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MLB Has Lost Its Way

July 26, 2019 Comments off

Capture

 

Happy Friday. It’s been awhile, so thought I would throw down some words about baseball from a person who is fed up with the current MLB variety of the game.

 

It’s hot as hell all over the world but as long as we have stolen bases, hit and runs, batters sacrificing, squeeze bunts, contact hitting, etc., the game of baseball will relieve some of our pain. Oh.

 

Yes, if you’re like me (older than the average kid or hipster pretending to be a kid), you’ve noticed a complete dismantling of the game based on mandate of crooked Commish Rob Manfred, following the embarrassment his friend Bud Selig foisted upon us prior to Manfred’s taking over.

 

We went through the “steroid era”, where sacred records were mocked because as Bud’s MLB PR campaign stated, “Chicks dig the long ball.” Chicks also love being called chicks from creepy old men, but that’s a different story. The reason for looking the other way and enabling players’ cheating was to get larger audiences and more money in the owners’ pockets. It didn’t matter to Bud, or the owners, that the game’s integrity was on the line. 1998 was the pinnacle of the long ball craze as Big Mac and Sammy Sosa were held up on a national stage for a rather naive country’s amusement.

 

After the plan started to spring leaks and it was evident mass cheating was happening, baseball played dumb and pretended to clean up its act. We were told the “steroid era” was behind us, which of course it never was. Players continued to use but testing was in effect. Of course one has to wonder how the testing generally caught up has beens, never weres or skinny players that you’d never associate with crushing 500 foot homeruns.

 

As Bud left, Manfred came in. He said as Commish he wanted more offense since offense equates to excitement and excitement equates to more fan interest, ratings, and tickets sold. This time (on top of whatever juicing is allowed and largely overlooked), the balls were tampered with. This has happened before, of course, so these genius ideas just recirculate – various acts of sleight of hand meant to keep the game “exciting” at the expense of honesty, integrity and well, the basic concepts of baseball any actual fan loves.

 

This time it coupled juiced balls, juiced players and “data”. It’s easy to explain an explosion of offense if you sell it that suddenly after 150 years “geniuses” just came along that know more than anyone who played, coached or followed baseball in all that time. Obscure mathematical equations, they explain, are why the game is “evolving.” So now, rather than think of moving a runner over, hell, getting on base in the first place, it’s better to use “launch angle” and swing for a homerun. Pitchers apparently “agree” that it’s ok to give up solo homers, after all, instead of being “singled to death” like in the old days. It conserves their energy, extends their careers, etc.

 

I just question a few things. First, what is the idea here? Do Manfred, and Selig before him, feel people who previously had no interest in baseball will suddenly follow the game because there are more homeruns than any time previous? Do they really believe kids who are busy on social media, gaming, streaming TV shows, YouTube videos, “influencing”, etc. will follow baseball because players who previously would be in the minors are now “super subs” hitting 15-20 homeruns with a .220 batting average? It would seem the answer is apparent – no.

 

The fans of baseball have always passed the game onto their children. Some children didn’t accept it, opting for football, basketball, or whatever interest of the day might be. But others took to it, fell in love with it, and eventually passed that love on to their own kids. This has always been the narrative of baseball, the relaxed joy of it. A homerun happens, people leap up, but was baseball’s 150 years of popularity based on single moments of excitement? Perhaps, but not limited to homeruns. Excitement for a baseball fan might be a hard slide into second, a successful pickoff at first base, a bunt with the infield back, a big strikeout of an opponent’s best hitter, etc.

 

My point, while it’s nice to think of marketing ideas to interest fans, changing the fundamental game in hopes of pulling in those who would seem to be completely tuned out, isn’t the way. All this “boost” of offense has done is irritate longtime fans. If the longtime fans go away, the game will not be passed on, and the game will die. “Chicks dig math” is not a great calling card for the game. Ok, “Strong women dig math,” still bad.

 

In my opinion, and it’s only an opinion but one I hear echoed by many I talk to and follow, is the game is crap. Hitting a lot of homeruns is easy nowadays. If there is no repercussion to hitting .220 or less, why wouldn’t a player juice, or just hit the doctored baseball into the air since there is no job if he decides to level out his swing?

 

Even if you are a fan of “data” and “launch angle” and think I’m an idiot, wouldn’t it make more sense to have some players on your roster whose job it is to get base hits, steal bases, take extra bases, etc. so your actual homerun hitters can hit a three run bomb vs. a solo shot? In one area baseball is similar to football – pitch count, wearing down a pitcher, is akin to time of possession. I would argue both are paramount to winning. If you wear out a pitcher, disrupt him, or hold the ball longer than your opponent in football, so the other team’s defense is winded and their offense is not on the field to score, you’ll likely win more often than not.

