SweetSpot: Wilson Valdez

Here are five reasons to listen to Friday's packed -- and I mean packed -- Baseball Today podcast with myself and partner in statistical crime Mark Simon:

1. Mark interviews former pitcher/idol David Cone, who not only played baseball at a high level, but understands the game better now than one might think: He's a fan of the new stats like WAR.

2. More on the unfortunate Buster Posey injury, focusing on the good Brandon Belt can bring to the champs, more debate on what catchers go through and Mark compares backstops to a football position.

3. Do you have Baseball ESP? No, not ESPN, but ESP? Do you call out what the next hitter will do before it happens? We do!

4. Mark tells the story of something Rocky Colavito did when he wasn't smacking home runs at the plate, and its significance in the wake of Wilson Valdez’s feat.

5. Memorial Day weekend starts off the summer, but when it ends it's time to take a closer look at the standings. We explain while discussing the most critical matchups of the weekend.

Plus: Excellent emails, extra innings in the minor leagues, how R.A. Dickey can blame his injury on Daniel Murphy, Micah Owings comes up big, a Nick Markakis record that might not be a record, the most letters from pitcher to hitter in one at-bat, who is Harry Danning and why I will never forget Steve Jeltz. Have a safe, healthy and happy Memorial Day weekend, and we'll be back talking baseball on Tuesday!

Here are the top five reasons why Thursday's Coffee Talk, um, Baseball Today podcast with myself and Keith Law had all the emotions, from serious to silly and all between, and why you should listen:

1. It's a shame Buster Posey's season ended Wednesday night, but would there be calls to change the rules if it was someone else? We attack all angles of this situation.

2 Wilson Valdez saves the Phillies in the 19th inning! We discuss a very long game, the good, bad and unfortunate.

3. How can we avoid the Brewers being on fire? Well, we have reasons, but we deal with them today.

4. European baseball players and the "Big Whack": discuss. No, I can't discuss but this is right up Law's alley, and I learned something.

5. There will be much fun at Coors Field today. There generally is when Micah Owings is pitching ... and hitting!

Plus: Excellent emails, Oakland's offensive help in the minors, taking advantage of defensive shifts (or not) and even a little Mets talk in a Yankees-free but still crazy and wild Baseball Today podcast for Thursday!

Wilson Valdez latest unlikely mound hero

May, 26, 2011

The Phillies' victory in the early hours of Thursday morning was initially remarkable for how it started, with Roy Halladay on the mound against a Reds team he'd no-hit in the National League Division Series last year. But people won't easily forget how it finished, 19 innings later.

When infielder Wilson Valdez stepped onto the mound for the Phillies in the top of the 19th inning, he wasn't just being asked to do something out of the ordinary. True, Valdez was coming into a tie ballgame, which was unusual enough for a position player. But he was also facing as formidable a group of sluggers as the Cincinnati Reds possess, a trio that any full-time reliever would be worried about: reigning National League MVP Joey Votto, frequent All-Star Scott Rolen and Jay Bruce, who had hit his 13th home run of the 2011 season in the 10th inning.

Even though Valdez hit Rolen with a pitch after getting Votto to fly out to center, he managed to retire the side because he got to face Reds pitcher Carlos Fisher with two outs and that one man aboard. As a result, when the Phillies scored in the bottom of the 19th on Raul Ibanez's bases-loaded sacrifice fly, Valdez had earned his first win as a pitcher.

Valdez was not the first position player called upon to pitch in a bind, nor will he be the last. In fact, there are a number of memorable pitching performances by position players, but many of them took place in the midst of blowouts, rather than long extra-innings affairs. Of all of these, Valdez was the only player to earn a W for his efforts:

