Friday, June 28, 2019

All Star Starters and The London Games

The ballots are in and the fans have selected the starters for the 2019 MLB All Star Game. I have to admit that I was wrong about the new balloting procedure. Though I am still uncomfortable with people being allowed to vote multiple times in the opening round, the fans did seem to do a great job with this year's selections. There was only one starter selection I did not agree with and even that one is defensible.

That one pick is the National League first baseman. I had Josh Bell and Peter Alonso ahead of Freddie Freeman. But you would have to think that both of them will be selected as reserves. The choice of Freeman is very defensible as he is having another great season and his fWAR is right in the ballpark as the others. A quick study shows me that Alonso should have been given the nod.

I am also very pleased that the managers have been relieved of the ability to pick the pitching staff. It was so embarrassing the way the managers would stock the All Star staff with four or five of their own pitchers (or more). Let's hope the league office does a better job of taking the pitchers having the best year.

My only wonder when it comes to pitching is that there are so many different roles now. There are closers, starters, openers, setup guys and on and on it goes. Do you pick one from each category? Or do you stick with starters and closers with the best setup guy sprinkled in?

Anyway, the point is that despite my ferocious objection to the process, the process led to the correct results. Congratulation, MLB!

That is the positive side of this post. On the negative side, I really have to admit that I hate this London Series. While a nice way to promote baseball worldwide, the timing just sort of stinks. For the participating teams (the Yankees and Red Sox this season and the Cubs and Nationals next), it is a lot to ask. Baseball players are creatures of habits and routines. To take them out of their natural rhythm is not ideal.

The other problem for me is that the games will be played on artificial turf. And since the turf cannot be nailed down (to not hurt the soccer field), there is a greater risk of injury. The sun field looks difficult and the dimensions are sort of cartoonish. A short center field and about ten acres of foul grounds really do not represent MLB standards.

I am consistent at least. I hate when teams start the season in Japan and I hate a London Series plop in the middle of a season. And to continue the trifecta, I hate that World Baseball thing too that breaks up Spring Training and puts players at risk.

If you want to promote MLB and baseball, reboot the barnstorming days and take recently retired stars overseas to promote the sport. The risks are much greater than the rewards.

That is my two cents anyway...

Sports Radio And Baseball - Cart Or The Horse

I listen to quite a bit of Sports Radio. I am partial to Fox Sports Radio because I like Dan Patrick, Colin Cowherd and Doug Gottlieb. My second choice is ESPN and CBS. While I enjoy the banter, the bravado and the discussions on these shows, the content is always the same: The NBA and a sprinkling of the NFL. If MLB is mentioned at all, there is always the "pale in comparison" thought and the "boring" thought and the "not a players' league" thought. Otherwise, something bad must have happened such as an unfortunate foul ball incident. They talk about how their metrics strongly suggest that the NBA is what the audience wants them to talk about. But is this the cart or the horse?

I could type a thousand words on why MLB is not boring nor are the games too long. Suffice it to say that NFL games last the same amount of time and if you break it down, less action actually occurs in a football game than a baseball game. NBA games are generally an hour shorter, except for the last two minutes which take as much time as the first 118. When it comes to revenue, the last figures I saw state that the NFL has about $15 billion in revenue and the MLB has about $9 billion. The NBA has less revenue than both the NFL and MLB.

But this is really not my point in writing this piece. My point is that the idea that listeners do not want to listen to stuff about baseball is driven by the numbers, but what causes the numbers? Let me give you an analogy.

During an economic downturn, the cause can be a myriad of things. The bubble bursts or the mortgage giving goes unchecked. The stock market hits a big dip or this is a crisis of some sort such as fuel shortages. Some of those take time to fix but others can bounce back in a heartbeat.

What generally happens is that the news media, always on the lookout for a sensational story, gets all over whatever the crisis happens to be. Once there is constant news scrutiny that a problem has occurred, then the consumer panics and closes ranks on their spending. Doing so deepens the economic crisis, causes unemployment and loss of profits. This is a lot more complicated than I am making it. But, again, suffice it to say that the continued media frenzy adds to the problem and increases the depth of a recession. It is not until the news starts reporting more positive stories such as a jump in GNP or a drop in unemployment that the consumer starts to come out of the shell a little and spends a little money, which in turn fuels a recovery.

I believe that Sports Radio has jumped all over the NBA news party because it has become fashionable and "cooler" than those other "fogies" sports like Baseball, Golf, etc. But you can narrow it down even further. Sports Radio does not talk about ALL of the NBA, they talk about a few teams and a few players. Do you ever hear them talk about the Memphis Grizzlies, the Phoenix Suns or the Charlotte Hornets?

No! They talk about the Lakers, Warriors, Knicks, Nets, Raptors, Kings and Rockets. Listen to them! That's it! And the only reason the Raptors are mentioned is that they won the Championship and are trying to keep Kawhai Leonard. All the talk now is about the big free agents, the top three draft picks ("Zion is overrated!"). When is the last time that Blake Griffin and Kemba Walker have been mentioned on Sports Radio? When?

It is all Lebron and Rivers and Kawhi and a few others ad nauseum. So this isn't even about the NBA. This is about a few teams on the NBA and a few players. Repeat and rehash. Every show. Every day. Every night.

Getting back to my analogy, I think the metrics that Sports Radio hang its hat on are self-created and self-driven. The cart is not in front of the horse. The cart and the horse are the same! They talk about (part) of the NBA because that is what their metrics say fans want to hear. And fans want to hear about (part) of the NBA because that is all they hear.

