MARCO'S BASEBALL BLOG-O-ROONIE 2019: LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS!
Oh Thank God that Manny Machado signed with a baseball team at last. So now I know who to root against this year.
In a way, he couldn't have picked a better team to obscure his feckless attitude and questionable sportsmanship. San Diego is never on TV at an hour when you can actually stay awake to watch. They have a lousy cavernous stadium where nobody can reach the fences and they have made an art of trading all their prospects away so they can rent a few superstars who will quickly downgrade their WAR and quickly get used to losing.
Now Manny can be warm while he banks his millions at least. His wife wanted to go to New York so she could shop. Manny wanted to wear pinstripes and strut for the most successful franchise in baseball history. Too bad! The Yankees for some reason were less than convinced that they should pony up ten years at $30 mil plus for a surly superstar who steps on first basemen and throws his bat at opposing fielders when they have offended him. Yes he's a great player. No, he wouldn't be popular with Yankee fans, who, even though they are abominably arrogant on occasion, appreciate and demand hustle on a baseball diamond. Watching Manny go into a home run trot on a flyball that hits off the fence and making it only to first base? Not a good idea in front of Yankee fans.
I kind of thought MM was going to the White Sox so he could teach Yoan Moncada how to perfect lackadaisically trotting down to first base on grounders. Yoan already has a good start on that. (The main return bauble in the Chris Sale trade for Chicago had an interesting year in 2018. He led the league in K's with 217 in only 149 games. One of the fastest players in the majors, he stole just 12 bases while getting caught 6 times. 17 homers, .235 average. Not exactly startling stats for the former number one prospect in baseball.)
I guess Manny has to be content with poisoning Fernando Tatis Jr. in San Diego, who is playing Manny's preferred position at shortstop.
Ah, here I am demanding sportsmanship and a sunny disposition from this multi-millionaire. How unfair of me. Manny Machado...you have awesome talent. You hit a ton, field a ton and have the best infield throwing arm I have seen since Cal Ripken. Start playing the glorious game of baseball with respect. Enjoy your money and good luck!
The other God-Kissed Super Free Agent we've all been waiting and wondering where he's going to sign is, of course, Bryce “Outlaw the Shift” Harper, who has also gotten surly on occasion. Especially when teams shift on him and force him to hit .249 trying to hit through, over and around their fielders. Of course, Bryce could hit .649 if he would learn to slash it to left instead of beating his head against a brick wall of defenders. But that would deny him the glorious feeling of hitting towering home runs 35 times a year and would also help his team win too many games, so why would he do that?
Like I once said to Joey Gallo of the Rangers (that is if Joey reads my blog I said it to him)... spend a week bunting down the third base line, dribbling ground balls into left field that turn into doubles and bombing the occasional oppo field tater against these shifty teams. After that one week opponents will go back to a conventional defense against Bryce because they will be losing baseball games. Then Bryce can go back to pulling the ball. Leave a burnt offering on the base of the Stan Musial (lifetime average .331) statue in St. Louis Bryce. Ask for guidance.
Bryce had a golden road all laid out for him that ended in Philadelphia. The Phillies have the most available cash in baseball since they dumped all their overpriced superstars of the 2000's (Ryan Howard, Rollins, Utley etc.) and replaced them with cheap young players. Their budget was only about 64 million last year so they could afford to buy a Harper, a Machado and a couple of pitchers all at once and actually try to win a pennant. But Philly was too close to Baltimore for Manny and Bryce seemed less than enthusiastic about staying in the NL East even though Philly was the only team that was willing to give him the fantastic salary he thinks he deserves. He wanted to play in L.A. for the Dodgers. That way he could go play slots in his home town of Las Vegas on off days.
But the Dodgers are also not interested in a ten year contract for a player who had only played 3 full seasons out of 7. (Even though I am criticizing Bryce for his fragility, his many injuries are actually because of something positive: unlike Machado, Harper always hustles on a baseball field. Because of that, he gets hurt frequently. But credit where credit is due...way to go Harper!) Harper is 26 and this was his best chance to get his $300+ million contract. Would he take a shorter deal in Dodgerland at a ridiculous salary and try this free agent thing in a couple of years after the Player's Association sues the owners for collusion?
