The beauty of baseball is its unpredictability. Any player in any game can achieve the impossible. Teams can also surprise. Regardless how knowledgeable you are about the game, even experts are not always able to predict baseball.
Ozzie Smith was never a power hitter, he hit 28 home runs in 19 seasons. No one predicted Smith would hit the game winning home run in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship series. Jack Buck’s memorable call of “Go Crazy Folks” sealed the home run in baseball history. Smith did not hit another home run until May 31, 1988. Unpredictable.
Phillip Humber’s 16-23 record and 5.31 ERA are unremarkable, yet on April 21, 2012 he was perfect. Perfect Games are unpredictable, but Humber’s was almost impossible. Ineffectiveness after perfection forced Humber out of the Majors in 2013.
Prior to each season experts, and The Winning Run, predict which teams will make the Postseason and win the World Series. This season 18 of MLB Radio’s experts made predictions. As expected some were right and some wildly wrong. However, their mixed prediction results have a glaring hole in one particular Division.
Some predictions are easy, some are not. (MLB Radio)
The experts loved the Yankees, good call, and the Red Sox, not so much, in the American League East. New York has won the Division, but once again Tampa and their 92 wins got no love. Tampa’s low budget machine produced another winning teams while Fenway’s big budget will sit at home in October. The American League Central was predictably a two team race between Cleveland and Minnesota. The rest of the Central will finish at least 25 games back, the experts picked the wrong team as the Twins lead the Indians by four games. They knew the contenders, but picked them in the wrong order. The American League West was easy, 18 of 18 picked the Astros. Good Call.
The National League Central was a toss up between the Brewers, 2 of 18 experts, Cardinals, 5 of 18, and Cubs, 11 of 18. These teams have battled all season with the Cardinals taking control as Milwaukee continues fights on without Christian Yelich and the Cubs fade away. 10 of 18 picked the Dodgers in the National League West. Oddly the other eight picked the Rockies, who are heading for a last place finish. Ouch.
The shocking ineptitude of the experts is the National League East. All 18 experts whiffed on the Division, as none predicted the reigning Division champion Braves would repeat. The Marlins predictably struggled, leaving just four teams. The favorite in the East was the Nationals. A rotation of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin should deliver a Division title. The Phillies added Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto. This firepower in the Philadelphia lineup should have made them at least competitive. The rebuilding Mets got one vote from Rob Bender. No love for Atlanta.
Ronald Acuña has emerged as a potential superstar in Atlanta. (FOX Sports Florida)
The Braves did not lose or add a superstar, they tinkered. Atlanta’s biggest move was signing Josh Donaldson for one year. A full season from Ronald Acuña also helped. Predicting baseball is hard, but one would think at least one expert would believe in the defending Division champions. The team steadily improved before winning the East by 8 games over Washington. The Nationals can win 90 games and look poised to return to October as a Wild Card.
Ultimately teams simply want to make the Postseason. Every team has a chance to reign supreme in October baseball. Winning the Division as easily as Atlanta has in 2019 should give experts pause about their predictions in the future. Teams can have surprisingly good seasons, but Atlanta simply improved on their 2018 season. Baseball is unpredictable, but give credit where credit is due. The experts did not believe the Braves were real in 2018 and predicted their demise in 2019. Experts may understand the game better than most, but baseball always follows its own unpredictable path. This is what makes it the greatest game.
All Star voting is over and the starters for the Mid-Summer Classic are set. On July 9th, Cleveland hosts the 90th MLB All Star Game with the best players taking the field, in theory. Baseball altered the election process this year for All Star starters. It is an important step towards ensuring the best players are All Stars each season.
MLB continues the mass voting fans are accustomed to, giving every player the opportunity to be elected. This year however the top three vote getters at each position faced a runoff for the right to start the All Star Game. This extra layer of voting helps guard against a pure popularity contest, forcing voters to reexamine players a second time. While it is not a perfect system, it is a step in the right direction. Players still need fan support, but the second round of voting helps prevent players like Aaron Judge from starting the All Star Game with just 32 games played for the Yankees this season. Judge is talented, but he is not an All Star this season; he finished fourth, just missing an undeserved All Star Game. Houston’s Carlos Correa finished third among American League Shortstops. He has placed 50 games this season, more than Judge, but not enough to earn the honor of starting the All Star Game. MLB ought to establish a minimum games played threshold for All Star voting eligibility.
