The baseball players you have to root for

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

You might not like these players individually, but you can't help but root for what they represent.

One of the baseball players you love — absolutely love — is sitting at home right now, thinking awful things that would horrify you. It doesn’t matter what kind of person you are, if you have more than five favorite players, one of them is thinking thoughts that would horrify you. And now he’s picking his teeth with his keys.

So the headline of this — "Players you root for" — doesn’t really have much to do with personalities. Mostly because I don’t know them. These fellas could be great fellas or lousy fellers. Forget that, though; you should root for these players because of what they represent. They’re the archetypes of players who make the game more interesting.

Player #1: The old dog learning new tricks

Example: Francisco Rodriguez

Closers are the car salesmen of baseball when it comes to job security, which is an analogy that makes sense only if you know people in the industry. I thought you were at Mazda? Weren’t you just with Ford? Toyota didn’t work out, but Subaru’s a good fit. Wait, don’t you close for the Diamondbacks? Thought you were with the Rays. As such, you shouldn’t be surprised that Jim Henderson is out as the closer for the Brewers. He’ll land back on his feet with Fiat, unless he’s unemployed in a couple years.

Photo credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

He was replaced by Francisco Rodriguez, who’s been a closer, a setup man, a mess of a middle reliever and now a closer again. And he’s someone you’re rooting for because he used to be Aroldis Chapman or Craig Kimbrel. More than that, he seemed like the very first of the swing-and-miss super-relievers, a strikeout deity ushering in the era of less contact. He showed up out of the mists in the 2002 postseason, throwing 100 and making accomplished hitters look like pitchers when they chased his slider.

He was the archetype of a closer, now and forever. The human arm can’t do anything more with the physics provided.

So when you see that K-Rod has a 0.45 ERA and is leading the league in saves, on pace to break his own single-season record, you might figure that he’s throwing at least in the mid-90s again.

via FanGraphs

Nope. He’s essentially throwing as hard as Yusmeiro Petit, give or take. Root for him because he reminds you that there’s more than one way to strike out an Andres Galarraga, and that pitchers (and hitters) can reinvent themselves. It’s like when I discovered my stupid jokes were getting stale, so I started throwing GIFs in every post.

There you go.

Player #2: The zombie, back from the dead

Example: Scott Kazmir

Two years ago, Scott Kazmir was a cautionary tale, nothing more. Look what happens to young pitchers. Can’t trust young pitchers. Boy, when they blow up, they sure blow up. About 20 months ago, Kazmir was walking 33 batters in 64 innings for the Sugar Land Skeeters. He was getting outpitched by Tim Redding, and he was a quirky footnote to the Roger Clemens sideshow. Twenty months later:

You don’t need another explanation for why you root for Kazmir other than "Maybe that will happen to that other pitcher." Tim Lincecum? Javier Vazquez? Dice-K? Kelvim Escobar? Daniel Cabrera? Erik Bedard? Why not?

Probably Erik Bedard. Wait for that. Hey, if Scott Kazmir could …

Player #3: The winning Keno numbers

Example: Charlie Blackmon, Dee Gordon, Brandon Hicks, Jesse Chavez …

Baseball pundit: Rockies will finish in fourth place unless they finish in fifth.

Fan: Well, what if someone just gave them the second-best player in baseball? You know, in addition to guys like Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki.

Pundit: Okay, in this magical fantasy land with Kit-Kat bridges and bourbon fountains, the Rockies become likelier to contend, yes.


Photo credit: Joe Robbins

That’s how it is with Charlie Blackmon. Maybe he’ll keep it up and maybe he won’t, but if you give the Rockies the best hitter in the world (Tulowitzki, at least right now) and a sidekick like Blackmon (second in the majors in WAR), and of course they’ll contend.

You root for these kinds of players because they’re the currency of a surprise team. The Phillies didn’t have a lot of hope coming into the season, but they did have some interesting pitching, so what if they had the second-best player in the majors, too? Maybe Freddy Galvis was going to hit .400!

Nope, the answer was Charlie Blackmon. Or Dee Gordon. Even if you don’t root for those specific players — I kind of want Dee Gordon to fall into a pit of beetles, personally — you root for the archetype because it’s what your team is counting on, every year.

Player #4: A mansion built with tools

Example: Carlos Gomez

This one’s similar to the last one, in that every team can glean some inspiration from it. Carlos Gomez was a toolbox filled with tools, but someone was using the entire toolbox to hammer in a nail. It wasn’t working. You knew the tools were in there, but he was lousy at his job.

Then, after hard work and refinement, he became a star.

Every organization has tools monsters buried under layers of incompetence. To be fair, Gomez has always had rare, exceptional tools that probably would have made him a top-five pick in the draft, the kind of tools that made him the prospect centerpiece in a trade for the best pitcher in baseball. Not every team has a player like that underachieving. Heck, maybe none of them do to that extent.

But there are certainly toolsy players who can do a lot better. Mike Moustakas. Dustin Ackley. Alcides Escobar, Aaron Hicks and Brett Jackson. Maybe one of them will … hey, it’s not likely, but maybe … heck, just look at Carlos Gomez.

Desmond Jennings is off to a great start. Just sayin’.

Get a combination of the four, and you might have a World Series winner. Get just one, and you might have a World Series winner. You don’t have to root for the person; root for the type of player they represent.

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