Friday, August 23, 2013

These Guys Are Professionals, Right?

Baseball is an entertaining game to watch. In a sport in which every action is met with resistance it can be taken for granted just how easy those in the major league can make the game look. This piece is dedicated to the other end of the spectrum, to the plays you only enjoy watching five year olds engage in, where the joy of playing outweighs the importance of the win/loss record. Warning these plays are not exactly pretty, but go ahead and laugh, but remember these are professionals trained to drown out crowd noise and insults.

Backup catcher Yorvit Torrealba exploits some terrible base running (8/14/13)

Juan Uribe falls for the old "hidden ball trick" and to make matters worse Angel Hernandez, one of the more controversial terrible umpires in the game today. Just ask Chipper Jones, Hawk Harrelson and the Oakland A's. (8/10/13)

It is cute when kids get so excited they can't keep their balance and fall down in a heap of joy. For Chad Qualls it was probably a bit more embarrassing, but nonetheless entertaining. (7/30/13)

Melky Cabrera shows off his powerful arm in left, if not his sure-handed grip (8/1/13)

Five days latter Melky got a sigh of relief that it can even happen to 18 year veterans like Raul Ibanez (8/6/13)

 Finally, it doesn't matter how fast or talented you are, somethings are sure outs. (6/19/13)

Yasiel Puig will likely learn that next season, because he has yet to learn it yet. It is bad when Vin Scully is calling you out. (6/26/13)

Hope you enjoyed some of the more embarrassing gaffes of the year. Did I leave any out? Let me know and I will try and tack them on.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Expanded Replay is Coming

With the clarity of Gabbo's arrival, MLB announced on Thursday that expanded replay is coming in 2014. Expanded replay has been on the table since the current home run review system come online in 2008. After today's announcement we have been given some idea of what to MLB wants in an expanded replay: coaches getting 3 challenges each (1 in the first six innings, 2 in the seventh and beyond, though umpires may seek to have discretion to review plays if challenges are exhausted), a central review office to make the final calls, balls and strikes are not reviewable. Home run reviews are to be grandfathered in. Brushed aside like so much fine print are the important details about how the owners, players association, and the umpires have yet to sign off on the expanded replay. To put it simply, this replay system could look radically different from what was announced Thursday before it is approved. With that in mind, here is a look at what I would like to see and a warning to what we may be saying goodbye to.

MLB claims "89 percent of incorrect calls made in the past will be reviewable," but did not go into specifics. I assume reviewable plays will now include fair/foul balls, trapped balls, and plays at bases. Something I am sure Armando Galarraga is behind. I can get onboard with these reviews, they shouldn't take too much time to review and it is better to get the call right in these situations. There are still some questions to iron out, including how to determine what base batters and baserunners should be awarded when a foul ball call is overturned, but that should not be too difficult for the league to iron out. 

The judgment calls are where things get a bit dicey. Judgment calls can include in/out of the basepaths, the neighborhood rule, balks, or the infield fly rule. While the neighborhood rule is among the numerous unwritten rules of baseball, the other examples all include the caveat "in the judgment of the umpire(s)" as part of the rules definition. These type of rules should remain as free of review as ball and strikes. These will not be called correctly every time, but retroactive, third-party judgments would do more to harm the situation, not to mention needlessly prolong games, than just accepting the call and moving forward. Players and managers are not perfect, neither are umpires, but they all strive to do their best and by keeping the judgment calls under the on-field umpires control they will hopefully work harder to get those non-reviewable calls correct.   

An unintended consequence for the fans could a marked decrease in manager-umpire arguments and especially managers getting tossed. Aside from the humor of watching a manager throw a tantrum, there is a tangible benefit to their actions as well. Teams win at a .550 clip in a game following an ejection versus an expected .494 clip generally, according to Sports Illustrated research. Arguing balls and strikes will remain a tossing offense, but for other calls managers will now be told to toss challenge flags instead of verbal abuse. Add to that the potential for umpires to seek reviews on close plays themselves and managers will be on their best behavior in hopes of getting such plays reviewed late in games. I hope MLB gives something back the managers and makes the challenge flag a rosin bag (look at 1:15-1:30 in the video) so they can really show their displeasure. 