Judge and Correa should play in many future All Star Games, just not this season. If the idea of the All Star Game is to have the best players on the field, some high priced talent will miss out. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper were not voted into the All Star Game by the fans. Big free agent contracts do not guarantee All Star Games. The fans elect who they want to play, but even this idea has been an issue in the past.
Tommy Pham raised a good point that All Star voting is unfair. MLB changed the voting process this season, but more may need to be done. (www.calltothepen.com)
Before the Big Red Machine began dominating baseball, it was the Cincinnati fans causing havoc. In 1957, Cincinnati fans so over stuffed the ballot box that seven Reds were elected to the All Star Game in St. Louis. Stan Musial was the only non-Reds starter. The farce forced Commissioner Ford Frick to step in, replacing two Reds players, Wally Post and Gus Bell, with Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Frick went further, revoking the fan All Star vote until 1970.
Ballot stuffing continued in the computer age. In 1999 a computer programmer electronically stuffed the ballot for Boston’s Nomar Garciaparra. When discovered, Garciaparra lost 25,259 ill gotten votes, though he still started the All Star Game at Fenway Park over Derek Jeter.
The 2015 Kansas City Royals brought back memories of the 1957 Reds. Leading up to the All Star Game, fittingly played in Cincinnati. Eight Royals led at their respective positions. There was not a repeat of 1957, as Kansas City ultimately had four All Star starters. A single team having a stranglehold on the All Star Game may not be in the best interest of baseball, even if they win the World Series like the Royals in 2015.
The Mid-Summer Classic returns to Cleveland for the first time since 1997 and to an American League ballpark for the first time since Minnesota hosted in 2014. The All Star Game is an exhibition. Yes the winning league gets home field advantage in the World Series, but this only impacts two teams. I doubt the Orioles and Marlins representatives will fight with extra vigor to secure home field advantage should their team have a miraculous second half turn around. The All Star Game is about seeing the best in the game play together one night a year. Interleague play has somewhat diluted the intrigue of the All Star Game. National League fans can see Mike Trout and American League fans can see Nolan Arenado more than one night a year. Despite the waning of the All Star Game’s novelty, the game is still important for growing the game and the enjoyment of the fans.
MLB is right to tweak the All Star Game voting process. It will never be perfect. Some deserving players are snubbed each year, but this is better than a return to fans are having no vote. Baseball must keep the fans involved, but there are limits. A small portion of fans in the past ruined the fun of voting. MLB should continue to tweak the process from year to year. There will never be a perfect All Star Game, but the change to two rounds of voting is a good first step.
Here we go into a new season where anything can happen. We had a lackluster off-season with a sputtering hot stove that saw some record-breaking contracts but weeks of “Will he or won’t he” that belongs on the Lifetime Channel rather than the MLB news wire. Teams seem willing to bet big on prospects but undervalue proven commodities. This is the same spirit we’re taking when we peer into our cracked crystal ball to make predictions about the 2019 season. We’re going to switch things up starting with the American League and Bernie is going to report on why they will or won’t do what we think they’ll do.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL East||Yankees||Rojo Sox (yeah I said it)||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees||Yankees|
|Red Sox*||Bandwagoners*||Red Sux*||Red Sox*||Tea Partiers*||Red Sox|
|Blue Jays||Devil Rays||Blue Jays||Blue Jays||Pajaritos||Blue Jays|
|Orioles||Cal Ripkens||hOribles||Crush Davis Express||Blue Jays||Orioles|
New York Yankees
One hundred wins last season and they end up a Wild Card. They blasted more home runs in a season than any team before. The rotation didn’t quite hold up and the bats went a bit cold in the Postseason. They shored up their pitching rotation in the off-season by trading for James Paxton and re-signing J.A. Happ. Masahiro Tanaka may have developed a pitch that could keep him from getting blown up every five games. Giancarlo Stanton, Gleyber Torres, and Miguel Andujar had a season in the Bronx to settle in and help recreate a new Murderers’ Row.