Now let's talk about Major League Baseball. Is $9 billion in revenue a fluke? Major League Baseball with its, and MLB Network and all the merchandise that goes along with it is raking in the money. The owners are fat and happy. The top players make scads of money just like in the NBA. If all I have said so far in this paragraph is true, there is interest in Major League Baseball and that interest is very strong.

The number of sports blogs that cover baseball and baseball teams triple and more the amount of blogs that cover other sports. The NBA has started to talk about metrics now. Kawhi was worth 8 points in that game over average. The MLB has been obsessed with this for YEARS!  Why? Because no other sport garners the same degree of interest in the numbers generated by players like baseball.

My challenge to Sports Radio will never be taken up because they are so comfortable in their zones. I do not see change happening any time soon. But my challenge would be to talk about baseball, Sports Radio. Make it at least a block of discussion in each of your three hours shows. If you do that, I would bet you that your metrics would reflect a change and that people would start wanting you to talk about it.

The one caveat though is that you would have to bring the same sort of excitement you bring to what you cover now. Do not sit there and talk about what baseball has to do to be less boring. Talk about some the cool things happening with the young players and the challenge that is going to happen for the next player-owner agreement to take place because of that emphasis on youth. Instead of vocal sighs when discussing MLB, Colin will need to do just as many WOOOooos! as he does with the Lakers.

Try it, Sports Radio. You won't, but I still dare you to. Maybe then we listeners will not have to see all sides of the Lakers for twenty of every twenty-four hour day. That does get old, folks.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Anonymous Chad Green

The New York Yankees revolve in a whirlpool of interest with every game, action, roster move, etc., covered from multiple angles. Under such scrutiny, no player is truly anonymous, but, Chad Green has been nearly so. Ever since Domingo German went down with an injury and the Yankees had no other starters available, Chad Green has been the "Opener" for the Yankees and has sort of become lost in the shuffle of attention. While I watch constant walks the last four innings of relief outings on winning nights, I wish that were not so.

If you have followed this blog along its bumpy course, you know that I hate everything that happens to do with this Opener thing. It is one part of my old-fashionness that I cannot seem to get out of my system. I can live with defensive shifts because batters can break it and do not. But there is something about Openers that rub me in all the wrong places.

The fact that the Tampa Bay Rays started it probably has something to do with it. The Rays are the "smart" team. The Rays are the "hip" team. The Rays are the "scrappy" team. Blech. Give me a root canal instead. I was dreading the Yankees copying the "smart" team and going with an Opener. When German went down with his hip problem, the Yankees could not wait to jump into the Opener pool. It is embarrassing to me.

While saying all that, I do have to admit that the decision to pursue such a personally embarrassing course has worked. And it has worked spectacularly. The Yankees have employed the tacky tactic six times and have won each of those games. The last three games Chad Green has pitched have been as the Opener. He has six "starts" or "opens" altogether.

The unfortunate thing for Green in these outings is that he gets little recognition. He cannot get a win. He cannot get a Hold or a Save. He cannot get any juice on the leverage index. All he can get is a pat on the back. Of his six starts, the second pitcher has gotten the victory four times. David Hale won the earliest one. Chance Adams won the second. The bullpen blew the lead but got the win later in the game in the third. Nestor Cortez Jr. has won two and the later bullpen got the sixth. All those wins and Chad Green got an inning or two in the box score.

It is too bad that so few people have noticed because Green has been awesome in his outings beginning the last week of May. Most know that he was truly horrible to start the season. His first ten outings led to an OPS against of 1.228. His ERA was 16.43 and his WHIP was 2.478. Brutal. He was sent to the minors, regained a bit of his mojo and came back to the Yankees.

Green was better in May after his call back to the Big Leagues. He still struggled a bit early in that callback. He finished the month with a 4.70 ERA and 1.304 WHIP. But he walked only one and struck out ten in 7.2 innings pitched. He was approaching more Chad Green historical numbers.

Starting with his last two appearances in May and now all of June, Chad Green has been spectacular covering eight appearances. He has not given up a homer, walked only one batter and struck out 20 batters in 11.1 innings pitched. He has given up one run in that span. His ERA for June is 0.96 and his WHIP is 1.071. If you toss out his one less than stellar relief outing in Toronto on June 6, he has been nearly perfect.

But here's the thing. Chad Green's last three appearances have been Opens. The Yankees have won them all, of course, but Green has not pitched in any games in between those Opens. So basically, this again stellar Chad Green is pitching two innings every fifth day. While he is thus employed, every time a Yankee starter goes five innings (which is nearly every night), and the team is winning closely, there is no option but going with Tommy Kahnle, Adam Ottavino, Zack Britton and Aroldis Chapman. Missing Dellin Betances does not help. But neither does missing Chad Green. Oh, the Yankees can throw Jonathan Holder out there if they feel like blowing the lead and having to fight to get it back.

Chad Green seems ready to resume his killer innings in high leverage situations but cannot as long as he is the Opener. Meanwhile, games like Saturday night where the latter three relievers could not throw strikes and yet somehow survived will sooner or later start turning into losses because you cannot live that close to the edge all the time. That quartet has to be getting tired and all the extra pitchers they are throwing does not help.

At the same time, the Open games are all wins and none of them happen without Green pumping in those strikes and being a beast. What winning percentage would there be if a Chance Adams or someone had been plugged in there? It wouldn't be 1.000. Jonathan Loaisiga and Domingo German are expected back around the All Star Game. Maybe that will help. The top four relievers are giving me a great deal of heartburn while a Chad Green who could help is toiling anonymously at the front of games, albeit very successfully.