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
The Championship Series to decide the American and National League pennants are set. The Boston Red Sox against the Houston Astros in the American League and the Los Angeles Dodgers against the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League. My personal favorite teams are not among the four remaining, so what better time to take an unscientific approach to decide who I want to win the World Series.
Starting with the team’s success every team has won at least one pennant. Their last pennants were: the Red Sox in 2013, the Astros and in 2017, and the Brewers in 1982 (American League). The 1982 American League Pennant remains the Brewers only trip to the World Series. The Red Sox last won the World Series in 2013. The Astros are the defending World Series Champions. The Dodgers last won the World Series with Kirk Gibson in 1988. The Brewers are still waiting to win their first World Series Championship.
In a year that has been so improbable, the impossible has happened. (www.mlb.com)
Looking at the home cities I have visited Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Sorry Milwaukee, maybe another time. My positive take from Boston is the rich history of the city colonial days to present. The food and drink is wonderful, which is made better by having extended family in Boston. Houston is a fun city. The food and culture is diverse and it never hurts to have a friend working for NASA to show you around. Los Angeles has great weather, great food, and beautiful scenery from the mountains to the beaches. Never visiting Milwaukee, I would guess the beer and brats are delicious and the lakefront area by Lake Michigan is nice. I would guess.
However, for all the great things about these cities there are drawbacks. Boston is cold and the people are not always warm and welcoming. Houston is the epitome of flat, urban sprawl. Los Angeles has its world famous traffic and pollution, not to mention it is expensive. In my mind, Milwaukee is always cold, and I hate the cold.
The ballparks the teams play in a different as well. Fenway Park is a historic park with a unique configuration and appearance. Baseball legends have played on this diamond for over a century. The history of the park all but speaks for itself. Minute Maid Park is modern with all the amenities baseball fans have come to expect. The weather outside rarely matters as the retractable roof creates perfect baseball weather inside every day of the year. Dodger Stadium is timeless in its simplicity and longevity. Legends, including the voice of baseball Vin Scully, have spent decades within its inviting confines. Miller Park remains on my list of Major League stadiums to visit. Beyond the ability to close the roof and have perfect baseball weather, the Uecker seats and the slide for Bernie Brewer are clearly the most important features of the park.
Celebratory slide for Bernie Brewer. (www.mlb.com)
The good comes with the bad. Fenway Park was built when people were smaller. There is not enough legroom between seats, especially for people who are claustrophobic. It is also an expensive park to visit as people flock to historic Fenway to watch the Red Sox continued success year after year. The roof on Minute Maid Park is not perfect. I had the pleasure of sitting under a leaky portion of the roof a few years ago. Luckily I was able to change seats, otherwise the torrential rain outside would have soaked me inside the stadium. The closed roof also means the cannon fire after an Astros home run is deafening. Dodger Stadium is expensive but the biggest complaint I have is the team does not market their history well. I could not find any memorabilia from their storied history. Maybe keep a few Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella shirseys around, people will definitely buy them. Where do I start with Miller Park. Ummm…it looks a little dark when I watch a game on television.
Everything else is superficial, it is the team on the field that matters the most. The Red Sox have a solid rotation with Chris Sale and David Price, arguably the best closer in Craig Kimbrel, stars like J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts, and the Most Valuable Player in Mookie Betts. The Astros have a proven winning lineup with Jose Altuve, George Springer, Alex Bregman, and Carlos Correa. A rotation of Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, and Dallas Keuchel does not hurt either. The Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw leading the charge with Yasiel Puig, a resurgent Matt Kemp, Justin Turner, and a host of other All Star caliber players. The Brewers have the National League Most Valuable Player in Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Jesus Aguilar supported by an almost unhittable bullpen with Josh Hader, Jeremy Jeffress, and Corey Knebel.
Mookie Betts and the Red Sox look unbeatable. (Boston Herald/ Stuart Cahill)
Each team also has unique drawbacks. The Red Sox have spent a ton of money to assemble a great team. World Series Championships should be won not purchased. The Astros are the defending Champions, their repeating is less than thrilling. The Dodgers have tried to buy a World Series for years, this forever rubs me the wrong way. The Brewers still employ Ryan Braun. I am not a fan of his, not was busted for using Performance Enhancing Drugs, but his attempt to smear Dino Laurenzi’s name, the test collector, to save himself from his own stupidity forever stained his legacy. I have sat in left field when watching the Brewers on the road simply to boo Braun and will continue to do so until he retires.