Giancarlo Stanton will be flipping his bat and trotting around the bases plenty in 2019. (Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
Boston Red Sox
They’re the reigning champs and they did it with a collective play that didn’t focus on one player’s excellence. Mookie Betts may be the most athletically gifted player in the Majors and Chris Sale wouldn’t surprise anyone if he makes another case to win the Cy Young. Craig Kimbrel hanging out in free agency does not help shorten games. We have to give the defending champs their due but they also didn’t do much in the off-season. Resting on your laurels while everyone else is re-configuring to beat the champs may not be the most sound strategy.
Tampa Bay Rays
Blake Snell threw the kind of fire that could have started the California wildfires last year. The Rays got him to bite on a 5 year, $50 million contract with a $3 million signing bonus. While it’s a big jump for him, it’s not elite ace money. The Rays are trying to win on a budget but that only works when you’ve got an analytical or strategic edge over your competition. You can’t Moneyball when everyone else is reading the statistics the same way. Then again, they probably would run away with the AL Central…
Toronto Blue Jays
There have been a lot of near misses with the Blue Jays’ recent signings. Randal Grichuk, Ken Giles, Yangervis Solarte, Aledmys Diaz…these are all (or were) solid role players to support a more elite group of players. *cough*Vladimir Guerrero Jr.*cough*
Mark Trumbo’s knee is looking better. Crush Davis is still their best option a first base? No left-handed pitching? Is Trey Mancini the only glimmer of hope on this roster? What happens is Jonathan Villar stays healthy and hits?
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|White Sox||Tigers||Sox||ChiSox||White Sox||White Sox|
The firing of Paul Molitor shows the Twins front office is getting impatient for wins. Rocco Baldelli coached the Rays for a few seasons so he knows how to work with a budget and talent, however Molitor was really the best sort of balance between analytics and gut feeling for the game. Derek and I saw Miguel Sano hit a laser in Detroit during BP that rocked the brick wall beyond the centerfield fence. We agree it would have carried over 500 ft. Perhaps Nelson Cruz can help guide Sano towards his All Star potential. Marwin Gonzalez, Jonathan Schoop, and Ronald Torreyes are solid pick ups to shore up the infield that’s covered by a great outfield of Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, and Eddie Rosario. They’ve got the talent to compete but only in their division.
Will Miguel Sano become the star Minnesota is hoping for? (Bruce Kluckhohn-Associated Press)
Cleveland’s lineup is looking a bit battered but they truly do their damage through hustle and pitching. Well, the hustle seems to be worn out. What’s worse is the arms seem to have cooled. A few years ago facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Mike Clevinger, and Trevor Bauer would have seemed like swinging at ghosts. Now it seems that the only trouble with the rotation is staying alert enough to make contact. There’s still a deep well of talent here, it’s just worn down and needs a refresh.
Chicago White Sox
Eloy Jimenez is not the second coming but that’s because the White Sox’ front office had thought that about Yoan Moncada. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, and Ivan Nova make up a serviceable rotation but let’s be honest, the ChiSox are only getting third because of their divisional competition.
The Tigers are pretty much the White Sox without the prospects.
Kansas City Royals
Danny Duffy has a shoulder impingement in his throwing shoulder. Salvador Perez is out, getting Tommy John surgery…as a catcher. I have more faith in Bartolo Colon being able to pitch through 9 innings than this team to win more than 50 games.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|AL West||Astros||Colt .45’s||Stros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|Mariners||Walker Texas Rangers||Mariners||Seattle||Mariners||Mariners|
These guys are a team of superstars that play like a team. Justin Verlander, George Springer, Jose Altuve, and Alex Bregman deliver on such a regular basis that support from guys like Carlos Correa, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick coming into a hot streak is just overwhelming for most teams. There’s a certain level of excellence that you have to bring to beat these guys. Few teams have it and fewer can do it as consistently.
This is a team that makes you go “Who is that?” and they consistently outperform the expectations of the “experts”. Just bear in mind that the A’s outperformed Houston in OPS, BA, and HRs last season. Sean Manaea threw a no-no last season and he’s leading a rotation that doesn’t have the same regression potential that Houston has.
Los Angeles Angels
Shohei Ohtani isn’t throwing this season. Mike Trout signed a landmark contract that’s prompting players to question the utility of free agency (but really, without Bryce Harper and Manny Machado doing what they did, Trout wouldn’t have gotten his deal). This is team that’s signaling that they want to win but really not showing people that they know how to win. They may end up like the Yankees of the early 2000’s with enormous salaries, big names, cracked lumber…but no hardware to show for it.
