Showing posts with label Major League Baseball. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Major League Baseball. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

MLB proposes changes to strike zone, intentional walks

Major League Baseball has made a formal proposal to the players union seeking changes to intentional walks and the strike zone, according to an ESPN report.

The changes are designed to increase the amount of offense in the game and (get ready to groan) "improve the pace of play."

Am I the only one annoyed that people still are bitching about pace of play in baseball? The Super Bowl took three hours, 47 minutes to play this past Sunday night, yet nobody seemed to care. Why does it matter if baseball games take three hours to play?

I'm a baseball fan. I want more baseball, not less baseball, so sue me.

End rant, now back to the topic. Here are the details on the proposed rule changes, as reported by ESPN's Jayson Stark:
  • MLB's proposal would raise the lower part of the strike zone to the top of the hitter's knees. Since 1996, the bottom of the zone has been defined as "the hollow beneath the kneecap." But data shows that umpires have been increasingly calling strikes on so many pitches below the knees that, if umpires enforce the redefined strike zone, it would effectively raise the zone by an estimated 2 inches.
  • The change in the intentional-walk rule would end the long-standing practice of requiring the pitcher to toss four soft pitches outside the strike zone. Instead, a team could just signify it wants to issue an intentional walk, and the hitter would be sent directly to first base.
I don't understand how or why the intentional-walk rule is under scrutiny from these "pace of play" people. There were 932 intentional walks issued in 2016, which will pencil out to one every 47 innings or so. That means there was an intentional walk issued in about one out of every five games.

Intentional walks are a small part of the game. They aren't causing games to run longer. Most baseball games don't have any intentional walks issued at all. Why are we even talking about this? Who cares? I'm for the status quo unless someone can convince me there's a reason for a change. I see no reason for a change. Make the pitcher and the catcher execute the intentional walk. That's part of baseball.

Raising the strike zone? I'm a little more open to that discussion. I don't care about pace of play -- at all -- but I would be in favor of more balls being put in play. I don't necessarily need to see more run-scoring, but it would be more exciting if fewer at-bats resulted in strikeouts.

My question is, would raising the zone achieve that aim? Stark's report indicates that perhaps there would be more hitters' counts if pitchers weren't getting so many strike calls at the bottom of the zone. Theoretically, more hitters' counts means more pitches to hit, more well-struck balls and more offense.

OK, fine, experiment with it in the minor leagues, then report the results back to me and I'll consider it. But I'm only going to be in favor if it makes the game more exciting. I'm not amenable to making rule changes just to make the games go by faster.

I still haven't figured out why baseball is the only sport routinely criticized for "taking too long." Football games can last four hours and nobody says a thing about it. It's ridiculous to me.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Major League Baseball plans to ban collisions at home plate

Rare is the case where I don't have a strong opinion on one of the hot-button topics in Major League Baseball. However, I have to admit I don't care if the league bans collisions at home plate.

The issue is back in the news after the league on Wednesday announced it intends to ban such plays by 2015 at the latest. Details of the new rules still need to be sorted out, but the owners are scheduled to vote on the changes at their Jan. 16 meeting. The players' union also would have to approve the changes for the rules to take effect in 2014.

How might those rules work? According to ESPN.com:

1. Catchers will not be allowed to block home plate.

2. Runners will not be permitted to target the catchers.

3. The question of whether or not the plate was blocked or the runner targeted the catcher will be reviewable, with an immediate remedy available to the umpires.

4. Catchers or runners who violate the new rules will be subject to disciplinary action.

The main reason I don't have a strong opinion on this is because I don't perceive injuries on home-plate collisions to be a major problem in the sport. Yes, San Francisco catcher Buster Posey suffered a season-ending leg injury on a such a play in May 2011. It was horrible to watch, and losing Posey ruined the Giants' season. However, Posey returned in 2012 and helped lead San Francisco to its second World Series title in three years.

I'm trying to think of another major injury that has happened recently on a collision at home plate, and I'm drawing a blank. I know the league is concerned about concussions. Former players in football and hockey have sued the NFL and the NHL, respectively, over concussion-related health issues. I'm sure Major League Baseball wants to protect itself from such a lawsuit, and that's probably among the reasons it is moving forward with this change.

If the league and the players decide the change the rules, that's fine. These plays at the plate don't happen all that often -- maybe two or three times per team during a 162-game season.

