Another Case For Nets

I wrote a piece last year about the idea of putting up more extensive netting in MLB parks. MLB suggested some more nets this year, but ballparks are still leaving fans dangerously exposed. HBO Real Sports did a great feature on this last night. I can’t link to the whole story, but here is a preview. If you can watch it, I urge you to do so.  The clip gives you a taste of just how much danger you are in sitting behind a dugout.

One of the interesting things the story covers is the lengths that the Japanese baseball leagues go to to ensure fan safety. Every ballpark has nets down to the foul pole. They play announcements throughout the game to remind fans to watch out for foul balls. They have ushers in every section who blow whistles when a foul is hit towards that section.  All that, and they have the nets!

The really horrible part of the story is the various injuries that it documents. It shows the horrific story of a Yankee fan who got smacked by a liner in 2011. It details how the nurses at Beth Israel Hospital, just down the road from Fenway, talk about how they hate home games because they know it means they will be busy. And it estimates that there are 1,700 foul ball injuries a year.

MLB protects itself with the disclaimer on the back of the ticket. Wouldn’t it be nice if they protected us?

 

A Peek Behind The Curtain

I wasn’t around this weekend, but if you missed Michael Powell’s article detailing the ways the Yankees used public financing to build their new ballpark, you should read it now. It’s a potent reminder of how much of that palace was paid for by we the taxpayers.

I love the Yankees and will always support them on the field, but they are a bloodless business machine. Pretty much every professional team is, but the Yankees are really good at it. From $12 beers, $20 for five sliders with french fries, $30 hats, to the incredibly expensive tickets, the new place is a cash machine for Yankee ownership. The Yankees could put some of that back into the community and the city, rip up the tax-exempt financing they received, and pay some property taxes, but they won’t.

That’s the deal we make as sports fans and it is good to remember it. When Hal Steinbrenner says he doesn’t believe you need a $200-million payroll to win a championship he is really saying “I don’t want to spend $200-million on payroll because that is money I could keep in my pocket.” If he ever achieves that goal, do not expect ticket prices to decline or concessions to get cheaper. The owners are the hammers and we are the nails. That’s reality.

Sizzle Not Steak

The Yankees are signing Nick Swisher to a minor league deal with a June 15th opt-out. This move is getting a lot of ink, but it really shouldn’t.

It’s amazing how circular history can be- consider Swisher. In 2012 he was the Yankees’ right fielder and did a great job- .273/.364/.473- while switch-hitting and playing decent defense. The Yankees let him walk in exchange for a draft pick. That draft pick became Aaron Judge, the right fielder of the future.

Back to today and this move is essentially a no-risk lottery ticket. Swisher hasn’t hit in the past two years and he really can’t play the outfield anymore. His only potential use is as a first baseman and the Yankees are never going to use him unless Mark Teixeira gets hurt. If that happens, they have Swisher in the minors possibly ready to go and play first. If it doesn’t, Swisher probably leaves after June 15th for brighter pastures.

Let’s Overreact!

I get it, the media has air time to fill and column inches that need print, but the conclusions drawn three games into the season are pretty hysterical. The NY Press is up in arms that no Yankee starter has made it through six innings yet. But thankfully the bats are exploding. Maybe we could wait for some warmer weather and a few more games before we worry/exalt either of those facts?

But the biggest jump based on shaky reasoning has to be with Starlin Castro. Castor is now either Rogers Hornsby or Joe Morgan, maybe better. Yes, he has had an amazing three games, but again, THREE GAMES! And some of the stuff people are saying about it is just laughable. On YES they keep going on about how he is doing it in spite of the weather. Last I checked, Chicago in April isn’t exactly warm, so he might be somewhat used to the weather? Furthermore, look at Castro’s career. Guess which month is his best offensively? That’s right, April. He hits .324/.347/.459 in April. Over his entire career he is a  .282/.321/.407 hitter. I don’t think it is a faulty conclusion that this guy usually gets off to a good start.

I like Castro. This video with him cracks me up. (Though I think Didi steals the show with his head movements) I think Castro is going to have a fine season for the Yankees, but he isn’t going to become Robinson Cano in his prime. That’s ok,the average second baseman in the AL hit .262./.317/.402 last year. Castro has better career numbers than that, so if he can produce as he has in his career, and play solid defense at second, the Yankees will have an above-average player at second. After two years of watching Roberts and Drew play second, that will be thrilling for the fans as well.