Mike Trout got paid, but can the Angels ever put together a winning team? (FTW-USA TODAY Sports)
The Mariners are a lot like a superb AAA with some hot prospects just waiting for a call up. It’s not a rotation but a one-two punch in Marco Gonzalez and Yusei Kikuchi and I wouldn’t want to go into a boxing match with that combo. King Felix might have a few good games in him this season but that’s not a lot to float by on. The high point of their season is already over, Ichiro played in Japan and then retired.
This is a team full of redemption stories in the making. I’m not holding my breath. New stadium for 2020 might be the most exciting off-season move.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|Phillies*||Bravos*||Harpers*||Marlins* (yeah Jeets!)||Braves*||Braves|
|Marlins||Fish||Minor Lg Team||Mets||Marlins||Marlins|
The Phillies picked up some good talent in Andrew McCutchen who had a bit of a refresh by the Bay and in the Bronx, Jean Segura who’s production and defense are constantly overlooked, and J.T. Realmuto, who’s on-base and slugging continue tracking better every year in the majors. We also saw Aaron Nola turn the corner and take over the mound like an elite ace. Jake Arrieta may not find the stride he had in Chicago but an improved lineup may make his job easier and bolster his confidence to hold things down. Let’s not forget that they also picked up a certain free agent that could amplify all of those previous moves by a huge leap – Bryce Harper.
Bryce Harper moved to Philadelphia, can he win in October? (Drew Hallowell/ Getty Images)
The Braves sort of caught lightning in a bottle with the emergence of young prospects in Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies. The signing of Josh Donaldson blocks Johan Camargo from the everyday lineup and puts him into a super utility role. When a young star like Freddie Freeman is one of your elder statesmen and you win the division, there’s a lot to like about this team. But the Braves probably had the largest range of predictions among The Winning Run’s team with first and fourth place finishes.
There’s a lot of killer talent on this team. They might actually be better without Bryce Harper in their outfield. But just like the city they play for, there are a lot of management and clubhouse synergy issues to overcome.
New York Mets
Speaking of management issues…there is still an enviable amount of pitching talent in Queens. The Mets need to stop trying to be the Yankees and embrace the chaos and circus of the New York sports media. Less bro, more fun would go a long way into turning this team into winners. Oh and either fire the entire medical staff or protect their positions and salaries from the front office. Either way, there are too many injuries for this to be anything but incompetence or interference, neither is good.
The Marlins will not do what the Phillies did last year. Kevin’s just doubling down because when it doesn’t work out, he can brush it off as a joke. Derek Jeter may be on track to becoming to baseball ownership/front office management what Michael Jordan has been to basketball.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL Central||Cardinals||Cards||Brewers||Brew Crew||Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Reds||Better Dead than Red||Cubs||Cubbies||Cubs||Reds|
St. Louis Cardinals
I feel like a broken record. This team just reloads. Unlike last year, I think they won the off-season by trading for Paul Goldschmidt. They have great players in the rest of their positions or a deep bench to platoon. Yadier Molina is a cyborg because getting into that crouch in your late 30’s is just crazy, or I’m just jealous. Hopefully Molina is wearing a bulletproof cup this year. Regardless, the Cardinals seem to have a range and depth that provides them an edge over the regressing Cubs and volatile Brewers teams.
There’s a lot of hitting potential on this team and they will probably be in the top 5 for HRs by the end of the season. The Brewers outperformed expectations on pitching last year but I think it can be done again. Corey Knebel being hurt is manageable since the bullpen seems infinitely interchangeable.
Yu Darvish was a bust last year. Maybe he’ll turn it around this year. Jon Lester is a #2 guy who’s turning into a #3. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendricks, and Jose Quintana are all a step away from brilliance but it is a risky bet that this is the season they take that step. They’re dangerous on the other side of the ball but something isn’t gelling for them and it’s not likely to fix itself this year.
Yasiel Puig brings his energy to the Reds, can he bring more wins? (Kareem Elgazzar/ Cincinnati.com)
While Yasiel Puig brings a whole lot of fun energy to southwest Ohio, the bigger story is the pitching rotation. Sonny Gray has mean stuff but the lights in New York were too bright. Alex Wood is an underrated pitcher who keeps his lineups in the game with a 3.29 ERA over six seasons. Puig bringing extra run support could mean good things by the Ohio River.