I'm just interested to see how it's going to work. I don't care that they're taking collisions out of the game. I don't need those to enjoy the sport. But depending on how the rules are written, this is likely going to add some tough judgment calls for umpires. We'll see if they can apply the new rules fairly and consistently, if the changes are approved as expected.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

AL Central might be happy to see more Jason Vargas

The Royals signed left-handed starter Jason Vargas to a four-year, $32 million contract last week, no doubt hoping he'll fill the gap in their rotation left by the likely exit of Ervin Santana, who just turned in a terrific season for Kansas City.

While Vargas, with his 4.30 career ERA, including 4.02 last year for the Angels, probably can't match what Santana just did for the Royals (3.24 ERA over 211 innings), he can maybe improve what Kansas City got from guys like Wade Davis (5.32) and Luis Mendoza (5.36) across nearly 40 mostly poor starts.

To do that, Vargas is going to have to prove he's not the creation of his home parks. Toiling mostly for the Angels and Mariners, who both have pitcher-friendly homes, Vargas has a career ERA of 3.46 when he's sleeping in his own bed. When he hits the road, however, he's been reached for a 5.17 ERA.

There's some talk about how Kauffman Stadium, where the Royals play, is a good fit for Vargas. While the K might keep some home run numbers down, overall it isn't a pitcher's haven like the ballparks in Los Angeles or Seattle.

If the Royals think Vargas might have an advantage in some of the AL Central parks, the proof hasn't been in the pudding:

ERAs vs. AL Central Teams
6.31 vs. White Sox
5.40 vs. Indians
5.28 vs. Twins
4.60 vs. Tigers

It looks worse in each of those teams' home parks. Vargas has been slammed by the Twins for a .386/.440/.603 batting line against (9.16 ERA). The Sox have whipped him for a .283/.333/.554 line (6.45 ERA). The Tigers have mauled him at a .311/.354/.556 rate (8.71 ERA). Only the Indians have been held in check at home by Vargas for a .235/.291/.353 line (1.93 ERA).

Granted, you can divide numbers up into portions so small that they're meaningless. Vargas has pitched no more than 22 1/3 innings in any of those ballparks, though the aggregate picture when all of those innings are combined isn't pretty. Nor is the 5.31 ERA Vargas has turned in over 20 1/3 innings as a visitor to Kauffman Stadium.

Still, the Indians, who last year hit left-handed pitching much better than right-handed pitching, are probably looking forward to getting more cracks at Vargas. White Sox DH Adam Dunn, who at times struggles against left-handers, isn't going to be sad to see more of a guy who he has hit .429/.636/1.286 against in his career. (No type-Os there. Dunn has crushed Vargas.)

That's not to say the past keeps on repeating itself. Maybe Vargas will prove to be resilient. Perhaps now that he's reached his 30s he will remain durable, and is becoming crafty as we're sometimes wont to describe left-handers without great stuff.

I'm not seeing enough evidence of that to warrant the largess of this contract. Even understanding that in today's free agent dollars, $8 million per year isn't all that much, and might be within Vargas' reach to be worth that money, I don't know why the Royals had to rush out to make sure the ink dried on this deal before the end of November.

Not when there are so many better options still available, including a few options that might be better and much cheaper.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

A position-by-position look at this year's free agent class

The free agency period has already begun in Major League baseball, so I figured we should take a look at the top players available at each position. I think I'm up-to-date on all the signings, but forgive me if I list someone who has already been inked to a deal.

The Philadelphia Phillies have been active early, picking up outfielder Marlon Byrd and resigning catcher Carlos Ruiz. Veteran pitcher Tim Hudson is also off the board; he was picked up by the San Francisco Giants on Monday.

For purposes of this list, I will not include international free agents, because I find players I've never seen play before impossible to rank.

As of Tuesday, Nov. 19, these are the best guys available, sorted by position:

Starting pitchers

1. Ubaldo Jimenez -- The right-hander made quite a contract push the second half of 2013. Jimenez had a better ERA than all pitchers not named Clayton Kershaw after the All-Star break. He regained the form he showed when he was with Colorado and was Cleveland's ace coming down the stretch.

2. Matt Garza -- Can you tell it's a weak crop of free agent pitchers this year? It must be if I have Garza at No. 2 on this list. The guy has plus stuff if he's healthy. That's a big if.

3. Hiroki Kuroda -- Might be a available on a one- or two-year deal. He tapered off in the second half this year, which hurts his value. Throws a lot of ground balls, which might make him appealing to teams that play in hitters' ballparks.

4. Ervin Santana -- He'll get paid because he had a solid year for Kansas City, but I wouldn't trust this guy. He has trouble putting together more than one good season in a row, which means it doesn't make much sense to offer him a multiyear deal.

