Baseball Has A Single Problem (And His Name Is Rob)

Image result for rob manfred

American sports have a problem. All of them. There are 5 major sporting leagues: MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS. There are also 5 white, male commissioners, the youngest (and best) of whom is 57. In a time when there are more entertainment options than ever, authenticity and diversity are key. So, naturally, every sport is lead by an old white man. Duh.

In both objective and subjective reviews of the 5 major sports, 2 things become clear. The first is that Adam Silver is . . . actually good at his job. The second is that Rob Manfred is . . . definitely not.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with an old white man having a leadership position. I should make that clear as I lay this out. Anyone who is good at their job is a perfectly acceptable choice for that job. Race, gender, and everything else aside. Just be good at it. That said, diversity can only make things stronger.

Commissioner Rankings:

  1. Adam Silver
Adam Silver (15847004771).jpg

Adam Silver is doing a good job with the NBA, and is at least providing lip-service to trying to do the same for women’s basketball. The league hasn’t expanded under Silver, but it’s popularity has. Thanks to dynasties and super teams, the league is at it’s most popular since the Jordan era transitioned into Shaq/Kobe. It has weekday games on non-sports channels like TNT. It’s THE sport of Christmas day, airing regular season action on broadcast television all day. Silver also correctly banned Sterling and has not had a work stoppage. Adam Silver, for the purposes of this article, is not a problem.

2. Don Garber

MLS Commissioner Don Garber.jpg

It’s possible, even likely, that Garber deserve the number 1 spot. Rather than list all of his varied accomplishments, I’m going to give you 2 facts. Fact one: There were 10 teams when he took the job, there are 24 now, with 2 more to start soon. Fact two: attendance, league valuations, team valuations, and sponsorships all continue to trend up year over year. Garber might be old and white, but he’s also incredibly good at his job.

3. Gary Bettman

Gary Bettman in 2016 (cropped).jpg

It’s true that hockey fans despise Gary Bettman. That criticism is not entirely unwarranted. He’s seen 3 different work stoppages during his tenure as commissioner. Labor unrest in the NHL remains a problem. He’s also rather terrible at gauging the success of a prospective market, as he moved a team from Winnipeg, gave a team to Atlanta, and then Atlanta failed and moved to Winnipeg. However, for all of that, the league has gone from 26 teams to 31, with a 32nd franchise in the works. Revenue has exploded from $400 million when he started to well over $3 billion now. The Winter Classic is aired on NBC every New Years, and outdoor hockey games haves become a huge draw. And youth participation is up across the United States. He’s not great at it, but he mostly gets the job done.

4. Roger Goodell

Roger Goodell (cropped).jpg

Goodell could easily be last. He’d have earned it. So it says a couple of things that he isn’t. For all of the scandals that the league has seen during his tenure, most people just like football and don’t give up on it. He’s seen several different cheating scandals, a player lockout, a referee lockout, burying concussion evidence, the Saints issuing bounties on injuring players . . . and the league has kept rolling through it all. Goodell isn’t dead-last simply because it seems football is an unsinkable ship sometimes, and because Rob Manfred really is THAT bad.

5. Rob Manfred

What’s there to say about Rob Manfred? He’s very hands on. That said, he’s hands on in an irritating, mostly inconsequential way. He spends his days trying to knock a couple of minutes off the average game time, while letting 2 consecutive champions use illegal tech to steal their way to titles. He decides that rather than pay minor league players a decent living wage, it would be better just to get rid of a lot of them. He’s overseen the slowest free agency winter in the history of the sport, and there are plenty of rumors about a work stoppage after the coming season. It’s entirely possible that he doesn’t even like the sport he’s commissioner of.

But seriously, those are the obvious things everyone complains about. Let’s look at some other issues with Manfred.