On to Detroit.

Stupid Stuff

Three dumb things that I want to talk about.

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9/11 was such an intensely personal event for all New Yorkers and a lot of us took refuge in sports. Ten days after that horrible day the Mets became the first team to play a home game in NYC. It was an incredibly emotional night and when Mike Piazza put the Mets ahead in the 8th with a home run, the crowd erupted in “USA” chants. It was a really great moment. Piazza later signed the jersey he wore and gave it to the Mets for safe keeping.

Well, the Mets SOLD it. It just came to light that the jersey is now being auctioned off by the person who bought it. The Mets originally claimed a mistake was made and the jersey wasn’t meant to be sold, but the jersey was authenticated by the team. Piazza is incredibly upset, as are a lot of people who can’t believe the Mets would be so stupid.

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John Oliver makes a living skewering people and he turned his attention to the Yankees. Specifically, their high-handedness when it comes to Legends Seating and their attempts to keep the ‘riff-raff” out of it. Oliver decided a way to level the playing field, albeit temporarily, was to buy three sets of Legends seats and sell them to people for 25-cents each. The one condition was they had to send him a picture of what they would be wearing in the seats, and the more outlandish, the better.

That’s how two guys dressed as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ended up right behind home plate yesterday. The contest continues tonight and tomorrow, so keep an eye right behind home and see what shows up. It is a pretty hilarious bit by Oliver, you have to give him credit.

Thankfully, the Yankees didn’t take the bait, the turtles got to enjoy the game. But the Yankees need to act more humbly. I detailed the real reason behind the paper ticket ban in February and yesterday people had to walk a pretty far distance because of that. The Yankees are in this to make money, that is never in question, but they should be smarter about it and think about their image every now and then.

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Finally an on the field incident. Baseball has a rule problem and Joe Girardi and the chief umpire yesterday agree on the solution. Let’s review.

Carlos Correa hits a weak grounder towards first. Betances grabs it and turns to throw to first, but Correa is running inside the baseline and on the grass so he can’t see the firstbaseman.   Betances tries to loft it over Correa, but throws it into right. Girardi claims obstruction, but is overruled because the umpires can’t judge whether it was simply a bad throw or if Betances was actually hindered.

That all makes sense, but the solution, which Girardi and umpire Dana DeMuth agreed on is pretty radical- drill the runner in the back. Girardi wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, comparing it to an assault. DeMuth said the following:

“Do it. Throw it into the runner’s back. Because then what’s happening? He is impeding.”

Now, you could argue that this is similar to the double-play grounder to second. Why does the runner going into second slide? Primarily because the fielder is going to whip a throw right into their chest if they don’t. Think about it, if you weren’t worried about getting drilled in the chest with the ball, it would make more sense to stand up all the way through the play and obstruct the fielder’s view of first.But you are, so you slide and hope to get into the fielder’s legs to disrupt the throw. I suspect that if you were worried about getting drilled in the back, you wouldn’t run inside the baseline, but that seems like a bad way to handle this. Baseball needs a better way, anyone have any suggestions?

 

Opening Lineup

We have an official lineup and Brett Gardner isn’t in it. The lineup is:

Ellsbury

Hicks

A-Rod

Teixeira

Beltran

McCann

Headley

Castro

Gregorius

While I am not surprised that Girardi decided to put Hicks in against a tough lefty, I am surprised he put him 2nd. And, it is interesting how he has put two switch-hitters back-to-back and Didi in the 9th spot. I wonder if this is just an Opening Day alignment and things will be different in Game 2, or if this is the basic lineup with Gardner normally in for Hicks? Stay tuned.

 

Christmas Is Cancelled!

The home opener has been postponed, due to the return of winter in NYC. Seriously, it is nasty out there this morning, so there is no way to argue with this.

Personally however, this stinks. I had tickets and was really looking forward to a day of baseball, and then a night of rooting on UNC in the finals. Plus, I can’t go to the make up tomorrow.

But again it is the right call, 45 and rainy is not baseball weather, and kudos to the Yankees for doing it two-plus hours before the gates were due to open. That should prevent most people from even heading towards the Stadium.