Replay is just the latest in a long line of changes to the game and I would not be surprised to see them come in 2014. Bud Selig wields enough power that when he wants something done, he gets his way, for better or worse. Thus, even with a potential $40 million dollar budget to address, I expect the owners to sign off on it in November. However, what was announced today is not likely to be exactly what we will see in 2014 and the system introduced next season will undoubtedly be refined in the years ahead. On paper I congratulate MLB for embracing change and adopting further replay, now lets see if it works as well in practice. 

Is this a step in the right direction, a bridge to far, or will you not be satisfied until robots call the game? Sound off in the comments  below

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A-Rod Frustrating Selig's "Clean in '14" Effort

Normally, after the trade deadline fans are supposed to stop hearing about fourth place teams and instead get to know playoff teams and start to consider offseason awards and moves. I plan to get to those soon. However, MLB announced their Biogenesis suspensions on Monday and that warrants some attention. If you are sick of hearing about PEDs, Biogenesis or other off the field issues in general, I don't blame you, I encourage you to skip the rest of  this article because I am fascinated by Bud Selig's actions in this matter and want to take a closer look into it. My upcoming articles will be as PED free as I can make them, I promise.

Disclaimers out of the way, let us look at the Biogensis fallout this past month: 12 suspensions for 50 games, 1 for 65, and one for 211 games. None of these players tested positive. The league suspended them using a "non-analytical positive," code for witnesses and a paper trail sufficient  to prove purchase, receipt or use of banned drugs. Oh and a few players were not suspended because they actually got caught last year. An odd system where those not smart enough to beat the system will receive less scrutiny than those who only may have. Most of the players are not challenging the suspensions, but that has more to do with the blatant incentive MLB put on the players to take the punishment. Incentives seemingly designed to provide Bud Selig with a clean final season as commissioner.

Despite all the evidence MLB collected and sifted through since January, the suspensions only came out when teams had 50 or so games remaining in the regular season. Players on post-season bound teams could serve out the punishment and still help their team in October. If they are allowed on the post-season roster. Free agents will not take a financial hit because they still have days, weeks, or months remaining on their suspension. More important to these players and MLB is the attempt to put Biogenesis in the 2013 season alone, to wrap it all up in a neat little package and pretend it is an isolated incident that can be mentioned as a historical footnote, an odd quirk to one season. Players who do not challenge the suspensions will start 2014 with as clean a slate as possible. Even Alex Rodriguez suspension was designed to fit the mold, the idea being to suspend him for the remainder of 2013 and all of 2014, after this season Biogenesis would be out of sight, out of mind. It is cleaner, simpler, to treat it as such, but hardly in the best long term interest of the game.

Part of the problem with this approach is that it oversimplifies the PED problem. One clinic lead to 15 suspensions (don't forget minor league pitcher Cesar Carrillo who suffered a 100 game suspension back in March for refusing to talk with MLB investigators about the case). One clinic handed this information to major league baseball, they merely had to sift through the information to get results. The league, as tough as it claims to be on testing steroids, did not find the Biogenesis clinic on their own and there is currently no indication that they actually want to investigate the potential for others. Had Tony Bosch paid his former employee, odds are the baseball loving public would have remained blissfully ignorant of Biogenesis and "anti-aging" clinics. Other clinics are out there. Shutting down the suppliers would be ideal. The appearance of investigations may even deter some players. The league can only punish the players, not the providers, unfortunately. So, rather than look ineffective, the league will keep improving its testing and attempt to increase the penalties to deter future use.

