely consulting the team’s on-field staff, executive advisor Nolan Ryan and special assistant to the GM Craig Biggio.

The Astros hired Luhnow in December 2011 and Porter in September 2012. The lengths of their respective contracts are not known.

Crane could attempt to broker a peace between Luhnow and Porter, and Ryan’s son -- Astros president of business operations Reid Ryan -- also could play a role in such discussions, sources said.

But perhaps it is not a surprise that the emotional Porter and deeply analytical Luhnow are proving to be an uncomfortable fit, raising questions about the team’s future leadership.

Crane expected significant progress after three straight seasons of 106 or more losses, telling reporters shortly before the season started, “I’d love to see us get to .500.”

The Astros, however, are on pace to finish 68-94 -- 26 games below .500. Only the Rangers, a team decimated by injuries, own a worse record in the AL.

In late June, Sports Illustrated proclaimed the Astros, “Your 2017 World Series champs,” citing the team’s deep collection of young talent, including three straight No. 1 picks in the amateur draft.

Since then, the Astros have failed to sign their top 2014 selection, high-school left-hander Brady Aiken, creating a firestorm that, according to sources, added to the strain within the organization.

The team’s top choice in 2013, Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, also was a subject of controversy, struggling early in the season before showing notable improvement after his promotion to Double A.

An unannounced visit by Appel to Houston prior to his promotion contributed to the friction between Luhnow and Porter, sources said; Luhnow initially did not make Porter aware that Appel would throw a bullpen session for pitching coach Brent Strom. Porter then had to explain the situation to his players, a number of whom were seething, believing that Appel did not warrant his promotion and was receiving special treatment.

“I will handle those conversations internally,” Porter said at the time. “Any time something affects your clubhouse, I think as the manager you have to handle it.”

Appel, after posting a 9.74 ERA in 12 starts for Class A Lancaster, has produced a 3.15 ERA in six starts for Double A Corpus Christi.

The incident, however, reflected the lack of communication within the Astros’ hierarchy. Rival executives say it is not unusual for a team to summon a prospect for a session with a major-league coach. Porter, though, grew upset because Luhnow did not inform him in advance that Appel would work with Strom.

The disagreement over Appel was just one flashpoint between Porter and Luhnow, sources said. The question now is whether their relationship can be salvaged – and whether Crane will want to replace one or both.

Crane might resist any change, not wanting to admit that he made a mistake with either hiring. But it’s difficult to imagine the Astros starting the 2015 season with the same management team.

http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/just-a-bit-outside/story/tension-growing-between-astros-manager-gm-082914

 

“The evidence comes from several sources”

Schilling's claims draw attention to smokeless tobacco

Saturday, August 30, 2014

 

Curt Schilling blames his oral cancer on 30 years of chewing tobacco.

While it is impossible to say for sure in any one person's case, that conclusion by the former Phillies pitcher is certainly plausible, cancer experts say.

"I can't taste anything and I can't smell anything," Schilling said this month during a Boston radio telethon, according to MLB.com. Schilling, 47, retired in 2007 after 20 seasons in the major leagues, 81/2 with the Phillies.

And he is unlikely to be the last to be affected, despite continued efforts by Major League Baseball to discourage the habit.

The use of chewing tobacco, and to a greater extent fine-cut "dip" tobacco, remains fairly steady among baseball players and the public. These products are marketed as an alternative to smoking, and they are less likely than smoking to cause cancer - but public-health officials say it is mistake to view them as safer.

There is evidence of a "gateway" effect, meaning that people who start by using smokeless tobacco may move on to cigarettes, said Peter Shields, deputy director of the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center. Those who switch to smokeless tobacco as a means of quitting cigarettes, meanwhile, may have a hard time, he said.

"If someone switched entirely, it would probably be better than if they continued to smoke," Shields said. "But, actually, what happens is that people don't switch entirely."

And even if a person uses only smokeless tobacco, the link between that product and oral cancer is "essentially certain," said Jeffrey Liu, an assistant professor at Temple University School of Medicine and an attending surgeon at Fox Chase Cancer Center.

The evidence comes from several sources, including animal and human laboratory studies, as well as epidemiology - the statistical analysis of population-wide disease rates, said Stephen S. Hecht, a cancer researcher and organic chemist at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Hecht was one of the authors of a 2008 review of epidemiologic studies in the United States and Asia, published in Lancet Oncology. The analysis found that the rate of oral cancer in people who use smokeless tobacco was 2.6 times the rate in those who do not. The rates of esophageal and pancreatic cancer among users were also elevated, but to a lesser degree.

The authors found that 4 percent of oral cancers in U.S. men could be attributed to smokeless tobacco use. Other risk factors for oral cancer include smoking, heavy drinking, and human papilloma virus.