After weighing the good and the bad for each team my decision on which team to root to a World Series Championship comes down to a single person. Bob Uecker. Mr. Baseball. Bob Uecker has given his life to baseball. He has been the voice of the Milwaukee Brewers since 1971. He was Harry Doyle in the Major League movies. His appearances on Johnny Carson. Andre the Giant choking him. The Miller Lite commercials. He continues to complain about his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame only as a Broadcaster, the Ford C. Frick Award in 2003, and not as a player. A career .200 hitter with 14 lifetime home runs, including off Gaylord Perry, Fergie Jenkins, and Sandy Koufax. Yes that Sandy Koufax. The stats speak for themselves. Come on Brewers, give Milwaukee the World Series they deserve with Bob Uecker making the call.
Come on Brewers, let Bob Uecker announce a World Series Champion!!! (Scripps Media-2016)
Try as you might, it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid politics. The polarization of American politics is steadily seeping its way into nearly everything, including baseball. The contentious Senate hearing for Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has even brought umpiring into politics.
Texas Senator John Cornyn along with the Family Research Council are supporting Judge Kavanaugh, saying he is someone who “calls balls and strikes.” This analogy seems to irritate retired Major League umpire Jim Evans, who wrote a prospective piece for the Washington Post titled “Sorry, judges, we umpires do more than call balls and strikes.” Evans argues umpires are not machines, they must interpret the rule book constantly. Was a collision interference or obstruction, or simply players running into each other? Umpires also constantly make judgement calls on catches, tag plays, force outs, and yes even balls and strikes. No two players have the same strike zone. Yes, the strike zone is spelled out in the rule book, but the size of the strike zone is larger for Aaron Judge than for Jose Altuve.
Speaking of the rule book. How many amateur umpires, disgruntled fans, have ever sat down and studied the rule book? My guess is not many. It is not their job to know the rule book, but it is also not an umpire’s job to make people happy. Do I get every call correct? No. Do I spend hours studying the rule book? Yes. The rule book for high school baseball per the National Federation of State High School Associations is 88 pages. The rule book for Major League Baseball is more than 150 pages. Have you ever seen a Major League umpire consult the rule book during a game? Nope. High school umpires do not consult the rule book during a game either. The rules of baseball, all of them, should be ingrained in the mind of an umpire. The analogy of Kavanaugh calling balls and strikes is that he knows the rule book, the United States Constitution, and makes decisions based on what the Constitution says. I doubt when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution they foresaw every imaginable case the Supreme Court would hear. The Constitution and the various baseball rule books do not cover every possible scenario, judges and umpires must interpret how those rules apply to the case or play before them.
Calling balls and strikes is not black and white. There is plenty of gray. (www.larrybrownsports.com)
Obviously a judge sitting on any bench, especially the United States Supreme Court, has a more profound impact than an umpire. However, simplify umpires into machines is off base. Umpires must make decisions quickly, they cannot spend weeks or months reviewing similar plays and the text of the rule book before making a decision. If an umpire waits five seconds to decide if a borderline pitch is a ball or strike people would complain. Judgement calls are part of being an umpire and they must happen quickly, not slowly and after careful consideration.
There is dignity in all work, dishwashers, mechanics, lawyers, CEO’s. Honest work is dignified work. Do not simplify another person’s job to make a point. Good umpires make a sometimes difficult job look easy, the same way a good teacher makes teaching a class full of energetic First Graders look easy. You only understand how difficult someone’s job is when you walk in their shoes.
Little in life is black and white. On the diamond and in court, interpreting the rules is necessary and creates gray areas. Gray areas necessitate institutions like the Supreme Court to settle disagreements. In baseball the umpire is the judge. Working solo, or discussing a play with your partner on appeal, the umpire is the Supreme Court. Their decision is final. There is no reviewing previous plays, umpires must know the rules, interpret them for the situation, and the render a verdict. They do it all in the snap of a finger. Can you imagine the Supreme Court issuing a ruling in less than five seconds? Neither can I, so stop comparing Supreme Court Justices to umpires. One clearly has a greater impact than the other, yet both deserve respect.
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.
The playoffs are when the best from every sport is on full display. The best teams play each other, which often leads to games full of drama that only further entices new fans to continue watching. Unfortunately Major League Baseball has hidden some of the best games of the year from many fans in how it broadcasts the playoffs. Avid fans miss out on great games, but baseball also misses the opportunity to draw in new fans as the majority of games before the World Series are broadcast on cable networks.