I would have preferred all those suspended to have to sit out opening day next season as well. This would keep the PED talk alive in clubhouses throughout spring training and serve as a constant reminder that there are consequences for PED use. The players would undoubtedly be asked about the issue throughout training camps and that is a very good thing. The conversation among players has changed dramatically since testing started back in 2005. No longer are players willing to turn a blind eye to a teammates use, pretending that the issue does not exist. Players are increasingly vocal about wanting a clean game, clean teammates. They want to be surrounded with the best 25 players, players who earned it with skill, dedication, and effort not through a needle, a cream, or a pill. This trend should continue as more and more players come up who have been tested from day 1 in the minors. Imagine what an offseason full of such talk could do. Tacking on an extra day would have allowed the owners to use the union against itself which would have been a powerful ally if they review the PED penalties as expected this offseason.

Burying the issue is easier than examining it. For the sake of a "clean" 2014 Selig slow played his hand until the players had to accept the suspension. The players were left in an unenviable position: serve the suspension immediately or risk it limiting their opportunities in 2014 and beyond. Pushed, prodded, or cajoled, I refuse to call this opportunity "unfair" because the players linked themselves to a questionable clinic, regardless of whether they actually took illegal substances for tummy aches or some competitive edge. This "clean in '14" campaign Selig is trying for (conveniently his last as commissioner, I hope) requires the biggest name to be stashed for the entire '14 season, with a 211 game suspension, Selig would accomplish just that.

Unfortunately for Bud Selig, A-Rod is planning to appeal his suspension. Financially it makes sense for A-Rod to appeal, he is set to make $7.96 million the rest of this season, $25 million in '14, and $21 million in 2015. Even if the suspension is upheld, A-Rod will have around another month to play and get paid this season. I actually see the suspension being shortened. Selig suspended all players under the Joint Drug Agreement rather than the vague "good of the game" clause in the Collective Bargaining Agreement. A-Rod is getting his stiff suspension for alleged PED use over several years, attempting to hide violations, and for "a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner," according to MLB. MLB's plea deals were accepted by everyone else, but when A-Rod decided to take his chances via arbitration, Selig swapped his carrot and stick for the hammer and sickle.

Selig seems hell bent on going after A-Rod because he had the audacity to try and purchase potentially incriminating evidence when this whole mess started. Just like MLB did. MLB went even further, suing Tony Bosch into cooperating with their investigation. By going so hard after one player MLB has forced the Union to step in and defend A-Rod, if only to prevent MLB from setting a dangerous precedent for future players. Any attempt to claim multiple suspensions for A-Rod based on Biogenesis documents should be greeted with a high level of skepticism. After all, 3 players who tested positive are not facing a second punishment after the league reviewed the documents. I do not see how a neutral arbitrator would buy that A-Rod is the only player linked to Biogenesis who merits multiple suspensions from the recovered documents. Given the amount of information revealed to date, I expect a 50 game suspension for PEDs and 75-100 for impeding the investigation.

A-Rod has a storied history of rubbing people the wrong way and I have no problem seeing him punished for breaking the rules. I just want to see him punished like every other player. Michael Weiner and the Player's Union agree. Selig looked the other way when steroids brought fans back to the ballpark, with his last season approaching he is once again trying to put steroids out of sight, out of mind, and away from his legacy. A legacy which will receive much more scrutiny next season, a compelling reason to push forward with a "clean in '14" campaign.

From being handed an investigation to forcing players to meekly accepting suspensions, Selig was so close to having everything Biogenesis wrapped up in a neat little package. Except for A-Rod.

At least we know what A-Rod did to frustrate the Office of the Commissioner, he refuses to be bullied, intimidated, and shut out of the league. He dares to keep Bud Selig from sweeping Biogenesis under the rug and riding into the sunset after a Clean in '14 season. And I am fine with that. 

Do you support Selig's actions? Did he do enough or not enough? Do you just want to stop hearing the name Biogenesis? Let me know in the comments below