Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday

Pittsburgh Pirates v New York Mets

For many, Friday represents the end of a long work week that’s filled with heavy doses of drudging, sludging and other words that don’t actually exist but rhyme with “udging” and connote menial and tedious tasks that are ultimately distasteful. It’s my hope that at the end of such misery, at that moment in time that only occurs on a Friday afternoon when it’s too far away from closing time to leave work early, but too late in the day to start anything new, you’ll join us here to read some random observations about baseball and contribute your own thoughts on the subjects that are broached.

So, without further ado, I present this week’s Ten Stray Thoughts On A Friday:

Wouldn’t It Be Niese

I love stuff like this:

Two people with direct knowledge of last December’s deal told me that the Blue Jays were willing to send the same package to New York in exchange for Niese.

It took all of thirty seconds for the city of Toronto country of Canada to fall head-over-heels in love with R.A. Dickey, so the idea that a pitcher who isn’t as articulate and whose trophy case doesn’t house a Cy Young Award might have been a preferable option to the butterfly baller – who signed a team friendly contract with the Blue Jays – might lead some to dismiss this rumor outright.

Slow your roll, pilgrim.

It actually makes a lot of sense for the Blue Jays to have preferred Jon Niese, and for the Mets to have put the kibosh on Toronto’s efforts to acquire him over Dickey. That’s because of the five year, $25.5195 million contract, plus club options for 2017 ($10 million) and 2018 ($11 million), that Niese signed with the Mets last April. It’s an incredibly team-friendly deal, and the price of Travis D’Arnaud, Noah Syndergaard and Wuilmer Becerra is in line with what the Oakland A’s acquired in separate deals for Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez, two comparable pitchers to Niese at the time of their respective trades.

What makes matters especially interesting is that even though both front offices, according to the rumor, preferred Niese, public perception of the deal in Toronto would’ve presumably been a whole lot different if the transaction didn’t result in Dickey coming North.

The Future Brett Lawrie

Tears of maple syrup streamed down the faces of all Canadians on Thursday when it was announced that Brett Lawrie wouldn’t be participating in the World Baseball Classic for Team Canada due to a rib injury. Blue Jays fans would do well to get used to this phenomenon.

I realize it’s incredibly exciting to watch Lawrie play baseball with his constant hustle and complete and utter disregard for his own safety to make plays.

Seriously, I don’t think the player is as athletically gifted as he is willful in accomplishing as much as his physical frame will allow. That’s incredible to see. And the spectacle of Brett Lawrie playing baseball shouldn’t be under sold. However, this style of play is likely to result in a 28-year old designated hitter or corner outfielder with limited range who hits like a barely above average infielder and never plays more than 120 games in a season. In other words, a future overpaid member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Earlier this year, a friend of mine had the privilege of seeing Lionel Messi play in Barcelona. He said that for large parts of the first half, he purposely watched Messi instead of the run of play. At first, he thought that the superstar soccer player was simply having an off-day, as he didn’t seem to be engaged in the action and appeared rather pedestrian off the ball. However, as the first half came to a close he realized that Messi was merely being efficient with his energy. He waited for an opportunity in which his use of effort was optimal, and then he struck with everything he had in what would be a physically and mentally exhausting way for a player with less resolve.

Part of what makes the player so great, and Barcelona such a wonderful unit, is their efficiency. Their play may cause the unlearned eye to imagine at times that a player is being lazy, but in actuality, it’s a calculated use of a finite amount of energy.

I realize that baseball and soccer are two very different games.  However, where baseball might not ask for the constant exertion of an athlete’s effort during the actual contest, 162 games is a grueling schedule. What’s often referred to as “the grind” is a very real thing, and staying healthy throughout that time – outside of fluke injuries – is as much a skill as being able to throw a fastball or make contact with a baseball bat.

Totaalhonkbal

I’m cheering for the Dutch team at the World Baseball Classic, partially out of obligation to my own ethnic heritage, but mostly because the underdogs who somehow managed to beat Cuba in the first game of Pool 1 have the best translated baseball terminology in the tournament.

Consider:

  • batting average: slaggemiddelde;
  • designated hitter: aangewezen slagman;
  • lead off batter: openingsslagman;
  • runs batted in: binnengeslagen punten;
  • grand slam: homerun met alle honken bezet; and
  • knuckleball: fuseebal (literally); or
  • knuckleball: vlinderbal (translated as butterfly ball).

Hup Holland, hup.


The Meaning Of The World Baseball Classic 

Nope. Not even close.

First of all, this series of tweets from FOX Sports columnist Jon Morosi mistakenly presupposes that “international standing” matters in the least bit to anyone. Based on this imaginary condition, he then goes on to suggest that games contested between rosters with meager associations to different countries at a time of year when baseball players are shaking off their off season cobwebs under rules that limit the participation of the best pitchers will somehow decide his artificial idea of standings.

This is the equivalent of imagining a hastily put together game of charades in which the contestants are divided by sex to decide which gender is superior to the other.

The Thing About Morosi

A couple of weeks ago, my colleague Richard Whittal wrote an excellent piece concerning the roles of popular journalists and niche bloggers. In it, he describes the duty of mainstream writers whose job it is to merely confirm and fill in the blanks in the narratives that already exist in the casual fan’s minds concerning sports. Given his penchant for filling-in narratives, it’s easy to dismiss Jon Morosi under this umbrella. Instead of different strokes for different folks, it’s a matter of different perspectives for different audiences.

However, that might be giving the reporter too much credit. It’s one thing to play to your audience by confirming what they believe to be true whether it is or not, and quite another to completely fabricate a narrative for the purpose of making your reporting falsely viable and more readable. It’s basically garbage of the barely above Skip Bayless variety.