The NL Central may be the polar opposite of the AL Central in competitiveness. But that doesn’t mean Pittsburgh is fielding a team that’s contributing to that image.
|Derek||Jesse||John||Kevin||Bernie||The Winning Run|
|NL West||Dodgers||Coors||Dem Bums||Dodgers||Rockies||Dodgers|
|Rockies*||The Choking Kershaws*||Rockies||Rockies||Dodgers||Rockies|
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers have won the division every season since 2013. It doesn’t seem likely to change but they didn’t do a lot in the off-season. The biggest move was to sign A.J. Pollock to a five-year deal to replace Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp. Much like the Red Sox, this doesn’t portend well. However, it’s hard to argue that the rest of the NL West made the sort of moves that would make them legitimate challengers to that crown.
Nolan Arenado got a big contract and remains one of the most exciting players in the Majors. The departure of DJ LeMahieu was softened by signing Daniel Murphy. So they have the firepower to run up scores on their opponents, but playing in Denver is simply a difficult balance for pitching. Jon Gray seems to be one of the few pitchers that’s unfazed pitching at home or away from that elevation. It’s just hard to develop a rotation and bullpen around that. Especially when you let a guy like Adam Ottavino go to the Yankees.
San Diego Padres
Seriously? How did this happen? Oh yeah, the Diamondbacks sold the house. Hey look Manny Machado.
How long until the Padres are relevant again? Ralph (Freso/ Getty Images)
They sold the house. Zack Greinke cannot be happy that his departure from the Dodgers has left him with the team he has now. Goldschmidt is in St. Louis and Steven Souza Jr. went down with a terrible knee injury and is gone for the season. Can Jake Lamb stay healthy and will Adam Jones find a new home in the desert. They have a good rotation so if the hitting is good, they’re a dangerous team to play spoiler.
San Francisco Giants
How the mighty have fallen. Let’s not forget that the Giants have won three of the last ten World Series titles. But really, that’s all that’s going for them right now. One last trip around the Majors for Bruce Bochy.
|AL Wild Card||Red Sox||Bandwagoners||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|NL Wild Card||Phillies||Bravos||Cards||Cardinals||Brewers||Rockies|
|Rockies||The Choking Kershaws||Phillies||Marlins||Braves||Brewers|
|ALDS 1-4||Red Sox||Rojo Sox||Yankees||Astros||Yankees||Yankees|
|Astros||White Elephants||Red Sux||Red Sux||Tea Partiers||Red Sox|
|ALDS 2-3||Yankees||Colt .45’s||Astros||Yankees||Athletics||Astros|
|Red Sox||Colt .45’s||Astros||Astros||Athletics||Astros|
|World Series||Red Sox||Coors||Dodgers||Brewers||Yankees||Cardinals|
Sorry CC Sabathia it is not looking good for you to end your career with a World Series victory. This one’s for you CC. (Kim Klement- USA TODAY Sports)
Our apologies to the New York Yankees because our prediction means they’re probably not going to win this year. We have been wrong the last five years, why change now.
BL with DJ, JJ, JB, & KB
This MLB offseason has unexpectedly been boring. Despite a marquee free agent class and a number of teams looking to make trades, since December it has followed last year’s offseason of inactivity, at least until Manny Machado and Bryce Harper sign. But as we countdown the days to Spring Training, this period of quiet affords us a perfect time to discuss another smoldering issue: the American League Central was garbage in 2018. While the division’s awfulness is apparent from a quick glance at the final 2018 standings — one team with a winning record, two hundred loss teams, and one 98 loss team — the level of stink went much deeper.
We’ll begin with Cleveland, the Central “Champions.” A cursory look seems to indicate Cleveland had a solid season. They put together 91 wins while finishing 3rd in the American League in runs scored, 2nd in batting average, 6th in OBP and SLG, and 4th in OPS. Their pitching staff was the only one to feature 4 starters putting up 200+ strikeouts en route to the 9th best ERA, 7th fewest runs allowed, and a collective 7.7 WAR, good for 6th best in the league. With the 5th best run differential in the league, Cleveland appeared to be a solid playoff team in 2018.