  • Baseball remains the hardest sport in America to access. I’m writing this from Winston-Salem, NC. It’s 350 miles to the nearest major league team. But thanks to the rules, I’ve got not just one, but 4 teams blacked out. The Atlanta Braves, Washington Nationals, Baltimore Orioles and Cincinnati Reds are all blacked out live here. How does it grow the game when I have to miss that much of it?
  • While Manfred champions expansion, the Florida teams struggle and Oakland plays in a sewer. Miami has a stadium and no fans, and Tampa Bay has a good team, but no stadium or fans. And Oakland frequently floods with sewage. So not only has the league not expanded in nearly 20 years, it’s not even taking care of 3 of it’s own.
  • He vehemently denies juicing the ball, but for someone who bills “pace-of-play” as one of his major tenants, the game has slowed to a crawl under him. The action that makes baseball so special is missing. Strikeouts, walks, and home runs have all soared to record highs. Length of game should not be the issue. Action during the game should be. Force the DH into the NL – no offense to Mike Foltynewicz, but no one needs to see him attempt to hit. Go back to a dead ball and let guys learn to hit singles and make diving catches again. Lower the mound. Un-juice the ball. I’m not actually advocating any of those things (except the DH) – just pointing out that those suggestions would at least be looking in the right direction. Make a tweak that improves the on-field product, not the time it takes for a lesser product to unfold.
  • The highly touted replay system mostly fails. Either get it right, or do away with it. How is it that you can have a million people watching something on TV all seeing the same thing, but the umpires and people in New York can’t see it?
  • On a related note, stop allowing Joe West and other umpires with massive egos to high-jack games.
  • Baseball remains incredibly white and incredibly male. Why are there no female managers or GMs, and barely any coaches or team-specific broadcasters? Are there women umpires, and if not, why not? Why are there so few black, Latin or Japanese managers, coaches, broadcasters, etc? How is this not a bigger problem than whether a game lasts 3:06 or 3:08? Other leagues are leaving baseball in diversity – and that’s a great crime for a beautiful game.
  • And for Pete’s sake, stop with the dumb format suggestions. No one wants runners on second to start extra innings. No one wants an entirely new playoff system. The fastest way to grow interest in the game isn’t to change the format. Gift-wrapping trash doesn’t make it a present. It’s still trash. The fastest way to grow interest is to make sure that what is happening ON THE FIELD is interesting. And all of Rob Manfred’s interests lie everywhere except the product on the field.

So, yes, baseball has a problem. His name is Rob Manfred. He’s the worst commissioner in American sports. And considering Roger Goodell buried concussions and Gary Bettman has seen 3 different work stoppages – that’s REALLY saying something.

One Hit Wonders – Defending Bobby Cox

It’s become the trend among Braves fans to talk about how much of a disappointment the Braves are. As though we’re suddenly as long-suffering as Cubs, Red Sox, or Indians fans. Or Cleveland Browns fans. That’s total nonsense. Mostly, we have good teams and garbage luck. Where I draw the line though, is that so much of this ire is now directed at Bobby Cox.

If Bobby Cox could have managed a bullpen better, the Braves would have won . . . is a common refrain. It’s also a completely baseless claim.

The ’90’s By The Numbers

’91

First, let’s get 1991 out of the way. Kent Hrbek, may he only ever get turtleback fries from Chick-fil-a, pulled Gant off the bag. Maybe it mattered. Maybe it didn’t. Jack Morris had the game of his life in game 7, and somehow parlayed that one game into a completely undeserved spot in the HOF. The rest of his career was astoundingly mediocre. A career ERA of 105+. He was fine. He just had the game of his life at the perfect moment. There’s nothing wrong with having a Don Larsen moment. We all just wish it hadn’t come against the Braves.

Aside from that, the Braves lost 4 games to 3. The Twins ERA in the ’91 World Series was 3.74. The Braves ERA was 2.89. Charlie Liebrandt pitched terribly as a starter and a reliever, and was tagged with a loss in each role. Tom Glavine, despite a generally strong performance, was also tagged with a loss as a starter. In a 4 game series, that’s 3 losses to members of the rotation. Brian Hunter and Sid Bream combined for 7 hits and 1 home run in 45 at-bats. Gant’s power disappeared. Atlanta outscored Minnesota 29-24, or 28-21 in the earned run department, telling you a little something about the Braves’ defense. Game 7 was a one-run extra-inning affair, which everyone should know is a complete coin toss.

Verdict: Atlanta should have won, but it’s not Bobby’s fault.

’92

The Braves lost 4 games to 2 to the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays had a team ERA of 2.78, and the Braves were at 2.65. The Braves outscored the Blue Jays 20-17, or 17-16 by earned runs. Our old friend Charlie Liebrandt stunk again, picking up another World Series loss, as did starters Steve Avery and Tom Glavine. Glavine’s loss is particularly galling, considering that he had a 1.59 ERA across 17 innings in 2 starts. The offense was the culprit in that one. In reality, the offense was almost entirely to blame for the series loss. The team collectively hit .220, with a .291 OBP and an anemic .295 slugging percentage. While the Blue Jays were not much better, they did boast a .365 team slugging percentage, and in the end that was all it took. To paraphrase an old maxim: you can lead a team to the World Series, but you can’t make them hit.

Verdict: The Braves probably deserved to lose, but unless Bobby was sabotaging his own hitters, it’s not his fault.

’93

The Braves lost the NLCS 4 games to 2 to the Philadelphia Phillies. It was a mess. The Braves were clearly the superior team. The Braves had a team ERA of 3.15 for the matchup. The Phillies checked in at 4.75. Both teams allowed 4 unearned runs, the Braves just allowed theirs at very inopportune times. The Braves outscored the Phillies 33-23, or 29-19 by earned runs.

So how did that Braves team manage to lose, let alone lose in 6 games? Well, John Smoltz only had 1 start, where he was tagged for 2 unearned runs and took the loss. Big ticket addiction Greg Maddux did not pitch well, with an ERA of 4.97, and he took a loss as well. Reliever Greg McMichael and closer Mark Wohlers also took losses. Despite the overall offensive numbers, starters Damon Berryhill, Ron Gant, David Justice and Mark Lemke combined to go 17-91 at the plate with 1 home run.

