Friday, August 30, 2013


With the Marlins out of the race, I'm auditioning playoff contenders to decide who I'm going to back.

First, let's eliminate a few. The Cardinals are too boring, efficient, and effective. I can't root for them. Nick Punto plays for the Dodgers. So they're out. I hate the Red Sox because everybody used to like them for not being the Yankees even though they essentially were the Yankees. I just don't like the Braves. And as a Marlins fan, I'm not sure I can cheer the Nationals too much.

Beyond that, I can argue a case for most of them. The Pirates are the obvious bandwagon choice. They even have a former Twin excelling when freed from Twins Way. The Royals are another trendy pick. And I love TV color man Rex Hudler. Cleveland is winning me over with boneheaded plays like completely losing routine fly balls. Unfortunately that also loses games. Detroit features the only manager whose name doesn't rhyme with Dawn, Card, and Fire who couldn't win a championship with that roster. Texas manager Ron Washington usually doesn't wear the windbreaker. Baltimore is the little engine that could. For all the hype about Baltimore, KC, and Pittsburgh everybody forgets that Oakland and Tampa have been winning resourcefully for years. The A's are the last stand of football stadiums and Chili Davis is their hitting coach. The DBacks coaching staff is straight out of Parker Brothers Baseball. The Yankees are winning with spare parts while their high priced talent most valuable contributions have been their injuries. And I keep forgetting about the Reds.

On the other hand, I'm not sure I can stand the racket at A's home games. I'm not watching 5 hour AL East games and Tampa and Baltimore seem to have joined Boston and NY in that. I watched the Pirates tonight and they seemed really boring. I think we're down to Texas, Detroit, Cleveland, Arizona, KC, and Cinci. I guess I will have to figure it out this weekend.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Instant Replay

I'm pretty sure I've ranted on this before. But it's time to rant again. Major League Baseball announced a plan for expanded instant replay. They aim to have it in place for next season. Now baseball people are all up in arms. Some defend tradition and the "human element." Others want things right. They're both wrong.

If a team of skilled observers cannot reliably distinguish outcomes as they happen in a game, then the game itself is the problem. In other words, a game which requires repeatedly viewing several angles of super slow motion high definition replays is a dumb game. Baseball is a great game because it produces very few situations which warrant such meticulous inspection. And on those that do, video evidence is often inconclusive anyway. In which case, we're back to the original solution: A tie goes to the runner.

Close scrutiny also forces us to think about really inane technicalities. In geometry, a line is infinitesimally small. In baseball, the foul line is a few inches wide of chalk or painted grass. What if one of those painted blades extends over the geometric line? And what if a seam of the ball grazes just that one blade of grass? To the naked eye in real time, it's fair if your team is hitting and foul if they're pitching. For players like this, I'd be perfectly fine with implementing some sort of laser or camera system to make a ruling on the fly. That would be far more effective than repeatedly watching the replay to decide if the ball actually struck the blade of grass or it was just the air moved by the ball.

What about the obviously blown calls? There are calls that are definitely beyond an acceptable margin for error that are missed. Those calls should still stand, but Major League Baseball should be completely transparent in acknowledging them. MLB should review every call in every game. Then, they should post whether replay confirmed the call, showed it was wrong, or was inconclusive. I'd also like to see each call categorized as trivial (say a fly ball), indeterminate (something as close as my blade of grass example), or somewhere in between. The in-between ones are most important. Then you could say how many total calls were blown. You could see how many of those calls favored or opposed your team. You could see which umpires were the most chronic abusers. In the YouTube era, this would prevent the handful of terrible calls from overshadowing the majority that are correct.

With all of this data publicly available, MLB would face pressure to stay ahead of the Bill James analytic types. What patterns are there? What plays are most commonly missed? Are there calls that would have been correct with one more umpire? One less umpire? What if an umpire is noticeably better at calling bang-bang plays at first but calls a lousy strike zone? Would he be better off permanently stationed at first? Or would umping the same position ultimately make him less effective? I'm sure they do this to some extent now, but by giving fans access to the data, they'll look pretty dumb if they don't figure it out themselves.

I'm all for getting calls right. But in baseball, you really only have one shot at it. Let's get it right as it happens.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Opening Day

How many Opening Days are there? Is it still Opening Day? I've been making way too much use of my subscription over the last week. I swear every day, somebody tries to call it "Opening Day." I'm confused. And angry. As I understand, the Mariners and A's "opened" the season on Wednesday, March 28 in Japan. The following Wednesday, the Marlins "opened" the season by hosting the St. Louis Cardinals. Bummed that I couldn't watch it because nationally televised games are blacked out on, I decided to see what else was available. Guess what! The Oakland A's were now playing a spring training game against the Giants. After they had played regular season games. Then on Thursday, most teams played their first games. But still not all of them. The rest waited for Friday. By my count, that's four opening days.