Or maybe go with the Giants and be a hero on a losing team? SF is desperately trying to keep their fan base as they enter the twilight of the second division. That whole team got old together. Maybe they could get their fans to watch Harper while they're finishing 5th for a few years.
The Phillies, however, had all but announced that they were going to sign Harper, especially after Manny popped the cork with San Diego. Bryce could hit a lot of homers in Philly. And the Phils went out and traded for a great shortstop in Jean Segura and the best catcher (offense...he's still below Molina of the Cards as a defensive player) in J.T. Realmuto. Also Andrew McCutcheon and closer Dave Robertson. They will be contenders in the East.
Then Harper's agent Scott Boras got real smart. After it seemed all but certain Philly would get Bryce at something like the 10+ years at $30+ million per, he went back and had flashy meetings with Dave Roberts of the dodgers and also the Giants to make it look like they were trying to steal Harper at the last minute. Next thing we know, there's Harper signing an unheard of contract: 13 years at $33 million per year with NO OPT OUTS. Biggest of all time. Makes Giancarlo Stanton's behemoth deal look like loose change. The no opt outs is the shocker. That means Philly will be paying Bryce when he's 36-39 that same $33 million whether or not he's productive or even able to get on the field.
And after all this, the players are moaning about how the owners are cheating them and colluding not to pay free agents.
Are the owners guilty of collusion in failing to bid up the salaries of all these free agents? No...not collusion. They are guilty instead of intelligence. Thus, the “lies and statistics” quote (from Mark Twain) in my blog-damned byline. Ownership has gone wonkish and Sabremetric to a revolutionary degree in their approach to buying talent. It is absolutely irrefutable that most players will perform best between the ages of about 24 to 32. After that they enter the long slow slide zone. (And sometimes not so long or slow!) Don't credit the owners with any kind of genius perceptive qualities...just look at Miguel Cabrera, Albert Pujols, Haley Ramirez, etc. etc. etc. All great players who have fallen into the Zombie Zone in their mid thirties. They signed lucrative long term contracts while they were still superstars but the last half of their contracts are Money for Nothin'. This trend has been rendered even more inevitable now that players have stopped loading up on steroids and other PEDs. (Watch out Mets...Robinson Cano? They took away his juice. And he's almost 37. But it's okay Robbie...you won't get tired because you never run out ground balls anyway.)
The players will tell you that these guys were underpaid in their productive youth and it's only proper to reward them for their past careers in long term high dollar contracts in their 30s. One problem with that theory, as the owners have finally realized: It's a good way to lose games and money.
The new paradigm is to underpay your superstars while they are in their prime and dump them when they get into their 30s. Replace them with teenage players and repeat. The teenagers won't have spent enough time in the minors to know how to play yet, (are you listening Yoan Moncada?) but they're cheap and they can learn on the job while the team is tanking so management can load up on high draft choices in prep for their next “window of opportunity”.
Manny and Bryce will eventually get the big money because they reached free agency when they were only 26. But all these guys in their 30s trying to get a long term deal at multi millions? Forget it. Statistics, you see. It just won't pay. Sorry Dallas Keuchel of Houston, Craig Kimbrel of Boston, Gio Gonzalez of Washington...you'll be taking a one year deal at low rate like Moose Moustakas had to do the last two years.
But this is not some Armageddon-ish sinister debacle of collusion like the players are claiming. Nobody should be able to FORCE owners to buy free agents at exorbitant rates. Especially when all the stats say these players aren't going to produce in the last half of such contracts. Hey...David Ortiz, one of the best “old” players of the last couple of decades, signed a long series of one-year contracts with the Red Sox after he entered the danger zone of his mid- thirties. Then he went out and exceeded all expectations and played MVP ball.
Free agents! What the hell do you have the right to complain about when you can “only” get a $10 million dollar one year contract? You don't think you and your family can survive on that 10 mil for the rest of your lives? Gentlemen...I feel really bad for you if you can't adapt to that shocking Reality.
Meanwhile, teams are still offering very fair contracts to their free agent eligible stars just to stay with their home town teams. Nolan Arenado just got $280 mil for 8 years from the Rockies. The Nationals offered Harper 300 mil for 10 years but got turned down. The Red Sox are going to try to retain Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts with extensions. This is not collusion!