 

It’s not that complicated, which is why baseball always was beloved. You could get away from the pressures and responsibilities of life, sit in the sun and eat sunflower seeds, have a hot dog and watch a slow moving game of strategy that every once in a while, completely unannounced, would have moments of physical and emotional excitement. You never knew when it was going to happen, or perhaps you did – if you watched closely enough. Today the game has been dumbed down to 27+ chances to swing for the fences.

 

In 150 years of baseball, it’s silly to think teams couldn’t have lined their guys up and just swung for the fences each at bat. It didn’t occur to them, because that’s not baseball, that’s batting practice. Imagine if you told Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, etc. to just swing for the fences, forget batting average, doubles in the gap, etc. I have a feeling they’d think you were insane and walk away.

 

The game is sold to current fans as the same as it ever was – just better. We are told to remember the greats, yet no one on any team’s roster lives up to those heroes play. Lou Brock? Rickey Henderson? Jackie Robinson? Today these players would all platoon in the field or play 6 positions and never run. The game has become one dimensional, in addition to false and uninteresting. Believe me, Mr. Manfred, the kid playing games on his phone and busy on Snapchat isn’t that concerned with MLB.

 

The “data” driven nature of the game, in addition to making the game more boring (oh the irony, considering they feel it is bringing more excitement), it is creating a parity that keeps fans from seeing their teams win. Basic logic – if everyone is using “data”, you’re doing nothing different than the competition. Then you’re going off the flawed assumption your “geniuses” are just that much better than the other 29 teams’ “geniuses.”

 

I can go on all day but I will spare you. You either see my point or have given up after the first paragraph or two. As a lifelong Dodgers fan, I find it weird that the game has “evolved” to where a starting pitcher should only go through a lineup twice (so about 5 innings or so generally), yet having a lockdown bullpen isn’t important. It would seem innings 6-9 would be more important today than any time in baseball’s history, but in LA at least, that isn’t the case. Relief pitchers are interchangeable robots who come up from the minors, go down, without anyone even knowing who they are.

 

The priorities in LA are first, never question the “geniuses” and second, make sure the owners retain as much profit as they can. Fans of baseball now are more fans of guys in polo shirts and large corporations’ bottom lines than they are the game. Talk online and on call in shows is about saving money, dumping salary, freeing up money for three years from now, etc. Meantime, the folks calling in and chatting online pay more than ever for tickets, parking, concessions, merchandise and aren’t even able to watch the team’s games (in most cases).

 

I’m not sure how you can say the game is improved, or you are bringing in new fans, if children at home cannot watch the games, their parents don’t have enough to take them to games as often (or ever). It would seem logical that you are doing the opposite – you are alienating fans, allowing a generation to grow up with little to no exposure to the game – and for what? More money in the short term for owners.

 

I love baseball. I will always love baseball. I do not love MLB baseball. In only a few cases, mostly AL East Coast teams, is it the game I recognize, or something reasonably familiar. I don’t see teams going all in. I don’t see a sense of urgency. I see windows of opportunity ignored and closing. As a Dodgers fan, the window, in some form or other, has been open for well over a decade – which is a LONG time. Squandered opportunities under Frank McCourt’s reign of terror gave way to squandered opportunities under Guggenheim Partners. In this long window of opportunity, there’s no reason the Dodgers couldn’t have won multiple World Series championships as their rival to the north has.

 

You can call it progress, I call it embarrassing. Have a wonderful summer, everyone.

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Wasted Movement

April 18, 2017 52 comments

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Los Angeles Dodgers

 

Happy post Easter hangover to you. I thought I’d write a short article since the whole 140 character thing doesn’t really work all the time. In general I seem to get a lot of followers who follow anything with the word “Dodger” in the name (“Tax Dodger”? Reserved for the Commander in Chief, I guess). Once I tweet a few cynical (honest) comments, they quickly unfollow. Such is life.

Anyway, I thought I’d comment on the topic everyone is talking about – Rich Hill’s 2nd DL stint in as many starts. How is this a surprise to anyone? Andrew Friedman, trying to save face, is making the rounds, saying he’s not worried. No, front offices love when their expensive new toys end up chronically injured. Who are you trying to fool, Andy? Sure, you might feel you have “depth” (I call ’em semi warm bodies), but it couldn’t have been in the plans to have your #2 behind Clayton Kershaw saying it would take a “medical miracle” to get him on the mound again. And now talk of his going to the pen to save the boo boo finger? Really, you signed a 37 year old pitcher to a $48M deal with the intention of him being just another bullpen guy, next to your AAAA retreads? Sorry, not buying that.