Verdict: The Braves were clearly the better team, but there are enough questions here to give Bobby a tally. I think he could have done better with this one.

’95

THE BRAVES WON THE WORLD SERIES!!!!!!!

VERDICT: THEY OUTHIT, OUTPITCHED AND OUTPLAYED THE CLEVELAND INDIANS IN 6 GAMES. WHAT ELSE DO YOU NEED TO KNOW?

’96

I literally have no idea what happened here. The Braves were clearly the better team, yet the Yankees took the series 4 games to 2. All 4 losses came at the hands of starting pitchers, though Steve Avery was deployed as a reliever in the playoffs. Smoltz took a loss, Maddux took a loss, and Glavine took a loss. The Braves team ERA was 2.33, while the Yankees’ was 3.93. The Braves outscored the Yankees 26-18, or 24-14 by earned runs. Suspect defense cost the Braves, as Glavine and Avery gave up unearned runs in their lone appearances, and led to the only run in Smoltz’s loss. Regulars Jermaine Dye, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, Terry Pendleton, Mark Lemke and Jeff Blauser combined to go 18-101 at the plate with 0 home runs.

Verdict: The Braves were clearly superior, but untimely slumps and even more untimely errors cost them. Nothing Bobby could do.

’97

In ’97, the Braves lost a remarkable FIFTH playoff series in which they outscored, outpitched, and outhit their opponents. The Marlins somehow won a series with a team batting average of .199. The Braves somehow lost a series where they had a team batting average 54 POINTS higher than the other team. The culprit, again, was defense. The Braves gave up 5 unearned runs. The Marlins gave up 0. All 4 losses were accounted to Braves starting pitchers, and all 5 unearned runs came against Greg Maddux. However, John Smoltz and Tom Glavine simply pitched poorly, as the bullpen, Bobby Cox’s supposed weakness, was credited with an ERA of 0.00 for the series. Even looking at the play-by-play, Glavine legitimately gave up all 7 runs himself. Maybe you can call Cox on the carpet for not pulling Glavine sooner. Maybe it was a Grady Little moment for him. But they were already down 4-3 before Glavine imploded in the 6th. Maybe Cox should have been more cautious, considering they were already in a must win game 6. But it’s easy to say that in retrospect. In reality it’s hard to say “We’ve got to win this game, so I’m going to pull Tom Freakin’ Glavine early.”

Verdict: Bobby could have pulled Glavine sooner, sure. But he didn’t cause those unearned runs against Maddux. Not his fault, but he gets half a tally on that Glavine decision.

In The End, and the End of an Era

The Braves would go on to lose the NLCS in ’98 to the San Diego Padres, and then get swept by the Yankees in the ’99 World Series. They deserved to lose both.

That said, if Bobby Cox hadn’t walked through graveyards filled with ladders, black cats and broken mirrors on his way to the ballpark every day, there is a good chance that he could have managed the Braves to 6 straight World Series. There is every chance in the world that ’91 could have ended differently. ’96 too. He probably should have had 3 titles. 4 if the ’92 team could hit like the ’97 team that lost in the NLCS. He got clearly outmanaged once, in 1993.

If it weren’t for bad luck, Bobby Cox would have had no luck at all. Say what you like about Atlanta sports, but he ain’t the reason for their struggles.

Single, Then Ready To Mingle

The Oakland A’s are something of a landmark franchise in major league baseball. The original moneyball team, the team of how to win on a budget. And win they do. Except in October. I’m not one of the movie critics, saying that what works in July can’t work in October. It absolutely can. Otherwise, no one would ever win. It’s an illogical supposition to start with.

That said, for the A’s, what works to win games in July has yet to generate wins in October. It almost certainly would, eventually. But that’s not fun to write about. Instead, let’s focus on the what if. What if, for one shining season, the Oakland A’s had a William Wallace in Braveheart moment?

Imagine the A’s did not extend Khris Davis. Imagine Mike Fiers and Joakim Soria are doing smoke and mirrors routines on some other club, that the A’s non-tendered Robbie Grossman, and that their incredible moment of kindness to the Piscotty family was now just a memory. I suppose for this, we’re also imagining that Jake Diekman and TJ McFarland haven’t been signed, but that’s less important.