  • On April 13, 2009, Nick Swisher of the Yankees was called in to pitch during the eighth inning of a 15-5 loss to the Rays. After walking the leadoff man, B.J. Upton, and allowing a base hit to Willy Aybar, Swisher retired the next three batters in order. He even earned his first major league strikeout when he threw a 78 mph fastball past the swinging Gabe Kapler. Swisher claimed that he had previously pitched as a freshman at Parkersburg High School in West Virginia.
  • On August 19, 1997, David Wells allowed 11 earned runs in three innings for the Yankees against the Angels. Manager Joe Torre wanted to preserve the Yankees' bullpen, and originally considered third baseman Charlie Hayes as a relief pitcher. After several Yankees players pointed out that Wade Boggs had a great knuckleball, Torre instead called upon the future Hall of Fame third baseman. Torre was initially afraid that Boggs would be uncomfortable with the request, but it turned out that Boggs -- who often practiced his knuckleball before games -- was thrilled with the opportunity. Boggs faced four Angels batters in the eighth inning, and he got all of them off to 0-2 counts, allowing one walk and no hits during the appearance.
  • By the eighth inning on June 17, 1993, the Rangers had already scored 18 runs against the Angels. Angels manager Buck Rodgers turned to outfielder Chili Davis. Davis pitched both the eighth and ninth innings, and although he hit Jose Canseco with a pitch, his performance was otherwise perfect. Davis joked that he had about seven different pitches he was able to use at any time, but that the only one working that night was his fastball.
  • One position player pitching performance that is notorious for all the wrong reasons was when Canseco pitched the eighth inning for the Rangers on May 29, 1993. Texas was being clobbered by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, so Canseco convinced manager Kevin Kennedy to let him pitch for an inning. Canseco allowed two hits, three walks and three runs during the 15-1 loss and blew his arm out, requiring season-ending surgery. Canseco was scheduled to make $4.8 million to make his living as a hitter that season, so that became one of the single most costly relief innings ever thrown.

After Valdez's success in the top half of the 19th, perhaps the Reds might have envied the Phillies for using a position player to pitch when their half of the inning rolled around. However, Dusty Baker had already emptied his bench of position players, although he had a pair of swingmen, Sam LeCure and Matt Maloney, still potentially available instead of sending out Fisher for a sixth inning of very long relief.

However, the last time Baker sent a position player to the mound for the Reds, nobody involved enjoyed any success: Shortstop Paul Janish came into a blowout against the Milwaukee Brewers on May 6, 2009, and allowed five additional runs to add an exclamation point to a 15-3 loss.

Ian KinslerKevin Jairaj/US PresswireSometimes your reach exceeds your grasp, but Ian Kinsler gave it his best shot.
Stephanie Liscio is an obsessive Cleveland Indians fan and blogs about them at It's Pronounced "Lajaway," part of the SweetSpot network. She is also the author of "Integrating Cleveland Baseball."

Castillo signing no-lose situation for Philly

March, 21, 2011
After being officially released yesterday by the Mets, second baseman Luis Castillo was quickly signed to a minor league deal by the Philadelphia Phillies. New York still owes Castillo $6 million, but Philadelphia will only be responsible for the major league minimum.

Given the fact that Castillo is 35 years old and "hit" .235 with no homers and 17 RBIs last season (a horrendous 68 OPS+), many are mocking the deal. Sure, Castillo is no Chase Utley (few are), but since we have no idea when Utley is going to return to the Phils’ lineup, they have to put someone out there to play second base. (Don't they? I need to go check the rulebook.)

Frankly, this is a no-lose proposition for Philadelphia. As it were, the incumbent in Utley's absence is Wilson Valdez, and no one is excited about that proposition. Castillo may not have many skills remaining, but he can still take a walk and get on base; even in his miserable 2010, he got on base at a .337 clip (a mark that Valdez has never reached). There is some value there, as Dave Cameron noted:
Castillo’s patience and ability to still make contact should be enough to let him rebound as something like a +1 win player.

Right now, with Utley’s health up in the air, the Phillies could really use a +1 win second baseman. Valdez is miscast as anything other than a utility player, and bringing in Castillo would allow them to keep him in the reserve role that his skills are better suited for.

Castillo isn’t a long term answer, of course, but he’s capable of holding down the second base job until they figure out what Utley’s time frame for return actually is.

Indeed. There's no risk for the Phillies here. If Castillo doesn't work out, well, the contract is non-guaranteed and GM Ruben Amaro can just cut bait. No, Castillo isn't worth the money that Omar Minaya threw at him a few years ago, but Philadelphia is basically getting him for free. It's a shrewd move.

Chad Dotson writes Redleg Nation, a blog about the Cincinnati Reds and a part of the SweetSpot blog network. Follow him on Twitter.