Northern European studies have not found a strong link between smokeless tobacco and oral cancer. Shields said that might be due to much lower levels of carcinogens in the tobacco sold there, due to a different curing process.

There also is not a clear link between smokeless tobacco and cancer of the salivary gland, which claimed baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn in June. Liu said that statistical case is harder to make because salivary gland cancer is rare.

Yet overall, the link between smokeless tobacco and cancer is solid enough for Major League Baseball, which in recent decades has taken a variety of steps to curb its use, or at least its use in the public eye:

Teams cannot allow tobacco companies to leave free samples in clubhouses, as once was common.

Players may not use smokeless tobacco during televised interviews and cannot carry it on their person during games.

Annual physical exams for players must include an oral exam.

Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues.

Outgoing commissioner Bud Selig has said he wants further restrictions to be considered at the bargaining table; the players' union prefers additional education. Baseball officials say one-third of major leaguers use smokeless tobacco, down from 50 percent 20 years ago, citing surveys by the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.

Close to half of the current Phillies use smokeless tobacco, according to an informal count.

The product is less common in the general public, according to phone surveys conducted for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Pennsylvania, 9.7 percent of men and less than 1 percent of women reported using it in 2009, the most recent year available.

In New Jersey, 3.6 percent of men and 1.1 percent of women reported using smokeless tobacco in 2009.

In both states, high schoolers are rivaling the grown-ups, according to separate surveys conducted by state health departments. In Pennsylvania, 8.5 percent of students reported using smokeless tobacco in 2010, the most recent year available. In New Jersey, the rate was 5.4 percent.

U.S. retail sales of smokeless tobacco were $6.1 billion for the last 52 weeks, up 5.5 percent from the previous year, said Ken Shea, a senior analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence, the research arm of Bloomberg L.P.

The continued use of the product by teenagers worries Shields, because of the relentless attraction of nicotine.

"The problem is really with adolescents," Shields said. "They think they're immortal and they can quit anytime. It doesn't work that way."

 


BY THE NUMBERS

4%

Of oral cancer in men can be attributed to smokeless tobacco.

Other causes: Smoking,

heavy drinking, and human papilloma virus.

9.7% Of men, and less than

1 percent of women, in Pennsylvania reported using smokeless tobacco in 2009.

3.6%

Of men, and 1.1 percent of women, in

New Jersey reported using smokeless tobacco in 2009.

$6.1B

U.S. retail sales of smokeless tobacco for the last

52 weeks, up

5.5 percent from the previous year.


www.philly.com/philly/news/20140830_Schilling_s_claims_draw_attention_to_smokeless_tobacco.html#StleE38hbmfvEHwm.99

 

 

 

 

“Bullpens are full of failed starters”

Tim Lincecum: Now a Reliever, Maybe Needs to Close

by Dave Cameron - August 26, 2014

Tim Lincecum is headed to the bullpen. After a miserable start to the second half — opposing batters are hitting .331/.422/.622 against him since the All-Star break — the Giants have finally removed him from the rotation and will experiment with Lincecum as a relief pitcher. Of course, Lincecum famously dominated out of the pen in the 2012 playoffs, and ever since, speculation has mounted that this was going to be the path to Linecum’s career revival. Bullpens are full of failed starters, some of whom have gained significant velocity while pitching in shorter stints and have turned into lights-out bullpen arms.

The Giants would be thrilled if Lincecum turned into their version of Wade Davis, for instance; as a starter, he allowed a .341 wOBA over his career, but hitters have posted just a .222 wOBA off him in his relief work. Some guys just need the boost that comes from throwing 20 pitches instead of 100, and it’s not hard to draw a correlation between Lincecum’s decline in velocity and performance. If moving Lincecum to the bullpen gets his fastball back to the mid-90s, he might be able to reinvent himself in the new role.

However, Lincecum’s struggles present a perhaps unique challenge in turning him into an ace reliever. As I wrote for Fox a few months ago, almost the entire portion of Lincecum’s struggles can be chalked up to struggles with men on base. I think the tables that were shown in that article are worth showing again, though I’ve updated the 2014 and total lines to take into account the more recent data.

Lincecum, career, bases empty.

Season

BB%

K%

FIP

xFIP

2007

9%

25%

3.04

3.44

2008

11%

27%

3.05

3.50

2009

7%

29%

2.20

2.77

2010

9%

26%

2.93

3.01

2011

10%

25%

3.22

3.31

2012

9%

26%

3.80

3.31

2013

9%

25%

3.93

3.34

2014

9%

23%

3.30

3.43

Total

9%

26%

3.15

3.24

Tim Lincecum, career, men on base.