Freeeeeeeeedom

With all of that freedom, the A’s would have been left with something like this at the start of free agency:

  • C: Sean Murphy, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • C: Austin Allen, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • 1b: Matt Olson, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • 2b: Sheldon Neuse, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • 2b: Franklin Barreto, pre-arb, ~ $600K
  • 2b: Chad Pinder, arb, ~ $1.75m
  • Ss: Marcus Semien, arb, ~ $13m
  • 3b: Matt Chapman, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • Lf: Mark Canha, arb, ~ $5m
  • Cf: Ramon Laureano, pre-arb, ~$600k
  • Rf: Seth Brown, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • Of: Dustin Fowler, pre-arb, ~ 600k
  • Sp: Sean Manaea, arb, ~ $3.25m
  • Sp: Frankie Montas, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • Sp: Jesus Luzardo, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • Sp: AJ Puk, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • Sp: Chris Bassitt, arb, ~ $2m
  • Rp: Yusmeiro Petit, $5.5m
  • Rp: Liam Hendriks, pre-arb, ~ $5.25m
  • P: Daniel Mengden, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • P: Daniel Gossett, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • P: Lou Trivino, pre-arb, ~ $600k
  • P: Grant Holmes (prospect)

That roster would have some holes, sure, but it would also be loaded with potential. Matt Chapman and Matt Olson are studs. They’ll be expensive soon. Manaea, with a good year, will be too. This would be the year to be crazy.

And Dying In Your Beds Many Years From Now

So this is the moment for David Forst or Billy Beane to put on their kilts and woad, and go storming after the A’s ownership. They’d say for 1 year, just 1 year, give us some money. Give us the money to front our rotation with Cole or Strasburg, to put Moustakas at 2b and Nick Castellanos at RF/DH. Give us the money to put Wheeler and Ryu into the rotation, Will Smith into the bullpen, and Didi Gregorius at 2b. We’ll present the offers as packages. Just one year pacts at extraordinarily high salaries. Come, make 30, 40, or 50m this year, play alongside each other and Semien and Chapman and Olson, mentor Puk and Luzardo, win a WS, and be free agents again next fall.

If that moment was ever going to come, it was this year. Once Chapman and Olson start getting paid, the moment was always going to be gone. But they extended Khris Davis. And Fiers and Soria are still around, as are Grossman and Piscotty. And the A’s will probably offer Scooter Gennett and Travis Shaw a chance to bounceback (and they probably will), and the A’s will again push for October, where they may or may not win. It will work. It usually does.

But that what if could have been fun.

Postseason Truths

Luis Gonzalez lifts the Diamondbacks over the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series.

In just a few short days, the MLB playoffs will be upon us. The real playoffs, not the horrible playoffs in your fantasy league, where all your best players have been shut down for the year and your line-up is a revolving door or household names like Seth Brown and Ryan McBroom. With that in mind, let’s look at a few interesting second-half trends and what they mean for postseason play.

Quirky Postseason Truths

Even the casual fan knows that postseason baseball is a totally different animal. Some greats, like John Smoltz, Mariano Rivera, and Reggie Jackson excel in October. Some greats, like Alex Rodriguez, Jeff Bagwell, and Craig Biggio do not. And some, like Clayton Kershaw, kind of muddle along, flashing moments of greatness with baffling inconsistency.

The Second-Half Starter

Jack Flaherty has been an absolute monster in the second-half. His second-half ERA is a ridiculous 0.97, tied with Roger Clemens for the 3rd best second-half mark ever. That’s significant, and bad news for the Cardinals’ opponents. Of the 8 best marks in history, Bob Gibson and Spud Chandler had their magical runs before the mound was lowered, so their stats offer no meaningful insight. Tom Seaver’s Mets missed the postseason entirely, so there’s nothing to be gleaned there either. That leaves Johan Santana, Roger Clemens, Jake Arrieta, and Kris Medlen.

Of that quartet, Clemens struggled in the postseason following his epic run while Santana was brilliant. Both Arrieta and Medlen carried their momentum into the postseason for 1 start. Medlen lost in his, despite allowing only 3 hits. Arrieta was magnificent in a complete game WC victory for the Cubs. He then went on to get shelled in his next two starts. For what it is worth, Chandler and Gibson also had successful postseason runs.

All of this paints a fairly compelling picture that a pitcher going on a second-half run is dangerous in the postseason. Jack Flaherty, Sean Manaea and Mike Foltynewicz have all been on tears of late. Their first playoff start may well be a gem.

The September Team

The opposite is true of the hottest team in September. Teams often get in and stay hot long enough to win a WC game maybe more. But rarely does the hottest team in September stay hot long enough to win the World Series. Watch out for the Brewers until they cool off, but don’t bet on them to win the whole thing.

  • The 2007 Rockies rode an incredible hot streak into the postseason and swept their opponents in both the NLDS and the NLCS. They then ran into the Red Sox in the World Series and were promptly swept themselves.
  • The 2017 Cleveland Indians won 22 in a row from August 24th until losing September 15th. They failed to make it out of the first round.
  • The 2002 Oakland A’s had most of their 20 game winning streak in August, and they too failed to make it past the first round.
  • And for Brewers fans, most recently, and most heartbreakingly, the Brewers were white-hot entering the playoffs in 2018, and fell a game short of reaching the World Series.