Francisco Lindor and Cleveland were not the World Series contenders their record said they were. (Ron Schwane/ Getty Images)
But this impression starts to fall apart when you take a deeper look into their stats, particularly when focusing on Cleveland’s splits again divisional and non-divisional opponents. In 2018, Cleveland put together a 49-27 (.645) record against their division and a 42-44 (.488) record against non-divisional opponents which included a 22-31 (.415) record against teams above .500. While their divisional record is to be expected given the sorry state of their opponents, the non-divisional record isn’t the result of bad luck, they were awful against better quality opponents.
Against non-divisional opponents, Cleveland was a sub-.500 team with a pedestrian +3 run differential. This is partly the result of a decline in pitching performance, as their staff’s ERA and RA/G against non-divisional opponents increased by over a run, falling below the league averages of 4.14 and 4.45, respectively.
|2018 Cleveland Pitching Stats|
They fared better offensively against non-divisional opponents, putting up a batting line that was above the league average in all categories but markedly below their overall numbers as a top offense.
|2018 Cleveland Batting Stats|
|Win-Loss (%)||Runs Scored||R/G||Avg.||OBP||SLG||OPS|
This split in performance was an outlier among the AL playoff teams. The other AL playoff teams, with the exception of Oakland, performed well against teams both inside and outside their division. The run differentials are against divisional and non-divisional opponents for each playoff team are broken out below with Tampa Bay added in to show how Cleveland compares with the best non-playoff team (Seattle was left out due to their improbable record in close games in 2018).
|2018 American League Playoff Team and Tampa Bay Run Differentials|
|Team||Overall||Against Division||Against Non-Division||Against AL Central|
With the exception of Oakland having a similar split in the opposite direction, no other playoff team was even close to the type of split that Cleveland put up, despite the AL East teams having the privilege of playing Baltimore more often. Houston may have even performed better against the AL Central than Cleveland, putting up a 102 rdiff against the division in 44 fewer games. That Cleveland played so poorly against opponents outside its division while the rest of the playoff teams did not, is not just the result of Cleveland being a weak playoff team but the division winner from one of the historically worst divisions in baseball since the beginning of the divisional era in 1969.
Corey Kluber may leave Cleveland if the team is going to become a real contender. (www.mlb.com)
In June 2018, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh wrote an article detailing the strength of each division since 1969 using an analysis supplied by Dan Hirsch of The Baseball Gauge. The method is similar to the “Simple Rating System” at Sports Reference Sites and adds the average RDiff of a division against teams from outside its division (“RDiff”) to the average run differential of the division’s opponents in their own non-divisional games, excluding games against the division listed (“SoS”) to produce an overall rating (“SRS”). You can find the full list here, noting the AL Central results are from June 2018.
At the time, the AL Central was on track to beat the awful 2005 NL West (which the Padres won with a 82-80 record) for weakest division. Using stats from Baseball Reference to calculate the AL Central’s final 2018 SRS shows they managed to avoid the embarrassing mark of worst division by finishing as the second worst division since 1969.
|2005 NL West||-1.014||0.099||-1.005|
|2018 Al Central||-0.977||0.092||-0.885|
While this may seem as another historical curiosity produced by baseball, under MLB’s current schedule and playoff structure, having a division that performs far below the others could add to the trend of teams committing to lengthy rebuilds instead of improving to make a playoff push.
A good example of this is Seattle. The Mariners finished 2018 with 89 wins, good for 7th best in the AL, but 8 games behind Oakland. This offseason, Seattle has decided to undergo a full rebuild, seemingly concluding that they can’t make the necessary improvement to catch up to Oakland or Houston. But that calculus might have been different under a playoff system that sent the top-5 teams in each league to the playoffs instead of the division winners and 2 wild cards. Catching up to Houston and Oakland would still be out of reach in 2019 under such a system, but Seattle making enough smaller improvements to compete with Cleveland, Minnesota, or Tampa Bay for the 5th playoff spot seems attainable.