However: right now it benefits a team that's not going to win anyway to go ahead and finish last for a few years so they can rake in the best draft choices. Houston pulled this off to perfection earlier this decade. To discourage this, baseball should fix the draft system and go to something like the NBA had with a weighted lottery so teams would at least try to win games. Otherwise it becomes only too obvious what tankers are up to.
Enough of that. Let's proceed to the other Shibboleth of the off season. How the Hell do we speed this freaking game up?
Well...it's not a pitch clock, that's for damn sure! They've been testing it out in the minors and whole games are going by with nobody getting within 5 seconds of an infraction on a twenty second pitch clock. They figure the rule will only affect about ten of the most “deliberate” pitchers if they enforce it at all. My suggestions:
1/just tell the umpires to keep the batters in the box except for when they take a close one up and in or something and have to dust themselves off.
2/start the pitch clock sooner.
3/Limit visits to the mound.
4/limit warmup pitches between innings and from relievers (what have they been doing out there in the bullpen if not warming up?)
5/realize that if every pitcher in the world were like Bob Gibson (“Get your ass in the box cause I'm throwing it NOW, SUCKER!”) or Grover Alexander (“I only take 4 warmup pitches but I pitched 18 innings in the last three days anyway so I think I'm ready.”) or Cy Young (“Let's see...749 complete games...that's more than almost any other starter has had in APPEARANCES...I guess I've done MY part.”) we wouldn't be having this conversation. So stop walking around the mound and throw the damn ball.
Another thing not to do is this screw loose idea of mandating that each pitcher throw to at least 3 batters before you can relieve him. Unless the inning ends before three batters I guess, or else you couldn't pinch hit for him (NL only) in the next offensive half inning? There would also be a lot of fake injuries so they could get permission to take the guy out instead of making him face a tough batter.
Teams and managers have gone crazy with matchups. The penalty for this specialization is a roster with 13 pitchers, most of whom throw to only one or two batters before they are replaced. In extra inning games they still run out of pitchers and have to let an infielder come in and throw eephus balls. I agree that this is ridiculous.
As I've said before, what's coming is expanding the roster to 26 but limiting the staff to 12 or 13. That's so they'll use the 26th man to be a bench hitter/fielder. Of course, this won't stop the other trend… three way pitcher/hitter/fielders to give versatility to the roster. A team full of Ohtanis if you will. This ain't a bad idea. It'll be like school ball still is...the best players pitch and hit and field another position or two when they aren't on the mound. What's not to like?
6/remove two 30 second commercials from each half inning...add two extra ones back during the seventh inning stretch. That's fifteen minutes you've shortened the game by. The networks aren't going to lose that commercial time anyway...they'll just use it on their next reality show that gets twice the ratings of a stodgy old ball game (at least in the regular season) anyway. They can still run spots to their limit during pitching changes and (PLEASE!) during replay checks.
press time note: the major leagues are looking into starting innings on half the TV screen while commercials run on the other half. What a brave stand for the sanctity of the game THAT is!*
7/shorten the damn replay checks! Just have the guy in New York make the call if he sees an egregious mistake. Have him wired up to the head ump and call it and get on with the game. Managers can still call for a replay but they won't have to if the video ump has the authority to fix the call.
8/don't be too precious about “preserving the fabric of the game”. Baseball has instituted revolutionary “fixes” before and sailed merrily along. Moving the mound back from 45 feet to 60 feet 1 inch helped the game in 1894...and that's a radical change that became necessary when Amos Rusie started throwing 98 mile an hour fastballs.
We've survived the infield fly rule, the balk rule, the designated hitter and does anybody remember when you were allowed to hit a baserunner in the ass with a thrown ball to record an out? This was the game in the nineteenth century, aka, “The Good Old Days”.
What I'm leading up to is this: if nothing else works consider a 7 inning game. (Yes, I understand that the gnashing sound I hear is your teeth grinding on my neck) But what would actually happen if all games were 7 innings?
Most games today take 3 hours, give or take. The first 6 innings take 2 hours and the last 3 innings take another hour with all the relief pitchers and stra-tee-gery. So you could expect most games to take about 2:15 to 2:30. Knock down the commercials and replays and make it 2 hours. Take the kids home and get 'em to bed by 10.