The airing of playoff baseball on TBS, Fox Sports 1, the MLB Network, and ESPN has shut out many people from watching great baseball. Yes, plenty of people have access to all or some of these channels to watch the games, but those who do not have to make a choice. They can find a radio station broadcasting the game (personally I love listening to baseball on the radio), go to a restaurant, bar, or friend’s house that is showing the game, or generally miss out except for updates. Going out several nights a week for a few weeks gets expensive quickly, thus pricing many more people out, thus radio or the updates are the most likely options for many people. I am fully aware, as I have stated many times, baseball is a business. Major League Baseball signed contracts with these broadcasters for enormous sums of money for the rights to these games. However, there needs to be a balance between television revenue and making the best weeks on the baseball calendar available to all fans. Broadcasters like ABC (which owns ESPN), NBC, and CBS might have passed on the rights to broadcast playoff baseball. Fox will once again broadcast the World Series, yet it is a shame that for some they will not see a single game of baseball on television from the last day of the regular season until Game 1 of the World Series.
Major League Baseball continuously stresses the importance of growing the game, reaching a younger and more diverse audience. Reaching out through promotions like Players Weekend, programs like RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities), and highlighting some of the best players like Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, and Jose Altuve are great, but Major League Baseball hurts its own efforts to reach a larger audience by hiding the playoffs from those who choose to not have cable or satellite television and/or those who cannot afford it. If I can only watch sports on the basic channels and the majority of the games I see are football, why would I wait for weeks to see a few games at the end of October when the NFL season is in full swing? Even during the regular season the availability of baseball games is rather spartan.
Major League Baseball has signed contracts with broadcasters and for now can do little to change how the playoffs are broadcast. However, at the end of these contracts a hard look must be taken at whether only premium channels get the games before the World Series is the best for the future of the sport. Major League Baseball should be paid handsomely for the product it provides to broadcasters, but there could be a middle ground where baseball is paid well, yet does not shut out many fans and potential fans from the best games of the year. Baseball needs to be the sport of everyone, not just those that can afford television packages. No one likes blackout rules.
The Houston Astros are rolling through the American League yet it is not a single dominant player that is leading the team, rather it is a full cast. A.J. Hinch is managing an offense that can pound opponents from different angles and a pitching staff that is above average. Put the two together and it is clear why the race for the American League West ended a long time ago.
Offensively the Astros are not a one man show, rather they are a cast of many. A quick rundown of the statistics paints a vivid picture. Houston has:
- 7 players with 100 or more hits: Jose Altuve, George Springer, Yuli Gurriel, Josh Reddick, Carlos Correa, Alex Bregman, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- Carlos Beltran has 94 hits.
- 4 players with .300 or better Batting Average: Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, and George Springer.
- Josh Reddick and Yuli Gurriel are hitting .295.
- 6 players with at least 50 RBI: Carlos Correa, George Springer, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, and Josh Reddick.
- 4 players with 40 or more walks: Alex Bregman, Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
- Marwin Gonzalez has 37 walks.
- 8 players with 50 or more Runs scored: George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Josh Reddick, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Yuli Gurriel, and Marwin Gonzalez.
- 11 players with 11 or more home runs: George Springer, Carlos Correa, Marwin Gonzalez, Jose Altuve, Yuli Gurriel, Alex Bregman, Carlos Beltran, Brian McCann, Jake Marisnick, Josh Reddick, and Evan Gattis.
Houston can hit for average and power, can get a runner over and then in. The Astros have the fewest strikeouts in the Majors, they put the ball in play and good things are happening. Even with Correa, McCann, and Gattis sporting injuries, this team still has enough firepower to continue rolling along. Not relying on one or two players for their offense should prevent the Astros from running out of steam in October.
The Astros hope to continue the celebration in October. (Aric Crabb/ Bay Area News Group)
Even if the Astros offense gets hurt and/or all runs cold the pitching staff is capable to keeping the team going. While not as dominant as the offense, it’s a tough act to follow, the Houston pitching staff has a 4.24 team ERA, below the MLB average of 4.34. They lead MLB in strikeouts with 1,201 and are only slightly above average in walks allowed with 397, average is 389. The team WHIP is 1.288 against the MLB average of 1.342. None of these numbers are eye popping. They merely point out that the Astros have a serviceable pitching staff able to keep games close enough on those nights when the offense slows down a step. Despite his own injuries, Dallas Keuchel leads the starting rotation with a 2.77 ERA in 15 starts. Injuries to Keuchel, Lance McCullers, and Collin McHugh have meant the linchpin to the pitching staff’s success has been the bullpen. Set up men Chris Devenski and Will Harris have ERAs below 2.86, while closer Ken Giles has an ERA of 2.80 with 23 saves and 40 games finished. The ability to shorten a game to only six or seven innings on a given night means even in close games opposing teams have to get their offense going early otherwise the Houston bullpen can shut them down.