5. Bartolo Colon -- Eventually the magic has to run out, right? Based upon his 2013 numbers (18-6, 2.65 ERA), he probably should be higher on this list. But the dude is 40. The decline has to start sometime.

Relief pitchers

1. Joe Nathan -- Speaking of old guys, Nathan will be 39 on Opening Day, but I can't find any relievers who are better than him on the market this year. The Tigers need a closer and are reportedly hot on the trail for Nathan.

2. Grant Balfour -- He's always had the power arm. He's got a great fastball, and he's effective as long as he controls his craziness on the mound. Throws a lot of fly balls and pop ups. Teams with short porches in their home stadiums should probably stay away.

3. Brian Wilson -- His late-season performance with the Dodgers was enough to convince me he's made it back from Tommy John surgery. He'll be an effective reliever for somebody, provided they can live with the fact that he looks like an ax murderer.

4. Joaquin Benoit -- The career setup man got forced into the closer's role this year in Detroit. He held up well enough that he'll get closer's money on the open market. Whichever teams pays him will be overpaying in my opinion.

5. Fernando Rodney -- His mechanics stink. He has trouble repeating his delivery. He walks too many guys. But, if he gets in a groove, he can dominate hitters for an extended period of time with his fastball-changeup combination.

Catchers

1. Brian McCann -- It seems like McCann has been around forever, but he's only 29 years old. He's a left-handed power bat at a position where it's hard to find players who can hit. He proved he was healthy this year, and you have to figure he's got at least three more prime years in him.

2. Jarrod Saltalamacchia -- Not the best defensive catcher in the world, and he strikes out a ton. But he's a switch-hitter with power, and he's only 28. Those two factors should net him a nice payday this offseason.

3. A.J. Pierzynski -- He's going to be 37, but his offensive skill set still seems to be there. Still an agitator, still one of the smartest players in the league.

4. Kurt Suzuki -- Hey, somebody has to be fourth on this list. Why not Suzuki? He's a decent defensive catcher.

5. Dioner Navarro -- Showed surprising power with the Cubs last season, hitting 13 home runs in a part-time role. I wouldn't count on that happening again.

First baseman

1. Kendrys Morales -- Can anyone tell me why Seattle didn't trade this guy for prospects last July? He's finally healthy, he's a switch-hitter who produces from both sides of the plate, and he's got good pop. He can't run a lick, and he's probably better suited to DH than first base. But I'd take him on my club for the right price.

2. Justin Morneau -- I don't think he'll ever regain the MVP form he had with the Twins in the past, but he can still be a productive hitter. If a team is looking for a left-handed bat to hit fifth or sixth in its lineup, it could do worse than picking up Morneau.

3. Mike Napoli -- Someone will overpay here. People think Napoli is a better player than he actually is because he just won a championship as a member of the Red Sox. In 2014, look for Napoli to hit 20 home runs, strike out about 180 times and make a lot more money than he's worth.

4. Corey Hart -- He didn't play in 2013 due to knee problems, which makes him a risk. It also means he'll come on a one-year deal. If healthy, he's a good bet to hit 25 home runs.

5. James Loney -- He got off to a hot start last season, but in the second half he turned into, well, James Loney. He hit only four home runs after the All-Star break. He's left-handed, but he doesn't have enough pop for an everyday first baseman.

Second base

1. Robinson Cano -- There is only one superstar available in this free agent class, and Cano is it. Typically, you see the Yankees find a way to retain their own free agents. I don't think that is anywhere close to a given with Cano, who is asking for $310 million over 10 years. The Yankees are offering $160 million over seven years. Can they bridge the $150 million divide?

2. Omar Infante -- His main value is his ability to play multiple positions. He also hit over .300 last season, which can't hurt him as he hits the open market.

3. Kelly Johnson -- Another guy who can play multiple spots. He hits left-handed and has some extra-base power.

4. Mark Ellis -- He plays good defense, and there is value in that when we're talking about middle infielders.

5. Brian Roberts -- He's been a good player when healthy. Problem is, he's never healthy.

Shortstop

1. Stephen Drew -- He struggled offensively in the playoffs and caught a lot of crap from Boston fans, but he's a strong defender at the most important position in the middle of the diamond. No, the bat isn't great, but he's the best of a weak crop.

2. Jhonny Peralta -- He can hit. That's the best thing you can say about Peralta. Defensively, he has no range whatsoever, and he's probably looking at a position change sooner rather than later. Put a bat in his hands, though, and he'll give you production.