But, you'd also have quicker games because you'd have many more complete games pitched by your starters. Nowadays most managers want to get their starters out of there before the lineup turns over 3 times, and that is a lot closer to 6 or 7 innings. You'd definitely use less pitchers in a seven inning contest. Stats? The game stats would be different because most hitters wouldn't get up to bat 5 times a game. Shutouts would be forever changed but they're almost extinct anyway. Season stats would be just as meaningful because they'd still be cumulative, albeit based on fewer plate appearances in a season.
Your players would be less fatigued. Also, you could keep the nine inning games in the playoffs if you insisted. And it would be easier to play the inevitable rain out make up double headers. And 7 inning games are still the norm in many spring training, school and young player leagues. It's just not that radical a change.
All in all the seven inning game would cure the curse of the late finish (does anybody really like staying up past midnight to see the end of a baseball game?) and let the youth of America watch games through to the end, whether live or televised.
Gnash on Dear Readers, Gnash on…
Ok, enough kvetching...let's talk about the season ahead.
The Boston Red Sox ended the season on a very high note by demonstrating how much team spirit can affect the outcome of the games. I guess we knew this from watching the Yankees of the Derek Jeter/Paul O'Neil/Jorge Posada/Andy Pettite/Mariano Rivera era. Or the “We Are Family” Pirates of '79. Even though sometimes a team full of quarreling churls can succeed...the Oakland Athletics of the '70s for example.
But the 2018 Red Sox, just like the Houston Astros of 2017 who preceded them into team Valhalla, showed what can happen when there's a lot of love and support and smiling superstars (Mookie, Jose Altuve etc).
The Sox won the Series in the third game when Nathan Eovaldi pitched 7 extra innings after pitching twice already in the first two games. He lost the game on a homer by Max “Yard Gnome” Muncy. You'd think that would have broken the spirit of the Sox, but instead they rallied around their heroic pitcher and hugged themselves into a firm conviction that they could win. And they did. The Dodgers were left waiting for Manny Machado to do something besides not run out extra base hits. Game Set Match.
All the interesting action this year should be in the National League. Boston, New York and Houston are probably locks for the AL Playoffs.
In the AL East, Boston didn't add much, but they retained Eovaldi and WS MVP Steve Pearce. They're letting closer Kimbrel walk but after watching him pour gas on the fire in the Playoffs, that's probably a wise decision. They for sure aren't going to give Craig the 6 year multi-million contract he's stubbornly demanding, so their bullpen might be weakened. The Sox also lost “Fighting Joe” Kelly to the Dodgers. (That hurts because Kelly was inconsistent but gutsy. He gave his best for the Sox and he beat up Yankee rookies who dared to complain about fastballs aimed at their backsides).
New York is very scary looking again. They kept everybody they wanted and beefed up an already stuffed bullpen. (Chapman, Britton, Ottavino, Chad Green, Kahnle, Bettances...and more!) The Yankees probably have the best bullpen ever assembled. Really….there's about six closers on that roster! Their starters are not as good as the Sox have, but that's not where games are won in the 21st century. They did add leftie James Paxton from Seattle. He only threw a no-hitter last year. (His last three pitches were strikes to Josh Donaldson...98mph, 100mph, 99mph. Over and Out.)
If their young players like Voit, Andujar, Torres and Gary Sanchez can maintain, and they play Aaron Hicks more than Brett Gardner in center, the Yankees might be the first team in history to have nine players in their batting order hit at least 20 homers this season. That was once unimaginable. Frank Cashman has retired the trophy for best general manager. He added Troy Tulowitzki to play short until Didi Gregorius heals. (for a one year contract at the league minimum! Brilliant move!) Also DJ LeMahieu (a former batting champion!) from Colorado to back up the infield.
About the only problems the Yankees have are what to do with the long term contract of totally unproductive Jacobi Ellsbury and how to survive catcher Gary Sanchez's many Dr. Stoneglove adventures behind the plate trying to corral breaking pitches from a staff of breaking ball specialists.
The Red Sox may have to win 118 games to finish first in the East this year. Maybe Aaron Judge will play “New York, New York” too loud on his boom box again and inspire them.