Cleveland has to point the finger at themselves and take a hard look at their team if they want to win in the Post Season. (John Kuntz/ http://www.cleveland.com)
Instead, none of those teams just mentioned are doing much to improve their rosters. Seattle is rebuilding, Minnesota has made a couple of tweaks (claiming C.J. Cron and signing Jonathan Schoop and Nelson Cruz) but hasn’t improved their pitching, Tampa is pursuing its usual strategy, and Cleveland is shedding payroll and looking to trade Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer.
Maybe a Kluber or Bauer trade will bring back current players to improve their outfield and bullpen, it appears that Cleveland may focus on the future and seek prospects and young players. A prospects orientated trade would make Cleveland worse in 2019, yet they likely would still be favorites to repeat as AL Central champs. This is made possible because the AL Central is crud and, at a time when MLB revenues are rising, AL Central teams aren’t spending money to improve (all of its team’s 2018 payrolls were in the bottom half of MLB). This removes a playoff spot from being truly competitive, and may add to the growing list of teams undergoing rebuilds and results in less meaningful and interesting games for fans.
The first few days of the baseball off-season do not feel strange. It is when the off season turns into weeks that the absence of the game becomes more noticeable. Yearning for baseball is good. Missing something you love is natural.
My love for baseball borders on obsessive. After umpiring games all weekend I listen to the Reds on the radio while driving home only to watch a baseball game, or two, from the comfort my the couch. The end of the season, and time change, makes me sad. While my body needs a break from the grind of umpiring, the sudden stop of the game is jolting. What do I do with all this free time?
The snow has not begun falling yet, but it will soon. Baseball is taking a short break. (Kurt Wilson/ Missoulian)
As the trio of Yankee fans, John, Bernie, and Kevin, recover from the Red Sox winning the World Series, we are also waiting for free agency to begin in earnest. Where will the big free agents land. Will Bryce Harper put on pinstripes? Did Manny Machado cost himself millions by not hustling in the Playoffs? Who will Craig Kimbrel close games for next season? Is Adrian Beltre’s next stop Cooperstown? Who rewards World Series MVP Steve Pearce for his efforts in October? Are there enough interested teams to drive up the market for Dallas Keuchel and Patrick Corbin? Do teams believe Josh Donaldson and A.J. Pollock are part of a winning strategy? Is a team willing to sign Big Sexy, Bartolo Colon? Will the Mets new General Manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, continue the Queens tradition of overpaying players past their prime?
Once the cold settles in for its yearly stay winter begins to drag. Each free agent signing is dissected to the fullest. The itch for the game will return in earnest when the calendar turns to 2019. Allowing some distance between yourself and what you love is good from time to time. It is better to miss something or someone than to wish they were not around. I miss you baseball. A small break to rest my body from umpiring and to catch up on sleep from the World Series are good things. Enjoy your time away baseball, but please hurry back.
Baseball never stops. It would be easy to fill your day with everything baseball; the games, injuries, trade rumors, player transactions. The amount of information coming out of baseball every day is difficult to fully ingest. Returning from a three week vacation with no internet or cell reception requires you to play catch up. I am not complaining about venturing into the woods and mountains of the western United States and Canada, only it makes keeping track of baseball impossible.
Living off the informational grid for a few weeks is refreshing. As much as I wanted to know the daily scores, it was nice not hearing my phone pinging with emails and notifications about things that ultimately do not matter. Baseball also fades into the background, after all it is just a game.
Upon returning to the world of internet access and cell service I bombarded myself with the news I missed. The All Star Game and the Home Run Derby. I wanted to know who won the Derby. I missed the “controversy” surrounding Bryce Harper hitting too quickly; I was not sorry to miss that part of the Derby.
Hiking a trail up a mountain to get away from the tourists gives you these types of views of Peyto Lake in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Injuries were another thing I missed while in the woods. The first text I received after asking my friends what I missed was the Mets were in first…for the draft. The obvious next question regarding the Amazin’s was had they called up Tim Tebow, because the Mets do weird things. Nope, broke his hand. I also found out about Aaron Judge’s broken wrist. The most surprising news was Noah Syndergaard contracting Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease. Easily the most Mets reason ever for a trip to the disabled list. There were other injuries I missed but these were the primary ones I heard about upon my return to the world of information; sorrow from my friends who are Yankee fans and collective laughter about the Mets.