3. Rafael Furcal -- Yes, he is still alive. He figures to be back from Tommy John surgery in 2014. Some team will roll the dice on him.

4. Clint Barmes -- He plays good defense, and there is value in that when we're talking about middle infielders. Oh yeah, I said the same thing about Mark Ellis, didn't I?

5. Ramon Santiago -- Can't play everyday, but can play multiple position. Useful in a backup role.

Third base

1. Eric Chavez -- Can you tell there are no good third basemen on the market? Chavez can't field the way he used to, but his bat is still good enough to make up one half of a platoon for somebody.

2. Juan Uribe -- The former White Sox shortstop can still play defense. He's best suited for a utility role at this stage of his career.

3. Michael Young -- The veteran could be a nice pickup for some team looking for a guy who can play three times a week and pinch hit. Might come cheap for a contending team.

4. Kevin Youkilis -- Yes, the former White Sox rent-a-player is still alive, although he barely played because of back issues in 2013.

5. Mark Reynolds -- Streaky power, tons of strikeouts. Somebody has to be No. 5 on this list.

Outfielders

1. Carlos Beltran -- He'll provide the best value among available outfielders. Yeah, he's getting old, but that means he can be had for a reasonable number of years and dollars. Not only does he still hit, he hits good pitchers well. He's as good as anyone in the postseason. He could benefit from a switch to the AL, where he could DH some to keep his legs healthy.

2. Shin-Soo Choo -- He does what a team needs its leadoff hitter to do: He gets on base. I think he was out of position playing center field in Cincinnati. A move back to right field will do him good. He's got some power, good speed and he's a good outfielder. The only drawback is his agent is probably going to demand a six- or seven-year deal.

3. Jacoby Ellsbury -- The most overrated player on the free agent market this year. Some stupid GM is going to give this player over $100 million, even though guys who make their living with their legs always start to decline around age 30. Guess what? Ellsbury is 30. Aside from one season (2011), Ellsbury has never been a power hitter. His two best skills are his basestealing and his ability to play center field. Those are two things that leave with age. Caveat emptor.

4. Curtis Granderson -- Injuries ruined his 2013, but he hit 40-plus homers in both 2011 and 2012. Even though his numbers were aided by the short porch at Yankee Stadium, a healthy Granderson figures to provide some power production. Would be a decent value for somebody, if the injuries are behind him.

5. Nelson Cruz -- His stock fell because of his Biogenesis suspension. Some will ask whether his power production is a mirage. Maybe it is. But some team is going to get him for cheaper than the usual market rate for a player with Cruz's numbers, and that could pay off.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Now for some useless predictions

It's been quite a week for Detroit Tigers ace Justin Verlander. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated's baseball preview edition, which arrived in my mailbox on Friday. He also signed a record contract that could earn him as much as $202 million over the next eight years.

I can't blame the Tigers for locking up Verlander long-term. The guy is the best pitcher in baseball, bar none. But being a White Sox fan, I'm in the business of trying to jinx Verlander. Accordingly, he's pictured here on this blog with my season predictions. Hopefully, in combination with his appearance on the SI cover, this will cause him to have a crappy season and give the Sox a fighting chance in the AL Central.

Now, for some predictions. Mind you, I'm really bad at this. But hey, we're on the eve of a new season, and what's a baseball blog without some useless prognostication?

AL East
1. Rays
2. Blue Jays
3. Yankees
4. Red Sox
5. Orioles

AL Central
1. Tigers
2. White Sox
3. Indians
4. Royals
5. Twins

AL West
1. Rangers
2. Angels
3. A's
4. Mariners
5. Astros

AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
AL Cy Young: David Price, Rays
AL Rookie of the Year: Wil Myers, Rays

NL East
1. Nationals
2. Braves
3. Phillies
4. Mets
5. Marlins

NL Central
1. Cardinals
2. Reds
3. Brewers
4. Pirates
5. Cubs

NL West
1. Giants
2. Dodgers
3. Padres
4. Diamondbacks
5. Rockies

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
NL Cy Young: Matt Cain, Giants
NL Rookie of the Year: Shelby Miller, Cardinals

Playoffs:
AL Wild Card: Angels over Blue Jays
NL Wild Card: Dodgers over Reds

AL Division Series:
Tigers over Angels
Rays over Rangers

NL Division Series:
Nationals over Dodgers
Giants over Cardinals

ALCS:
Tigers over Rays

NLCS:
Nationals over Giants

World Series:
Nationals over Tigers

Come October, we'll come back to this entry and laugh about how wrong I was. Guarantee it.