I know the beat writers and local radio guys won’t question the genius of the front office as they don’t dare lose access to the clubhouse – and the free meals. I on the other hand have nothing to lose. I write what is very apparent – hardly genius at all. It just so happens in today’s world, if you exhibit a decent amount of common sense, you look intelligent. Who woulda thunk?

As I have tweeted many times, all you have to do is go to this blog and comb through the old articles and see my take on everything Dodgers. All the injuries discussed in advance, all the bad deals commented on as they were made, the mediocre or worse players the Moneyball minded acquire, debunked early on. Again, it’s not being super smart, it’s using basic intelligence. And yes, just having seen a lot of baseball in my life. It’s the same thing Saber guys (I don’t think women are stupid enough to be Saber) dislike traditional minded scouting and managing for. It’s too simple. You watch, you gauge it on lots and lots of similar circumstances (100+ years of MLB, pretty much) and you can therefore make semi logical assumptions. One might call it “data”, but I hear that term has been trademarked.

Here we are 13 games into the 2017 season and the Dodgers are in third place, 1 game over .500. The fans, as always, are up and down like the temperature. If they beat the Padres, whose entire payroll is less than what Kershaw makes alone, they talk shit and boast, gearing up for the World Series appearance. If they lose to a better Western foe, they panic.

The season is long and I will go on a limb and say the type of front office work the Friedman/Zaidi and assorted Dream Team collection of overpaid executives are doing could work as well in 2017 as it did in 2016. I think I figured it out, though, like a bad detective show, my answer was right in front of me the whole time.

While I think the West should certainly be better than it was last year (Giants will wake up, Rox seem improved and only getting better, Arizona perhaps better under their new Moneyball-type front office), I can see the Dodgers making the playoffs. Before you get too excited, I can also see them missing the playoffs. Somewhere between winning the West, getting the wild card and losing out in the playoff round robin, is where they will be. I am not one to predict outcomes of divisions so much as a lot of things happen.

I will say that unless changes are made (and why would they be?), it’s unlikely the Dodgers, as constructed now, will advance to the World Series, should they get anywhere near. My reason is I look at tonight’s tragic lineup and I just don’t see where $230M was spent. Any given night the lineup, starter and/or bullpen participants might be aged journeymen or AAAA castoffs. Friedman calls it “depth” – Paul DePodesta didn’t even call it that, but maybe he should have. His roster was the same littering of nobodies and never weres.

With Hill having recurring blister problems, it makes me wonder why Friedman would take a chance on him again. Last July, Friedman waited till the 11th hour before the trade deadline to move three prospects for Hill and Josh Reddick, who apparently Friedman didn’t realize hadn’t done anything since May. Ok, I’ll make excuses and say Friedman thought he could wait everyone out and find lightning in a bottle – after all, Moneyball centerfold Billy Beane snatched Hill up during the off-season after seeing him throw a few good games in unimportant late season starts for Boston. If Hill was good enough for Beane…

Hill, of course, came over hurt, spent a long time on the DL and then made some useful starts in September and October for the Dodgers. But facts are facts and Hill was an aging player, not long out of independent league ball (like Scott Kazmir, who Friedman admitted was a poor signing just a year before as he shopped him this winter, with no takers). But with the free-agent and trade markets thin (the time to shop was the winter before when names like Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, J.A. Happ, etc. were available), Friedman doubled down on Hill. After all, he just dealt three prospects to get him, so to walk away empty handed, and still have a gaping hole in the rotation, seemed unacceptable, even to him. So as is his custom, an identical $48M deal went to Hill – like it had to Brandon McCarthy and then Kazmir. I guess that’s the cap where a Moneyballer feels comfortable “wasting” on starting pitching.

I would say $48M is an ok figure, if you got something out of it. So far, the amount is cursed for Friedman and his little troll Zaidi – all three of the guys acquired have trouble staying healthy. In case you wondered, 3 x 48M = $144M, which is a lot of money and should mean something more capable for your rotation than what Friedman’s guys have shown – at least so far (this being written on April 17, 2017, for historical purposes).

My biggest problem with Friedman and his building of a roster isn’t necessarily the players he selects – ok, it’s a large part about that – but what the ultimate toll it takes on the team in general. As I’ve said before, a rotation is not just the quality of your 5 starters (not 16 starters, as Friedman would have you believe), though that should be top of mind, but it’s the innings. I understand the game is changing and either change with it or die but I can’t believe it’s optimal to have 16 guys tossing 3-5 innings commonly, as opposed to 5-6 guys capable of going 6-8 more frequently.

I know it’s ancient history, but I vividly remember Dodger teams with an ace, 2 or 3 very good pitchers and then 1-2 either called “innings eaters” or perhaps 1 of those and a kid, hoping to stick in the rotation. It wasn’t long ago that Friedman so hated this that he chased Dan Haren out of town, paying his salary to go to Miami. Really, how is Haren at any point much different than Hill, McCarthy or Kazmir? I guess you could argue, he was healthier.

