Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Three Days Without Baseball

Wow! So what is a person supposed to do with oneself?

They can reflect on complaints that I simply do not understand in regards to the All Star Game and it's current 'This time it's for real' format. Now this is the second (maybe third) time I am going to sound like a Bud Selig apologist. And I understand that most think baseball would be better off without Selig, but this is simply something I can not comprehend.

As we all know, Major League Baseball's All Star Game determines which league will have home field advantage for the World Series. In doing so, Selig, and Major League Baseball anticipate a more competitive game and less of an exhibition. To be honest, what can possibly be wrong about that, seeing players give it their all for the ever important home field advantage.

Interestingly, a more competitive game has occurred, since the 7-7 debacle in 2002. That is, in the 6 All Star Games since the inception of this rule, 4 have been decided by one run, and a 5th by only two. Prior to the rule, we have to go all the way back to 1986 to find the 4th game which was decided by a single run. While the sample size is undeniably small, it is difficult to argue with the current results-a more tightly contested match. Similarly, it is difficult to conclude that the new rule is the lone factor for an increase in competitiveness, but it is also tough to argue against such.

Jon Heyman at discusses how close the game was to again becoming controversial. The argument Heyman presents discusses how both JD Drew and David Wright were warming up in their respective bullpens due to both sides being out of pitchers. I find that this argument has a few flaws, and intend to touch on them in this post.

First, what is the problem with a position player getting into a game? It isn't as if this never occurs. In fact, according to Recondite Baseball, 6 position players got into a game during the 2007 to pitch. Surprisingly, the majority of every MLB team has endured this 'controversial' issue in the new millennium. In most cases, the game was a blowout, and from my memory, most seemed to do alright on the bump.

However, since MLB is implementing instant replay on boundary calls which affect the results of maybe 2 in over 2500 games, should it not be 'controversial' every time a team has to put a position player on the mound? Heyman writes, "But they are not pitchers. And if pitcher Drew and/or pitcher Wright determined home field in the World Series, well, that would have been just plain silly." But it wouldn't be silly for a team to not make the playoffs due to a position player taking the bump during a regular season game? Should this not be chalked up to mis-management?

That is, picture game 7 of the World Series, in the 18th inning. An epic Sunday night battle. But because of how close the game has been, the managers have been moving pitchers in and out of the lineup to take advantage of match ups. Picture David Ortiz taking the bump...I'm certain fans and sportswriters alike aren't going to want to see the World Series Champion crowned in that scenario.

Or how about this, the Padres have been involved in this season's two longest ballgames. A 22 inning marathon against the Colorado Rockies, and an 18 inning affair against the Cincinnati Reds. Not surprisingly, the Padres are in last place in all of baseball. More devastating then that, both starting pitchers who entered the game for the Reds, Harang and Volquez, have seen their seasons fade significantly.

While Harang pitched brilliantly during that relief outing, he has since been placed on the Disabled List and seen his ERA rise nearly a run, while getting bombed in 5 of his 8 starts since. Similarly, Volquez has seen his impossibly low ERA rise just under a run, posting the worst month of his season. While it is certainly an inconclusive leap, I wouldn't be surprised if the relief outing for those pitchers has had a lasting effect.

Let's get back to the 'mis-management' by both the American and National League. Respectively, Francona used 12 pitchers, while the Hurdle allowed 11 of his pitchers to go out there (Tim Lincecum was the 12th for the National League and went to the hospital prior to the game). But 11 or 12 pitchers for 15 innings? If that doesn't scream, 'overly competitive', I don't know what does.

I do understand the responsibility of the managers, abiding by a gentleman's code to not overwork any one pitcher. That is, to not overwork any one pitcher, and to avoid using a pitcher who had extensive work on Saturday or Sunday. But of the 23 pitchers who entered the game, only 8 went above 20 pitches.