The second-half team is a dangerous spoiler but typically runs out of steam before the end. Or faces the unlucky break of a long delay between the end of the CS and the beginning of the WS. Either way, recent history is not on the Brewers’ side here.

The Walk-Off Single

Contact matters more than ever in the postseason. The 2001 Diamondbacks stunned the Yankees on a single. With contact at a premium, the current trend toward a high-powered, high-strikeout game is magnified in the postseason. It makes dangerously hot pitchers like Jack Flaherty even more dangerous, and it puts the onus on the hitters to change their approach enough to simply get on. The ones that do it best may well be the ones holding the trophy at the end.

Duck Snorts 2

This time with wings!

Ok, Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs reference aside, a few more quick hitters:

1. People often say someone should just “throw more strikes”, with the implication that throwing strikes isn’t that hard. And they are correct. Throwing strikes isn’t hard if you are trying to throw batting practice and give up 500 ft shots to the 3rd deck. Throwing GOOD strikes? Almost impossible. Because:

2. All pitches, even below average fastballs, leak or bleed. By that, we mean, they aren’t perfectly straight. They may look straight, but their charted path will demonstrate horizontal movement in one direction or the other. So:

3. Every pitch thrown is moving. This means that the idea of “throw it down the middle and let it move”, is misleading. If every pitch has natural horizontal movement, you have to understand when and how your pitches move before you can employ such a strategy. However:

4. There is a difference between command and control. Control is the ability to throw strikes consistently. Command is the ability to throw GOOD strikes consistently. And by GOOD strikes, we mean the 4 corners – up and in, down and in, down and away, up and away. If you don’t have command, merely having control can get you in trouble. Because:

5. If you frequently throw poorly located strikes, you get killed. Metaphorically. And eventually, literally, if your manager doesn’t bench you first. Ergo:

6. As launch angle, shifts, defensive alignment cards and other analytical tools have flooded baseball, the hitting landscape has changed. Guys now make less contact than ever, but the contact they do make is often louder, harder, and more dangerous – in other words, while strikeouts have become easier as a pitcher, they’ve also become a greater necessity, because today’s contact is frightening. Meaning:

7. Pitchers can’t just “pitch to contact”, because now contact is geared toward 100mph+ exit velocities instead of flares to the opposite field, bunts, and grounders through the hole. Defenses have closed the hole, math has damned the bunt, and the opposite flare has always been difficult. Thus:

8. Pitchers try to “nibble”. They don’t want their pitches to leak or bleed into the heart of the plate, so they start them off the plate and hope they bleed back to the corners. This is a 50/50 proposition, leading to a rise in walk rates, higher pitch counts, shorter outings for starting pitchers, heavier bullpen usage, and longer games. Which is sad, because:

9. With the decline in contact rate, there is less action happening than ever. Which brings us to:

10. Mike Foltynewicz. As a Braves fan, there are only 2 reasons I don’t watch a game. 1. They are playing the Yankees. I hate the Yankees, and they play absurdly long games. 2. Mike Foltynewicz is pitching.

Folty seems like a very nice guy. He unquestionably possesses the most talented arm on the Braves’ pitching staff. His velocity is elite and his slider is filthy. But he’s the classic victim of points 1-9. It’s not a problem I know how to fix. It’s not a criticism of him. But because of this progression of events, Folty has trouble going deep into games consistently. He is frequently at or approaching 100 pitches by the 5th inning, despite a relative lack of base runners or runs scored. Which means the games drag on, and on. He generally does a fantastic job of keeping the Braves in the game, and everyone can see how hard he’s working and trying.

But what he’s trying to fix isn’t even his fault. Somewhere along the way, someone threw a monkey wrench into how baseball was played. And the game went down a new path, that no one has yet figured out how to adjust to.

Scott Boras says ban the shift because it hurts left-handed hitters. But so does facing left-handed pitching. Should lefty/lefty match-ups be banned too?

Chip Caray and Joe Simpson say umpires should “call more strikes” – but that hurts the hitters and results in even worse contact.

How do you fix something when you don’t even know why or how it’s broken?

Duck Snorts

Duck snorts, as Hawk Harrelson calls them, are little blooped singles that fall into no-man’s land between the infield and the outfield.

In this case, Duck Snorts are little quick-hitting thoughts that I find interesting, but not interesting enough to be worthy of an entire post.