Season

BB%

K%

FIP

xFIP

2007

12%

23%

4.43

4.32

2008

7%

31%

2.17

2.73

2009

8%

29%

2.55

2.90

2010

8%

26%

3.41

3.18

2011

9%

24%

3.11

3.41

2012

14%

20%

4.67

4.47

2013

10%

20%

3.49

3.84

2014

11%

17%

5.47

4.23

Total

10%

24%

3.48

3.53

Lincecum’s career wOBA allowed with the bases empty is .299; this year, it’s .313. That’s worse, but the magnitude of the difference is hardly anything to care about. However, his career wOBA allowed with men on base is .296, and this year, it’s .381. Out of the wind-up, Linecum has mostly been the Lincecum he’s always been, but out of the stretch, he’s been throwing batting practice.

The easy answer seems to be that pitching out of the stretch is causing his stuff to flatten out, but as I noted in the Fox piece, the data doesn’t really support that conclusion; his velocity is steady regardless of the number of baserunners. The primary culprit seems to be worse location with men on base, which could be a mechanical thing or a mental thing, or even just randomness. Diagnosing a cause is difficult.

However, we can note that Lincecum’s struggles have only really manifest themselves in this specific scenario, and generally, the goal of moving a guy to the bullpen is to maximize his usage in situations that he’s set up to succeed in. You take a pitcher with big platoon splits out of the rotation and use him as a match-up specialist to take advantage of his skills against same-handed hitters, for instance. But if Lincecum’s kryptonite is pitching from the stretch, then a middle relief role might not serve to limit those opportunities, since the guys pitching in front of the closer often need to come in with men on base and try and kill a rally.

Lincecum’s splits suggest that perhaps the best way to “fix” him is to let him pitch with the bases empty as often as possible, which means starting the inning and not cleaning up after others. And there’s only one role in the bullpen that is generally afforded that luxury; the closer. Sure, Bruce Bochy could just use Lincecum as a middle reliever who wasn’t used as a fire extinguisher, and could slot him into a rigid start-the-7th-inning-only role or something, but over the long term, no manager wants to be handcuffed to having a setup men unavailable in the highest leverage situation. Limiting Lincecum to middle innings work with no one on base necessarily means that he’s going to be pitching in lower leverage outings, and thus, won’t be of that much value even if he does pitch well.

But while save situations are often overrated, they are normally high leverage outings. Closers, as a group, post higher leverage numbers than setup guys, even though they are occasionally called on to protect three run leads. There are more one or two run leads to protect, however, and overall, closers do pitch in more meaningful innings than setup guys, even though they don’t come into situations with men on base and try to kill rallies. If you want Lincecum to have significant value in a bullpen role, it seems that giving him the ninth inning might be the best way to accomplish that goal.

But I’m guessing it’s probably not that easy to take a guy who has turned every hitter into Miguel Cabrera for the last month and hand him the ball in a critical situation. Usually, when you kick a starter to the bullpen, the goal is to get him some low leverage stints to rebuild some confidence, and I’m guessing that’s how the Giants will use Lincecum initially.

But if it works, they’ll be faced with a bit of a dilemma; put him back in the rotation where he’ll have to try and pitch out of jams again, or consider whether a quick ascension to the closer role is a bridge they want to cross. And part of that decision will have to come down to their interest in seeing Lincecum as a starter again. If they do give Lincecum some high leverage relief innings, and he pitches well in those outings, it’s going to be difficult to argue that he should ever start again, much in the same way that Wade Davis’ performance out of the bullpen has made it unlikely that he’ll ever be asked to do anything else. Once they move him into the closer’s role, he’s probably there for good, or at least until he’s no longer good enough to close either.

Given the history of the starter-reliever conversion, this seems to have a pretty good chance of working out pretty well for Lincecum. Especially if he’s allowed to primarily pitch with the bases empty, and perhaps in shorter stints, he’d even figure out how to work his way out of his own jams. But Lincecum’s struggles to strand runners make a middle relief role a bit awkward, and that might force the Giants hand a bit. If they think he’s a reliever for good, make him the closer and don’t look back.

http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/tim-lincecum-now-a-reliever-maybe-needs-to-close/

 

"the willful ignorance that still pervades certain factions of baseball"

How macho baseball culture wants to ruin Yu Darvish's arm

 

By Jeff Passan16 hours agoYahoo Sports

 

The Texas Rangers are almost certain to shut down Yu Darvish for the season, because that’s what a smart team would do, and the Rangers are no dummies. They don’t cater to the whims of a manager who after all these years doesn’t care to acquaint himself with the intricacies of arm injuries, and they don’t kowtow to media members looking for some bright light in this Alaska winter of a season, and they certainly don’t put at risk one of the most valuable assets in baseball to salvage some sliver of a year long ago lost.