The major news I missed was the run up to the trade deadline. Plenty of trade rumors but coming home, turning on a game and seeing Mike Moustakas in a Brewers uniform was strange, especially as this was how I learned he was traded. The big news of Manny Machado going to the Dodgers was everywhere, but Jeurys Familia to the Athletics? Interesting. The Mets trading Asdrubal Cabrera to Phillies or the Rangers trading Cole Hamels to Cubs. Sure. Even Brad Hand going from the Padres to the Indians and Zach Britton from the Orioles to the Yankees were strange. Adjusting to players in new uniforms takes time. It is even more jarring when you learn they change teams by seeing them in a new uniform.
Baseball never stops, it keeps moving regardless of what is happening in your world. It is difficult to keep up with the daily transactions, games, and news. It is impossible when you miss three weeks. Playing catch up with baseball is a Sisyphean task. The more you know about the game, the less you know. A midseason break makes it difficult to stay up to date on the major stories in the game. My vacation was a reminder that getting away from the chaos of daily life does not mean the rest of the world stops. You can only hope you have people willing to fill you in on what you missed when you return to the real world.
Once again Major League Baseball is worrying about pace of play during games. Commissioner Rob Manfred and Executive Director of the Player’s Association Tony Clark have gone back and forth about proposed rule changes to speed up games in 2018. The latest round of pace of play rules include limiting catchers to one mound visit per inning per pitcher, a 20 second pitch clock, and raising the strike zone from the bottom of the kneecap to the top. All of these changes have been rejected by the Player’s Association, yet MLB could still institute them unilaterally for the 2018 season. The average game in 2017 lasted three hours and five minutes, which is longer than before the last round of pace of play rules were instituted. So with longer games comes more tinkering.
Baseball, like all sports, will have slow boring games from time to time, this is just reality. Instead of trying to change the game, why not take some steps that would improve fan interaction with baseball. Shorten commercial breaks for those watching at home. All the talk is about pace of play, what about when fans cannot even see the game. Obviously baseball makes a great deal of money off commercials, so raise the price of those commercials. How can you raise the price of commercials throughout the year? Market the players more. Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve, Bryce Harper, and many more should be as well know as the top football and basketball players. If MLB marketed the players more aggressively, they could charge advertisers more for commercials and partnerships as the endorsement of these players would have greater weight nationally. Increased revenue from advertising would mean shorter commercial breaks during games. Take away one 30 second commercial from each break and you have saved close to 10 minutes during each game.
Baseball should focus on eliminating down time not necessarily the time needed to complete a game. Shorter commercial breaks are a great place to start. (Chuck Solomon/ Sports Illistrated)
The pitch clock, which is already used in the minor leagues, and does not do much. I have not seen nor heard of any pitcher getting charged a ball for taking too long. It is a friendly reminder to get on with the next pitch, but little else. Limiting mound visits could minimally speed up the game, however multiple mound visits in an inning usually only occurs in late game, high leverage moments. Let the players play. Speed the game up in when little is happening, not when the game is on the line.
This off season has also seen an incredibly slow free agent market. Call it what you want: collusion, low balling the players, players and agents having unrealistic salary expectations. Whatever. Yes, both sides, owners and players, want to make as much money as possible. Owners want a return on their financial investments, players want to maximize their earnings during their playing careers. However, when agents like Brodie Van Wagenen start floating ideas like players boycotting Spring Training this makes baseball look bad. Baseball has had labor peace for almost a quarter century, one slow off season and you are ready to blow it up? The Strike in 1994 did major, lasting damage to baseball. Lots of fans lost interest and it took years for the game to come back. Cal Ripken Jr. passing Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa helped bring many fans back, but not all of them. Is another scandalous era like the steroid era really in baseball’s best interest?
Baseball needs to market itself and the players more aggressively. If people are interested, they will not care that a game lasts a little over three hours. Give the fans something to be interested in, even if the game itself is not great. Start games a little earlier so kids can watch more of a game, or the whole game before they have to go to bed. Starting a game at 6:45 pm instead of 7:05 pm would give a kid twenty more minutes of baseball, or roughly a full inning of baseball. Getting kids and young adults interested in baseball will grow baseball to new heights. Shaving a minute or two off the average length of a game ultimately does not matter if the sport itself is not drawing and holding the attention of an ever growing audience. Pace of play is important, but not if people were never interested in the first place. Put the game and players on display, not the advertisers.