Let's also keep in mind that 13 of these 23 pitchers were of the starting variety, reaching to 20, 25, even 30 pitches should not have been out of the realm of possibility. Especially with essentially every team off until Friday evening.

All that being said, why blame Selig for this 'issue', why not ask the managers why they were switching pitchers so frequently? Are we really to believe that Roy Halladay was on a 9 pitch limit? Or fellow single digit tossers, Billy Wagner, Joe Nathan, and Francisco Rodriguez. It is interesting to note that these 3 pitchers have combined for 13 single digit outings thus far this season. To say that they were 'babied' at the All Star Game is a leap, and then some! (As a side, it is equally interesting to see that the most used pitcher-innings and pitches-was Colorado's only legitimate starting pitcher, Aaron Cook, whom Hurdle manages).

So what was the problem? Why was it that the pitchers were being babied to such a degree? Certainly the pitchers do work on the side in between starts.

Ken Rosenthal, of FOX Sports, writes,
Which is why alternate pitchers should be the next step. We're not talking about expanding the roster from 32 players. We're just talking about common sense. If it isn't in the best interests of a Kazmir or Webb to pitch in the All-Star Game, then they shouldn't pitch. Yes, clubs might need to pay one or two more All-Star bonuses to the alternates, but that would be a small sacrifice for preserving their top pitchers' arms.
That is a fine argument. However, recall the Padres-Reds marathon mentioned earlier. The marathon may have been the culprit to ruining Aaron Harang's season. So should extra inning games be eliminated altogether?

That is, would adding 2, or 3, or 4, or 12 pitchers make the likelihood of running out of pitchers any less? Maybe it would add an inning or two of security, but maybe it would cause a more 'match-up' oriented approach from the manager.

Thus, my suggestion would be to force managers to send out the pitchers for at least 2 innings, with the 9th inning being an exception. Additionally, pitchers would be on strict pitch counts, say 15 or 20 for relievers (which would get all through more then 1 inning) and 30 to 45 for starters. These pitch counts would vary dependent on when the last outing was by said pitcher.

I will have to admit, however, that if the ballgame makes it to 20 innings, there may be a problem. Mostly, in that I would worry what MLB and FOX would do for commercial breaks?

There is an argument which suggests that the game might as well be ended in a tie. People assert that Selig's new rule-despite the aforementioned, increased competitiveness-should be trashed and the old system of rotating World Series host cities return. While ratings would presumably be on par with Spring Training baseball, there is a further argument for the new rule.

Home field advantage. It is important. While not outstandingly significant, 8 of 13 World Series' have been won by the team with home field advantage. However, what is significant is that home teams have a cumulative 57% winning percentage at home. Specifically, the American League (which has only 2 teams below .500 at home) has a 59% winning percentage at home, while the National League (with 3 teams below .500) sits at 55%. In other words, a substantial deviation from home and road performances-something that Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus further details.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig had the following to say after the game,
"Everybody understood the ground rules," Selig said. "There was no misunderstanding. There was no contingency. We were going to play the game to the end. That was the contingency. What happened in Milwaukee will not happen again. I really believe that the things that we implemented worked. If we hadn't done them back then there's no question we would've had a problem tonight. But it worked out. In the end it didn't matter."
Which is an excellent point, everybody did understand the ground rules. Both Francona and Hurdle understood that they had x amount of pitchers to get through the game, no matter how long the game went for. Mis-managing their respective clubs should not come back on Bud Selig, but on the managers of the ballgames.

I will concede one aspect of a flaw in MLB's All Star game. Eric Seidman at FanGraphs wraps it up by stating,
Overall, IF the game supposedly counts:

a) No more fan voting
b) No more requirements about representatives from each team
c) Pitchers who can actually pitch are selected
d) More starters than closers
e) Pitchers have to go at least one full inning

If it doesn’t count, do whatever you want. It’s a fun game, there should be no real rules other than to have fun...
And who could argue with that?

BallHype: hype it up!

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