Houston lost a lot of games for several years to rebuild into a contender. The plan has worked. The Astros are one of, if not, the best team in baseball. The discomfort of losing season after season should result in winning season after season for the foreseeable future. A.J. Hinch’s team shows no sign of slowing down. The offense is carrying the team, yet the pitching staff is good enough to keep the success going once playoff baseball arrives. Time will tell, but for now Houston looks almost unstoppable.
What if everything you thought you knew about the game of baseball was wrong. What if we have been playing baseball wrong since the beginning? Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller attempt to use the data that has emerged in baseball to lead the Sonoma Stompers in the next baseball revolution. Their seemingly crazy attempt is chronicled in The Only Rule Is It Has To Work.
The Pacific Association of Professional Baseball is one of the bottom rungs of independent professional baseball. The players are playing the game more for the love of the game and one last shot than for the paycheck, which is rather small. Despite being so far from the Major Leagues, it is still baseball. The fastballs might not be as fast, the fielding might not be as crisp, and the fields might not be as pristine, but the same data approach can be applied. Lindbergh and Miller set out to see if their data can give the Sonoma Stompers an advantage over the other three teams in the Pacific Association. Deploying a five man infield or a four man outfield against a batter regardless of game situation, crazy right? The numbers don’t think so. Why wait until the 9th inning to use your best relief pitcher, the closer, when the most critical moment in the game occurs in the 7th inning. If a team can’t hold the lead in the 7th, there may not be a game to save in the 9th.
Baseball can be a game of habits that is slow to change, because “we’ve always done it this way.” The Only Rule is a real life experiment to see if all the data is nothing more than noise or if it can change the way managers manage and players play. The experiment did not take place within a controlled setting. Lindbergh and Miller run into issues with players and the manager about implementing their approach. Baseball does not change quickly, and the people who live and work inside of it are not always willing to change because they believe their experience and understanding provide insights toward make the best decisions rather than fully acquiescing to the data.
The Only Rule is a fantastic book that a baseball stat nerd and a casual baseball fan can both enjoy. The book makes you rethink many of the basic assumptions we have all held regarding the game. The Sonoma Stompers, at least for one season, are on the cutting edge of baseball because their General Manager, Theo Fightmaster, decided he would allow two men who worked at Baseball Prospectus to indirectly manage his team. As you read you learn that baseball does not have to be set in stone and you begin to ask yourself, “if baseball was different, how different would it be?” What if the best hitter always batted at the top of the line up, what if a pitcher was pulled before he went through the lineup for the third time, and the what ifs go on forever.
My wife and I stopped by the Stompers stadium on our honeymoon, too bad it was their day off. (The Winning Run)
Looking at baseball on a personal level through Lindbergh and Miller expose how much work is put into achieving every victory in professional baseball. It is much easier to lose than it is to win and, even when you are doing everything possible to win, success is never guaranteed. Baseball is a daily grind that lasts for months on end. In many ways, today’s success is built upon the work of yesterday, yet at the same time yesterday’s success has little impact upon achieving success today. Much like the best battle plans do not survive the first contact with the enemy, the best scouting and data information are no match for the abilities and reactions of players on the field. A five man infield should all but ensure if the ball is hit on the ground that an out is recorded. However, the player must still field and throw the ball, the nature of the game leaves room for human error. No plan is perfect but you still must have a plan to be successful.
I first heard of Ben Lindbergh and Sam Miller while working an office job fresh out of graduate school. Their daily podcast Effectively Wild was different. They sought to find the fun and the weird in baseball and to see if they could uncover something else. Why go on and on about last night’s Yankees-Red Sox game when instead you could spend an hour looking at how Jose Altuve’s BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was through the roof. Searching for and finding the oddities of baseball can help to uncover players before they burst into stardom, or it can help you appreciate how a team keeps winning when they seemingly should be losing non-stop. Listening to the Effectively Wild podcast got me through that summer and when I heard Ben and Sam were going to write a book about their wild real life baseball experiment I knew I wanted to read it. The Only Rule Is It Has To Work did not disappoint me, even with so much internal build up. Baseball is a crazy game, so why not use crazy tactics to win?