Innings are important because it’s something you can hang your hat on. You can assume your starting pitcher is not only capable of going deeper into games, but taking the ball every 5th day without drama. You don’t need to call a collection of junk, and terrible contracts, “depth”. Your depth is your minor league system, as it always has been and is for every team in the major leagues. If you have 4-5 credible starters who are likely to stay healthy, you can make a phone call should someone get hurt. That “data” is based on 100+ years of the game’s history. Trite, boring, but honest and true.

I think like DePodesta, the Moneyball way Friedman and Zaidi play is merely about looking more clever and smarter than your average baseball guy – folks like myself included. Naive? Giggle inducing ideas such as going with known commodities, staying away from continually injured players – absurd! It’s far more fun to tinker like a very bored fantasy baseball general manager and make things happen. Oh, in the end it could work but all the “wasted movement” isn’t beneficial to anyone. When your new $48M contract is already looking vomit-inducing and you are talking about putting this #2 starter into your bullpen, it’s not good. Not on this Earth, not on any world.

Like I said, it’s possible the Dodgers can win the West – who knows if the Giants, Rox and Diamondbacks might stumble? Plus, the Dodgers have spent a lot more than anyone else, not only in the West, or the National League, or MLB, but in professional sports. That “depth” allows you at least a chance to win, even if your front office is run by overzealous micro-managers with too much time on their hands.

On the other hand, this Moneyball style always proves to address the regular season. Remember, before these guys arrived, the Dodgers were doing well in that respect. More often than not the Dodgers are near the top of the division, even when mere mortals are calling the shots. Moneyball is usually employed when a team does not have the financial wherewithal to compete any other way. It’s odd when it’s employed with deep pockets and a monster payroll.

The team tinkers and scratches to get to the post-season, celebrates this accomplishment but doesn’t win. Don’t feel too bad for Friedman, no Moneyball team ever wins. Or hasn’t yet. It’s because, in the paraphrased words of Billy Beane, the post-season is too unpredictable, the “data” doesn’t work there. Luck is involved, he says. No, I don’t think that’s quite true.

While maybe “data” can predict X number of runs an ever-changing lineup should produce, and how many runs an ever-changing rotation should allow, it doesn’t account for quality. Quantity, oh sure, plenty of that. Proudly Friedman sycophants will point to how quantity is as important as quality. This is said to praise the “depth” – which is actually just less talented players than what otherwise could be assembled. More means more, to them. But in the post-season, Billy Beane might say it’s harder to predict and luck, whereas I would say it’s quality. Here the quantity means less, and that’s why Freidman’s subpar independent league and career minor league players have problems.

It’s not genius to discover independent league and career minor leaguers – why, they’re right there in independent leagues and minor leagues all across the country. It’s not genius to pluck them from obscurity and then sign them to contracts of their dreams. It’s curious, weird even and clogs your roster full of guys that more than likely are not going to hold up and win in October.

It’s early – just the middle of April – but we are seeing the “depth” put to use as the players were never capable in the first place. While anyone can get hurt at any time and certainly bad breaks happen, it is not dumb luck when it happens to players who have a track record (data!) of this happening to them. Only Friedman and his people didn’t understand Hill would be hurt. As his players fall like dominoes, Friedman and his followers say, “Who could have known?” Well, we all knew and continue to scratch our heads in astonishment.

I think the appeal here is painting themselves into a corner and trying to get out. Houdini did it to show his superiority and fantasy baseball managers do it when they are bored out of their minds. Make dumb moves, drop better players, constantly swap our anyone with a pulse and hope it works. If it does, you can puff out your chest and claim superiority. Again, it’s “wasted movement” and unnecessary.

It’s an outdated way of thinking, sure, but would it be so terrible to have a rotation with at least 3-4 very solid guys you had a pretty safe expectation for making it through the season unscathed? Would it be ludicrous to assume your bullpen could be 3-4 men deep? Even 2 deep? Would it be insane to think if you had a payroll larger than anyone else’s your roster would likely have more great players than other teams?

All out of touch, old school ways of thinking, I realize. What do I know? I’m just a guy who has watched a lot of baseball for a lot of years. I sometimes write baseball articles, all archived here, with dates, and I seem to somehow do a remarkable job calling a lot of the “unforeseen events” that befall Friedman and his think tank, before they happen. I don’t call it “data” – just common sense and reasonable intelligence. Enjoy the ride and remember, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Have the Pepto-Bismol and Prilosec at your side; nothing is easy in a Friedman universe.

Wasted movement.