  1. There’s a saying “speed never slumps.” That is a lie. Billy Hamilton is barely hitting .200. Byron Buxton is in the minors. Michael Taylor and Ender Inciarte are 1-2 in steals, and both have an OPS+ roughly 20% below league average.  Speed slumps plenty, and in many cases slumps worse than other skill sets because it doesn’t have the occasional home run, walk or double to fall back on.
  2. The Braves’ bandwagon is ridiculous. Every time they lose a game or two, or have something go wrong half the fans go “same old Braves, here comes the slide.” And the other half vehemently defend the Braves. They are both wrong. This Braves team is improved. But it is fundamentally a .500 team that had a lucky, hot start. So you shouldn’t think of them as contenders, but they aren’t losers either. They are just a slowly improving team that should win about as much as they lose, which in and of itself represents an improvement.
  3. Baseball’s replay system is impossibly stupid and broken, and should be scrapped all together. New York is supposed to have every available camera angle, but somehow have couched their language “enough to overturn” into a system where obvious calls are frequently missed, and then upheld even on replay. And instead of being sympathetic about it, most umpires are grumpy about being challenged in the first place so the next borderline call is always going to go against the last team that lost a challenge, just because the umpires know they can’t challenge again. (Which is a horribly dumb policy in and of itself). Either you want it right or you don’t. And if you don’t want to take the time to do it right, don’t do it at all! (Which would definitely help the “pace of play initiative”).
  4. I think it’s important in any attempt to talk about sports to be careful to simply point things out, and not be perceived as attacking a person. Politics has far too much of this already, but lately sports media has gone this direction as well. Half the “sports” “talkshows” are nothing but empty-headed  bloviating blowhards forming deliberately uninformed opinions just to bash someone who is massively more talented than they are. In school, name-calling and character assassination have a name – it’s called “bullying.” It’s a crying shame that the adult world thinks it’s perfectly acceptable behavior. Of course, on the flip side, I know several of these shows get a lower viewership than re-runs of Bonanza – so maybe we are growing up after all.
  5. Watching baseball in 2018 is an exercise in the ridiculous. Absurdly talented pitchers like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb can barely pitch 5 innings, not due to a lack of skill, but because they run up 2 and 3 ball counts on every batter. Somehow, we’ve created a generation of pitchers afraid to trust their stuff, because we’ve created a generation of hitters who don’t care if they strike out 1/3rd of the time. They just keep on swinging for the fences. So now pitchers live in fear of the big swing, and nibble, nibble, nibble at the edges of the strike zone trying to avoid giving up a home run.
  6.  This leads to a self-referential, self-defeating spiral of avoiding the home run, but putting men on base, running up the pitch count, having shorter outings, and having a greater chance of giving up a 2, 3 or 4 run home run from all the base-runners.
  7. Additionally, high pitch counts and walk totals lead to slower, longer games, which doesn’t help MLB’s “pace of play” initiative. Plus, walks, strikeouts, and long at-bats aren’t action, which further slows down the actual pace of play, in addition to creating longer games.
  8. All of which leads to a novel, groundbreaking idea: If hitters would try to hit singles instead of home runs, pitchers could trust their stuff and throw strikes, at-bats and games would be shorter, there would be more action, there would be more steals, and home runs would be more exciting and matter more because they’d be less routine and represent an actual accomplishment!
  9. So hit a single once in while, why don’t you? Even if it’s just a bunt against the shift.

Single Use Only

Use it once, and it’s used up. That’s what can happen to your normal, everyday contact making swing when you pull out your best Carlos Gomez-esque swing-from-the-heels-spin-around-until-your-helmet-comes-off impression. Hey – it worked for Gomez for years – I don’t blame you for wanting to imitate it. But I’ll spare you the sorrow here: Don’t. Unless you are Carlos Gomez, you do not possess the required myriad of tools and amazing coordination to do anything with such a swing – except fall down and strike out. And if falling down and striking out is your goal, you might want to look for a new line of work.

Here’s the thing. I know all 2.3 people who read this blog (still trying to figure out who .3 is by the way), are expecting me to address the Dodgers record-setting home run binge today of 7 solo home runs. You’re expecting some snarky response about how they wouldn’t have been solo home runs if everyone hadn’t been swinging for the fences, and the game wouldn’t have had to go to extras if even 1 of the first 6 home runs had come with men on.

But I ain’t doing that. Listen, if the ball is jumping enough for 7 home runs to be hit by 1 team and 2 by the other – I’m not looking to hit a single either. I’m not vilifying singles under any conditions, but if there’s ever a day to sit on a pitch you can drive and not worry about a pitch you can dump down the line or flare over an infielder’s head – well, it’s a day like this one. Don’t change your swing to try and hit one (that’s how slumps start and careers end), but it’s totally cool to narrow your focus down to pitches in whatever zone you consider your “wheelhouse”. Days like that don’t come often, might as well enjoy it.

It’s also possible you came (or at least 2 of you did, .3 probably missed the first post), expecting a post on Ozzie Albies singles success this weekend. He raised his batting average nearly 20 points by going 9-16. And all 9 hits were singles.

But you ain’t getting that one either. I was right, neiner neiner boo boo, etc, etc. He’s also making me look like a moron, and I’m good with that too.

Nope, today I’m just here to point out simple math. Orlando Arcia is having a rough year. His OPS (ON-BASE PLUS SLUGGING) is roughly equivalent to the OBP (ON-BASE PERCENTAGE) of superstars like Mike Trout and Freddie Freeman.