 

The fact that this is even an issue in 2014 – in a year that has seen pitcher after young, dynamic pitcher wake up from an anesthetic slumber with a scar on his elbow – speaks to the willful ignorance that still pervades certain factions of baseball. Earlier in the month, Darvish’s right elbow hurt. An MRI showed inflammation, which was about the best-case scenario. The Rangers should celebrate the fact that one of baseball’s five best pitchers isn’t so myopic to think he alone can solve the woes of an injury-destroyed team that owns the game’s worst record at 52-80. Pride has killed too many arms to count.

And yet it’s still one of the prevailing currencies in baseball – in sports, really – and somehow gets conflated with wanting to win. Take Rangers manager Ron Washington, a man whose candidness is one of his greatest qualities but, on occasion, exposes his weaknesses. At one point, he lamented Darvish’s slow recovery time, saying: “So he’s got inflammation. I’ve got inflammation.”

It got a chuckle, Wash being Wash, and he later apologized for it in a radio interview with 103.3 FM in Dallas. During that same interview, of course, Washington said he wanted Darvish to come back so “he doesn’t quit on his teammates; that’s all there is to me.” And then he suggested what Darvish felt in his arm differed from the diagnosis. And the entire thing spiraled down a wormhole of ignorance to a fetid place where dogmatism and machismo foster every last bit of this nonsense.

Yu Darvish came to the United States from Japan, where he was one of the most famous people in the country and the most well-paid athlete, because he craved the competition of Major League Baseball. He threw away the safe to embrace the uncertain because he wanted to be the best in the world. To suggest that because he doesn’t want to pitch through an injury makes him a quitter is wrong on every level, from factual to human and each in between.

Ron Washington, it should be said, is considered a players’ manager. Yu Darvish, it should be noted, is the Texas Rangers’ best player. Washington’s frustration over a season’s worth of injuries – a decade’s worth, frankly, with the Rangers now sporting nearly $71 million worth of players on their disabled list – spilled over into the wrong forum, with the wrong scapegoat, and that’s not the sort of look any manager leading his franchise to the No. 1 pick in the draft needs.

Were Washington inclined to ask, he might learn that one of the greatest causes of catastrophic arm injuries is returning too quickly from lesser ones. Even the slightest tweak of mechanics to make up for the most minute pain can cause a pitcher’s rhythm to fall apart, which forces more adjustments, which leads to undue stress on the elbow or shoulder.

More and more organizations are adopting the slower-is-better method with rehabbing pitchers, particularly in light of Daniel Hudson and Jarrod Parker and Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy’s elbows necessitating a second Tommy John surgery. The Diamondbacks are taking particular care with Patrick Corbin, their young ace. While Hudson returned from his first surgery just after the 11th month, Corbin’s timetable is between a year and 14 months. Baseball always seems one step behind the arm. This is another effort to at least even the score.

And so even as sources say Darvish’s elbow has improved, and were this a different circumstance he probably would pitch, it’s important to understand this is not a different circumstance. He would need to build up arm strength, pitch a simulated game in Arizona and maybe, just maybe, make it back at the end of September for a start or two. The Rangers aren’t going to tempt Darvish’s elbow, not with the rotten team they field on a nightly basis, not with him making it past his 28th birthday sans a scar on his arm, not with his contract running through 2017.

Washington is a competitor, so he believes all the games – the ones in the World Series he has managed and the ones on a team whose season may well have ended months ago – should be treated equally. That when you spend 162 games and eight months with a group of guys, you owe it to them to grit out injuries. Cases certainly exist where that’s true.

Not with the arm. Ever. And barring an about-face from Darvish, he won’t be the latest to allow his pride to interfere with his franchise’s – and his – future. He doesn’t owe anybody. Not Ron Washington. Not Adrian Beltre. Not Jon Daniels. Not the fans. Not the Texas Rangers. No one. Darvish gives the Rangers what his body allows, and considering the muscle he has packed on since coming to the U.S., he desperately wants for it to allow as much as possible. So far, a 3.27 ERA and 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings over his first three seasons seem like a pretty fair return.

Injuries are part of every sport, and if Darvish’s continue, his reckoning will come via the free-agent market. In the meantime, Washington ought to change his narrative, lest he isolate those most important to him, and his mouthpieces should do some research. This isn’t about pride. It’s not about quitting, either. It’s about being smart. They could stand to learn a thing or two from Darvish.

https://sports.yahoo.com/news/how-macho-baseball-culture-wants-to-ruin-yu-darvish-s-arm-010358441.html

 

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