Gambling In Baseball

Last week, I wrote a piece for Fanatico about sports gambling. It’s a long piece that covers organized crime, government policy and the ulterior motives of professional sports leagues who hate the idea of legalized and regulated wagering on the product that they own. Of interest to baseball fans is a written declaration that Bud Selig submitted to federal court in order to stop New Jersey from essentially legalizing sports gambling in their state

His declaration contained the following claim:

My most important responsibility is working to maintain the integrity of MLB and to preserve public confidence in our sport.

After noting that his position as baseball commissioner was invented as a direct response to the Black Sox betting scandal in 1919, Selig went on to emphasize sports gambling as a threat to this integrity.

The spread of sports betting, including the introduction of sports betting in New Jersey, would threaten to damage irreparably the integrity of, and public confidence in, MLB.

Three months later, Selig was deposed by lawyers representing New Jersey. When asked whether baseball fans bet on baseball games, the MLB Commissioner made a distinction between gamblers and sports fans, claiming he wasn’t sure.

I don’t know whether they do or they don’t.

When asked about legal bets being placed by fans in Las Vegas, he responded:

That would surprise me greatly.

Despite Selig’s claims that maintaining the integrity of his sport is his primary responsibility while emphasizing sports betting as something that would threaten that integrity, he proceeded to testify to his ignorance on the entire subject, under oath. It’s likely telling that this example of willful and self-serving ignorance at its best/worst has been far from out of the ordinary during Selig’s reign, which has also occurred at a time when baseball’s profitability has skyrocketed.

Baseball On TV

Part of why MLB hates the idea of regulated wagering on its games is that it leads to parties separate from the league earning money based on an area of its product that it doesn’t control: the data. The rights to broadcasts of games can be sold to television networks, but baseball doesn’t own the data that comes out of its games, on which people bet.

It’s therefore not wholly unrelated to look at what baseball does with its television rights, which happens to be especially noteworthy following the introduction of FOX’s national sports network FS1, earlier this week. Part of what makes the new network a potential competitor to ESPN is the amount of live content rights that FOX already owns, including baseball.

As Wendy Thurm noted on Thursday for FanGraphs, the new network means that even less baseball will be available on basic cable in the United States.

For their Saturday Game of the Week, Fox will air a double-header, with one game on the network and the other one on Fox Sports 1.

The biggest changes will come in the postseason. Fox Sports 1 will broadcast both Divisions Series and the League Championship Series granted to Fox under the new national TV contract. With the other two Division Series and one League Championship Series on TBS, the only postseason baseball games on network TV will be the World Series.

The danger inherent to limiting accessibility to the sport in this fashion is found in the potential to turn America’s pastime into something only for the elite.

A contradiction therefore exists between the further limiting of the sport’s accessibility and the perception that MLB attempts to create through charitable programs like Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, its RBI initiative.

Free Advertisement For MLB.tv

For the younger demographic, the changes in broadcasting further cements the increasing resolve to do away with the dated medium of cable television all together. Why bother with exorbitant cable fees when a one-time cost of $130 gives you premium access to every single regular season baseball game that’s played outside of your local region?

MLB.tv remains the best deal for the consumer in sports broadcasting. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t help grant access to the financially disadvantaged.

Spring Training Is Meaningless

Is there a more myopic pecker head in baseball than Kirk Gibson?

They knew we were going to do it that way. I had it happen that way with a team. They tried to put the DH in there. That’s not the way it’s done. I wanted to play a National League game. I notified them several times. They just wanted to do it their way. They couldn’t do it. They didn’t like that. We play by the rules here. If we were over there, we’d play by their rules. It’s very simple. It was good locker room talk.

That is what Gibson had to say after he and Dusty Baker argued about the designated hitter rule prior to AN EXHIBITION GAME as part of the CACTUS LEAGUE schedule. Baker wanted Shin-Soo Choo to play as a DH in the Cincinnati Reds lineup because the outfielder had been out with a quadriceps injury. Gibson wanted Arizona Diamondbacks starter Brandon McCarthy to get some batting experience. During Spring Training, the home team gets to decide which rules govern each game.

The disagreement could have been resolved by Gibson playing under AL rules and then opting not to use a DH, but instead, he decided to be an obstinate prick about the whole matter. McCarthy got up to bat once, and promptly grounded out.

If I was Baker, I would’ve initiated an intentional walk when McCarthy came to the plate, no matter the base-out situation.

Realistically, there’s really no reason why any other than the most rudimentary of rules should have to be followed during Spring Training. The games are absolutely meaningless as anything other than practice.

The Chris Sale Extension

One of the areas in which baseball analysts seem to struggle is in recognizing that not every transaction occurs in a vacuum.  It’s much easier to imagine that there’s a definitive rule that governs all transactions and when applied, allows trades and signings to be labelled as either good or bad. That’s a little bit unrealistic, as each team faces their own situations in their unique environment.

As such, the contract extension that will guarantee Chris Sale $32.5 million over the next five seasons, makes a lot more sense for the Chicago White Sox than it does for any other team in baseball. As has been mentioned by several pundits after the impending contract agreement was first leaked, Sale’s frame and mechanics present an injury risk. That’s not an unrealistic assessment. It’s very true.

However, the White Sox have a history of being able to keep their pitchers healthy. Of course, it’s not certain that they’ll be able to with Chris Sale, but the manner in which their organization has handled pitchers in the past, makes their deal with Sale better than if it was signed with the Toronto Blue Jays or the Boston Red Sox or whatever team to whom Brad Arnsberg is offering his services.