Needless to say, that ain’t good y’all.

But I’m not going to say that his path out of is through singles. I’m going to point this out instead:

1 home run equals 4 bases. 4 bases equals a 4.000 Slugging Percentage on that swing.

1 single equals 1 base. 1 base equals a 1.000 Slugging Percentage on that swing.

So you’d need 4 singles for every home run. However, if you go 1-4 with a home run, your OBP is .250, and your slugging is 1.000. Makes a 1.250 ops

If you go 4-4 with 4 singles, your OBP is 1.000 and your slugging is 1.000. Makes a 2.000 ops.

So here’s the thing obviously, for singles to be as valuable, or more valuable than a home run they have to come in much greater frequency than home runs.

So the math is something like this 3 singles = 1 home run. A 3-4 day with 3 singles would net you a 1.500 ops. Which is superior to the 1.250 ops of a 1-4 day with a home run. However, it is not so superior when you consider that a home run will drive in every runner, regardless of what base they are one or where it’s hit, and a single is only guaranteed to drive in a runner if they are on 3b. So there’s not enough difference there to worry about on a game to game basis (over the season, those numbers would also work toward the middle, as 3 hit games are substantially harder to come by than 1 home run games.)

So as a hitter, there’s really only 1 thing to do. Ask yourself “Am I giving up 3 OR MORE singles per every home run I hit with this swing?”

If the answer is “yes”, then . . . well, you’re an idiot. You are deliberately doing the wrong thing and being an unproductive baseball player.

If the answer is “no” – well, first ask yourself if the answer really is “no”. And here’s a hint: if your swing is so long small children could ride it as a roller coaster, or you are frequently hitting the catcher with your backswing – the answer isn’t really “no”. You’re lying to yourself, and you’re now you’re a lying, unproductive baseball player. You are not trending in a positive direction.

However, if the answer truly is “no”, then congratulations. You have found the swing for you, and are maximizing your talents as a professional hitter. You’re name is also Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Nick Markakis, JD Martinez or anonymous utility guy who doesn’t have any power in the first place. So if you are one of the first 5, you are too good to be here. Leave. If you are in the second group, you’re beyond my aid, though you do have my sympathies. And if you are looking for quick ways to gain some weight in the hopes it will add some power, I recommend a diet heavy in Pizza, Doritos and Slushies. It’s worked wonders for me – and who DOESN’T want to look like a manatee?

Speed Dating

Where singles go desperately hoping to not feel so alone. Or, in baseball terms, when a fast guy like . . . oh, I don’t know, Ozzie Albies . . . actually gets on base enough to let fans, teammates and himself fall in love with his speed.

Let’s start with 4 truths.

1. Ozzie Albies is currently the leading 2b on NL All-Star ballots.

2. Ozzie Albies is currently leading off for the Atlanta Braves.

3. Ozzie Albies has an OBP of .293.

Ergo, 4. Ozzie Albies should not be either 1 or 2.

So, so many people think a low OBP means an inability to walk. That can be true. Jeff Francoeur, Salvador Perez, Starlin Castro (especially early in his career), Alcides Escobar, early Andrelton Simmons – all have had varying degrees of baseball success. All also flirted with All-Star and fan favorite territory. All have had trouble drawing a walk.

Casual fans, and people absorbed in the action side of baseball tend to forget walks. No one made contact, no defender made a play, nothing happened. So an inability to draw walks doesn’t really negatively effect “fan favorite” status on a game to game basis, because people don’t remember the walks anyway.

On the other hand, there are people who have a low OBP because . . . they can’t hit a freakin’ single! Ozzie’s drawn a mere 17 walks this year, which is not great. It means there’s scarcely .40 difference between his BA and his OBP.

However, given that we’ve already told you his OBP is below .300, it follows that his BA must then be a further .40 or more below that. In other words, while Ozzie isn’t drawing a ton of walks, part of the reason his OBP is so low is because he’s not getting on base by the more conventional means of hits very often either.

Thus far the 5’8″ Albies has 77 hits. Which include 22 doubles, 2 triples, and an astonishing 16 home runs. 40 of his 77 hits are extra base hits. Which looks great on the back of a baseball card. Until you see the .249 batting average and .293 on base percentage.

Because both of those tell you, that for all his success in the power department, the vast majority of the time Ozzie fails at primary goal of baseball – to get on base.

Let’s end this with another 4 truths.

1. Ozzie has struck out 58 times.

2. Ozzie has hit 37 singles.

3. Ozzie likes to run so hard that his helmet flies off.

Ergo, 4. If Ozzie would hit more singles, he’d have a lot more chances to run, and we’d have a lot more chances to watch his hat fly off, and a lot more reasons to bat him leadoff and vote him into All-Star games.

(Ozzie, I highly doubt you ever read this, but you’re a super fun and entertaining player to watch, both in terms of talent and personality. So don’t take it personally, and please, please make me look like an idiot.)