The Houston Astros should cruise in the AL West. None of the other western teams have beefed up to any degree and Seattle has cashed in their chips for a rebuild.
The Angels are continuing to try to win with older players and it's not working. Mike Trout will soon vacate the team with only one playoff appearance to show for his whole career thus far.
Oakland stands pat as usual...almost time to trade all your stars Mr. Moneyball!
Texas might surprise us. They have some good everyday players, even with Beltre retiring. If those aging pitchers come through for them they could finish...third?
Cleveland still has the advantage in the AL Central, but their margin is much thinner after losing half their team to free agency and financially necessary trades. Bradley, Encarnacion, catcher Yan Gomes and Josh Donaldson are gone from the lineup and they lost a bunch of their pitching too. (Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Josh Tomlin.) There was talk that Corey Kluber and/or Carlos Carrasco were on the block. Thus die all small market teams. Cleveland is leaning very heavily on Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and their starters to keep them upright, but there is no doubt they are coming back to earth. And Lindor is starting the year hurt.
Minnesota is nipping at the Cleveland heals. They've signed about four DH types though, (Sano, Cruz, Logan Morrison) so they may beach themselves.
The White Sox are still a year away from really competing because their young pitching is not quite ready. They have young hitters though. Watch out for Eloy Jimenez...he's 6'4”, 220 lbs. And powerful. He might be a great one.
Kansas City will play small ball and be feisty, but not feisty enough to win anything.
Detroit is going to have a brutal season.
Why am I excited about the NL? Because we have a 4 team race in the East, a 3 team race in the Central, and a 1 team wipeout in the West. (Well, two out of three ain't bad!)
Let's not even go into the West. The Dodgers are fat and happy. They even almost scored Harper and thus totally destroy any possible hint of drama. The Arizona Diamondbacks lost their two best hitters in Goldschmidt (to the Cardinals) and Pollack (to the Dodgers!)and their Number Two starter in Patrick Corbin (to the Nationals!). So play Taps for them. They not only lost their stars, but they have to watch them play for the best teams in the league!
If you think Machado to the Padres is going to worry the Dodgers think again. The Padres will be better but there's still this little matter called pitching.
Colorado is celebrating signing an extension with Nolan Arenado...and good for him staying loyal faithful and true to his original team (at the bargain price of more than 32 million + a year for 8 years!) Won't matter….they coughed up furballs against the Brewers in the Playoffs and don't have enough to challenge Los Angeles.
San Francisco? They could turn back time and get a young Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda plus Juan Marichal and still not win. Too many old, hurt players on their team. I hope they don't trade Bumgarner though...there has to be somebody there that the fans like to watch.
The NL Central will be a fur fight for a bunch of teams that really compete with each other every year. The Cubs have been on top in this division but the Brewers took them down last year. Then the Brew Crew went out and did...NOTHING! They needed starters but got nobody! Stupid Brewers! Now is the time to press! You can win the pennant! Stupid Brewers!
The Cubs got body slammed when they spent all their money on Yu Darvish (hurt arm) and got Bryant hurt (shoulder). Plus they're still being bled dry by the Jason Heyward contract. (Didn't that guy used to hit?) That $78 million they gave Heyward is what it cost Chicago to break the curse...it was no hit good field Heyward who got the team into the weight room for that little pep talk that had them come out swinging in the Series 7th game win over the Indians. So the Cubs did nothing this winter to improve. They're just hoping Darvish can pitch this year and Bryant's shoulder heals. And they hope that Javier Baez's break out season was a sign of things to come. He carried them for long stretches last year.
The third team in the mix is the strangely inconsistent St. Louis Cardinals. But this year, I think the addition of Paul Goldschmidt, a steady, quiet leader, will mix well and get Marcell Ozuna better pitches to hit. The pitching is deep and effective as long as Yadier Molina is calling the games. Carpenter had an awesome hot streak in mid-year and should make a smooth transition to third base to make room for Goldy. I like the Cards in the division this year.
The Cincinnati Reds are not going to win yet, but they are improving. After watching attendance drop for the last four or five years, they suddenly realized that they need some players that people want to watch and traded for Puig and Matt Kemp from the Dodgers. This allowed them to dump the remnants of Homer Bailey (Pride of La Grange Texas!) and they shipped off Sliding Billy Hamilton as well. Nobody could ever teach Billy how to work a base on balls (OBP .299!) or hit grounders that he could run out for base hits. What a waste of world class speed. Anyway, I think it would be great to see the Reds really compete again. Hope they do.