But wait, there's more. Some people refer to a home opener as "Opening Day" too. There may be a few of those left, too, but I think by this weekend we've safely reached the normal weekend/weekday series pattern. I've made the most of the bizarre schedule with lots of day games- and being between jobs - to watch way too much baseball. Yesterday, my day of baseball began with Johan Santana laboring yet somehow not giving up that many runs. Nearly ten hours later, Joe Nathan blew a save throwing a bunch of junk instead of his fastball.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Clubhouse Guys

On Friday night, I watched the Marlins play the Nationals. I have noticed a few sources praising the Nationals and suggesting that they are contender in the NL East. One in particular contrasted them with the Marlins. The basic premise was that the Nationals improved more in the offseason and had a better year last year.

For Friday's game, only the Nationals had a broadcast crew, so I listened to their announcers. They interviewed the general manager during the game. Both the announcers and GM repeatedly described various players as good "character" or "clubhouse" guys to have on the team. Meanwhile, the Marlins brought in Ozzie Guillen as manager and they're banking on the enigmatic Hanley at third base. Does this sound familiar? The Twins had plenty of clubhouse guys over the last decade. The White Sox weren't quite as fan friendly. The Sox won something that counts. This is exactly why I like the Marlins.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

WIld Cards

Apparently baseball has decided to add an additional wild card in each league. Somehow, they claim this will make playoffs more exciting, or pennant races more exciting, or rewards division winners, or includes more teams, or something. I say, let's call a spade a spade. The real reason is obvious. This new rule change all but guarantees that both the Yankees and Red Sox will qualify for the playoffs every year. That greatly increases the likelihood of the Yankees playing the Red Sox in the playoffs. I took a look at the past ten seasons. The Yankees and Red Sox would have combined to take half of the additional wild card spots. In the other five seasons, both of them legitimately qualified. Of those seasons, there would have been only one postseason which did not include both teams.

I actually like that baseball has a few franchises which are always among the best in the league. Despite all the grumblings about the elite teams, a variety of teams actually win the World Series in any given season. One of the biggest drawbacks of such a playoff system is that it fails to distinguish the difference between say the 2011 Red Sox and the 2004 Red Sox. Last season's incarnation had a terrible start to the season, climbed to be a near lock for the Wild Card, and finished a collapse on the last day of the season. The 2004 Red Sox won 6 more games than the West and Central Division champions, beat one of them in the division series, and recovered from a 3-0 hole against their division rival. Ultimately, they won the World Series.

Such a team deserves the championship. That's how a playoff system should be designed. The current format is actually pretty good for that. If you want to make the playoffs, you have to win your division. One team that has a really good year without winning the division gets in. I can't remember any recent champions who were not deserving nor were any deserving teams excluded. I still prefer the old two division format. Mainly, it makes September games more meaningful. Alas, it's harder to take MLB seriously with the new format. I'll just have to settle for what interesting event may happen during any given game.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Popular Demand

Apparently my reader wonders when I'll start posting again. In that case, I'll just start musing.

A few days ago, I was navigating to see how pathetic the Twins roster is. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the words "Zambrano" and "Marlins" in the same headline. (Recall that I do not follow the offseason too closely because you can catch up in 5 minutes before the first pitch). I was pretty excited about that. If the goal is to pick the unTwins, I have succeeded. The Marlins may be great. They may be terrible. They'll probably be both.

The Twins already seem remarkably different when they're just another team. They have basically the same team as last year. All that's changed is that Young, Thome, Kubel, and Cuddyer have left. Meanwhile, they added that guy from the A's, that injury prone reliever from the Tigers, and Maddie Bisanz. In particular the starting pitching has not changed. Even if the Monstars return Mauer and Morneau's talent there's not much there.

By contrast, the Marlins also should expect two key players- Hanley and JJ- to return from injuries. They have added experience to the starting rotation. Jose Reyes is a proven performer. Then they have the nucleus of players like Mike Stanton, Gaby Sanchez, and Logan Morrison hitting their primes. I'd certainly think Ozzie should be a good manager for this group. They've taken a few risks but that's way better than patronizing their fans the way others might.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Interleague Part II

Earlier, I noted about American League managers and their fascination with double switches. This year, I watched mostly National League games for the first few months. Over the past week, I have watched several games with NL announcers calling a game in an American League park. They kept obsessing over that "9th hitter" in the lineup. There are a handful of tough yet positionless DH's in the AL. Generally, it seems to me that many teams just look at their eight best hitters and DH the worst fielder among them. If it were an NL team, he'd be in the field. In the AL, that extra half of a player is actually in the field. And he probably hits below .250 with little power. Heck, some of them probably hit closer to .200. At this point, there are only two differences between AL and NL baseball. The AL has a slightly better defense on the field. Whereas, in the NL the worthless hitter at the bottom of the lineup has productive at-bats, drives in key runs, and gets the bunt down. This is really just my perception, but I'd be interested to compare it to reality. But if I took the time to fact check everything, then I wouldn't ever post anything.

Personally, I love having a DH in exactly one league. The DH brings a different kind of purity to the game. You have a real pitcher, eight real fielders behind him, and 9 real batters in the lineup. As the game has specialized, it's just not possible to have 9 all-around players out there. That's, of course, the purity of the NL. The rules of the game force everybody to do everything. The players, coaches, and managers have to decide the perfect balance of skills.