 

 

RIP, RISP

Or, in the words of Elton John “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”.

The road to the promised land. The road to home. The road littered with dead rallies thanks to strike outs and launch angle.

It’s true that a sacrifice fly will score a run. So too will a ground ball to 2b with less than 2 outs. They don’t help your batting average, but they do get the run in. Pull off either one, and get a well-deserved pat on the back when you get back to the dugout. After all, there’s no such thing as a bad run to score.

However, sacrifice flies and ground outs to 2b are the result of actually getting a man to 3b with less than 2 outs. With 2 outs, they are just a fly out or a ground out – which admittedly are still contact, so you don’t want to complain overmuch about them.

What you can complain about though is this: through 70 games, Detroit led all of baseball this year with 621 At Bats with Runners in Scoring Position (RISP). That’s less than 9 at-bats a game.  And one of the big things about RISP, is that it isn’t an individual stat. A lead-off double is a man in scoring position for every hitter until there are 3 outs, or he scores.

Or in simple terms – you can’t know how many people came to bat with the same runner in the same spot. It could be 1. It could be 4. We can’t know. So this doesn’t mean Detroit is close to scoring 9 runs a game. It means, even at the top, a team only gets 8-9 chances a game to score a run without a home run.

10 years ago, 8 different teams cleared the 9 at-bat a game average. And 28 of the 30 teams cleared 8 at-bats a game. This season, there are 0 teams averaging 9 at-bats a game with RISP, and only 8 teams averaging 8 such at-bats.

Why? Because simply put, there are less runners on base. In the aggregate, an increase in home runs will make up for some of the difference in runs. But they don’t make up for the absence of action.

There are less RISP opportunities now than even 10 years ago. Because there are fewer runners now than 10 years ago. Because everyone stopped hitting singles.

And when no one is hitting singles, no one is in a position where someone else can drive them in with a single.

Maybe the stat should be Runners in SINGLES Position.

Either way, RIPieces. The pieces of a shattered bat on a jam shot just fair and just out of a first baseman’s reach. The pieces of a pitcher’s shattered heart when someone successfully bunts against the shift. The pieces of an opponent’s hopes of victory, lost on a successful squeeze play.

Maybe, if there are enough of those pieces, RISP can actually RIP. Or better yet, with enough of those pieces, it won’t need to.

Singles Dinner

Where singles go looking for love. Or celebration of their singleness I suppose.

So let’s talk about Jason Heyward. I have to confess, he’s one of my all-time favorite players. I’ve followed him from his first at-bat jack until now. I probably have 25 of his baseball cards. I definitely have his Braves’ bobblehead. I like the dude.

Last time out, we talked about his replacement in Atlanta, Nick Markakis, and the fact that he’s built an All-Star resume this year based off of his ability to hit singles. However, prior to this season, even during Heyward’s struggles in Chicago, most Braves’ fans seemed to ignore Nick and conjure up ways that the Braves could bring Heyward back.

I confess, I did it as well. Heyward plays one of the better right fields baseball has ever seen. He had a 20 home run/20 steal season (at 6’5″!) He had the patience to draw 93 walks one year. As a prospect, as a young player, his overall package of tools was tantalizing. He was so easy to dream on.

In fact, Heyward was so easy to dream on that people painted him as a star. In several seasons, his WAR was star-level. However people missed the obvious: Heyward was a star not because he had tantalizing power (he did) or incredible speed for a guy his size (he did) or patience (he did). No, Heyward was a star because he was a remarkably gifted defensive outfielder who was able to tap into his power, speed and patience at the plate JUST enough to thrive.

And somewhere along the way, he got hit in the face by a fastball. And he changed his stance. And he lowered his hands. And he messed with his mechanics. And he went from being a tremendous asset to being a gifted defender who still played because of his glove, but sat every time offense was at a premium because he seemed so lost at the plate.

Then came 2018 against the Cardinals. He jumped at the wall to try and save a home run and hit his head, got diagnosed with a concussion, and went on the DL. When he came off the DL, he had a good game or two, followed by several stinkers. On May 25, his batting average bottomed out at .220. It seemed the dream was dead for good.

Except it’s now the morning of June 12th, and Heyward is hitting .281/.339/.421. According to Fangraphs wRC+ that places him roughly 6% better than league average.

How?

Since that night on May 25th, Heyward has gone 24-64 at the plate. That’s a .375 batting average. There’s been some power in there for sure(6 2b, 1 3b, 1 hr – a walk-off grand slam!). But there have also been some singles.

16 singles to be precise.

Because singles are how you go from being below average to being good again. Singles are what happen when you don’t overreach, you don’t over-swing, you just sit back, see what the pitcher is throwing, and you put it in play.

Singles are how you tie the game off a tough lefty relief ace like Josh Hader. Singles are how drive in that runner on 3b with two outs. And singles, in Mr. Heyward’s case, are how you become productive enough to play, to let your glove and total talent package shine.