Pirates likewise, but that owner is not in it to win it. What does he do with all the penalty cash he collects from the teams that go over the salary cap? (oh, sorry, we all know that baseball doesn't have a salary cap! Heavens! The very thought!) Anyway, it's for sure that he's not spending it on players.
We have saved the best for last. The truly interesting division in baseball this year could possibly be the NL East.
4 teams are actually competing, and it's difficult to tell who's favored!
Dismiss Miami. They are deep in Tanksville and will lose 110 games or so this season. But Atlanta won it last year and they are at least as good as they were in 2018 with genuine hopes for improvement from some of their young pitchers. The Phillies signed Harper and a few more studs and look a whole lot stronger. The Nationals lost Harper but gained another Ace pitcher in Corbin and still have Max Scherzer and Steven Strasburg. And even the New York Mets have suddenly come to life and decided to try to win something.
The Mets made some splashy moves in getting Jed Lowrie from Oakland and Edwin “Sugar” Diaz (57 saves) from Seattle. And of course the splashiest move was getting Robbie Cano from Seattle. But Robbie is going to be 37 and the rest of their offensive core...Lowrie, Frazier and Cespedes... are also well into their thirties and have a history of injuries. So once again the Mets fans are pointing at a cardboard house and seeing a castle. Last year the Metskies featured an awesome starting rotation and had bad defense and terrible offense to back it up. This year they've gone out and got some “names” but these names are usually those you see on the DL. They need Brandon Nimmo and Michael Conforto to step up and be stars. And if their starters DeGrom, Syndergaard, Wheeler and Metz can get through a year without spraining a lat the Mets might do something. I have them pegged for fourth.
Down in Atlanta everything is peachy. Last year they finally went back to the playoffs and if their pitching improves they could go even further. But I just don't see this staff standing up alongside the Nationals, the Mets or even the Phillies. The Braves have some talent...like Touki Toussaint...but are unproven. Plus they play in home run heaven down there in Delta town. The offense is pretty strong if Markakis, Albeis and Inciarte can come close to last year's production and Acuna and Freeman stay healthy. But one thing's for sure...the Braves are coming. They have an awesome farm system with arms forever (righties Kyle Wright, Ian Anderson and Mike Soroka) and more team speed and good position players galore. This year? Drop back a little to third.
I've already talked about the Phillies and I must say it's about time they were relevant again. I'm concerned that their manager, Gabe Kapler, is a little too wonkish for his own good. He overuses the bullpen and favors matchups over all reason. We will see how he handles the team now that Harper is the centerpiece. Last year the Phillies had just terrible defense. Now they've got a better shortstop in Jean Segura and especially the best catcher available in J.T. Realmuto. Harper is an upgrade in right or center, wherever they put him, and they finally get Rhys Hoskins out of left and back to his natural position of first base. Should help. The pitching is not overpowering, but they signed Nola to a long term and Arrieta is good and possibly great if he can find his mojo again like Verlander did a couple of years ago. A solid second place team.
And now the Nationals. Wouldn't it be ironic if the Nationals got rid of Harper and finally won the pennant and went to the World Series? They have the talent to do that. Except for perhaps, the Dodgers, the Nats are the deepest club in the National League. The rotation is stronger than the Dodgers or anybody else in the league with Scherzer, Strasburg, Corbin and Anibel Sanchez. The bullpen has Sean Doolittle, Matt Grace, Trevor Rosenthal and Kyle Barraclough.
They picked up Brian Dozier to play second. He was hurt last year but at 32 shouldn't be done. When he's on he's a dangerous hitter and a Yard Dog competitor. The infield also has Anthony Rendon back at third as well as shortstop Trea Turner, who played every game last year and stole a lot of bases. The big tick up comes in the outfield, where phenom Victor Robles adds his speed and defense to the lineup in center and Juan Soto is available for the full season. Juan had an OPS of .923 last year with 22 dingers in a short season. He looked really good. Bryce who? First place.
Hope you enjoyed the rap. I'll be back later…