 

The Crystal Ball

It’s time again for my annual attempt to predict the baseball season. As always, use this with caution! For fun, after I finished my attempt at this, I tabulated the ESPN “experts’ picks and added them to the bottom of each section.

AL East

1- Blue Jays-  Yes, they lost Price, but they got Stroman back at the end of last year and he went 4-0 down the stretch. The bullpen has been upgraded and the lineup is probably the best in the league. I think they could win 90-plus again easily and they will take the division.

2- Red Sox- Yes, they got Price, but he can’t start every day and that could be a problem. Lucky for them they have some nice young hitters and a revamped bullpen. They will contend for a Wild Card.

3- Yankees- I can’t see enough going right for this team to contend seriously. The bullpen has a sexier name at the top, but how much better can Chapman-Miller-Betances be than Miller-Betances-Wilson were in 2015? Betting on age is the other problem here as there are too many old players still clogging the roster. But, the Yankees are getting younger and smarter. Next year we should see over half the lineup under 30. For now, we will have to be content with another consecutive season over .500.

4- Rays- Honestly you could pick the final two spots out of a hat, but I really like Tampa’s pitching. Chris Archer looks like one of the best pitchers in the game and with Matt Moore back and healthy, that is a formidable 1-2 punch.

5- Baltimore- I’m just not feeling it, but I still love Charm City and Boog’s BBQ.

ESPN Experts picked: Blue Jays (19), Red Sox (8), Yankees (2), Rays (2)

AL Central

1- Royals- All hail the champions and I think they continue to reign in the division.

2- Cleveland- Love the pitching, worried about the hitting, but I think they have enough to get into a Wild Card game.

3- Detroit- Still can mash with the best of them, and Wilson and Rodriguez will make that a  solid bullpen.

4- Minnesota- Sano and Buxton are two of the most exciting young players in the game. I’m also really looking forward to seeing Byung Ho-Park and how his 50+-homer power in Korea translates to the states.

5- Chicago- Call it the curse of Adam LaRoche. I still don’t know why that all blew up the way it did, but it is a bad omen for the 2016 White Sox.

ESPN Experts Picked Royals (15), Cleveland (11) Detroit (3) Minnesota (2)

AL West

1- Houston- Correa is going to give the rest of the AL fits for a long time. Add in Keuchel, a better bullpen and some other young hitters and you have a really good team.

2- Texas- Remember that they were a bat flip away from winning the ALDS and they will be getting Yu Dravish back shortly.

3-Anaheim- Best player in the game, and a revitalized Pujols. They are dangerous, but not enough to make the playoffs.

4- Seattle- Did you see that Jesus Montero was released? (He is now a Blue Jay) The search for offense in the Pacific Northwest continues.

5- Oakland- The rebuild continues, but don’t bet against them being back on top very soon.

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (21), Texas (10)

NL East

1-Mets- Think of the pitching they had last year and then remember that they get Zack Wheeler back this year. Yikes. Neil Walker was an underrated pickup. They are primed to repeat atop the NL East.

2- Washington- Not sure what went wrong last year, but the manager has walked the plank and Dusty Baker, a great manager, is in charge. The second best player on the planet should headline a deep and dangerous team that could go very far.

3- Miami- This division is very top-heavy in my mind. You could have the first two teams easily win 90+ and the bottom three struggle to win 70. I picked Miami for third because I like some of their young hitters, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Atlanta here.

4- Atlanta- The new ballpark and rebuilt team are works in progress, but you can see the foundations being laid.

5- Philadelphia- They didn’t know when to quit and will have a long road back from oblivion.

ESPN Experts Picked Washington (16), Mets (15)

NL Central

1- Chicago- Dare I say it? Ok, they are the best team in baseball. The playoffs are always a crapshoot, but for the regular season they reign supreme.

2- Pittsburgh- Whenever I hear a Pirates fan complain about three-straight wild card spots and three-striaght eliminations, I want to point out a few things. First, you could only dream of that five years ago. Second, win the damn division! 162 games matters and the division champs get the advantages they have earned.

3- Cardinals- Always dangerous and always in contention, but this year I think they are outclassed.

4- Milwaukee- Another coin-flip pick for me. I could put the Reds here, or the Brewers.

5- Cincinnati- See above.

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (27), St. Louis (3), Pittsburgh (1)

NL West

1- Giants- Remember it is an even year and that means they win. Also, they are very good.

2- Dodgers- Immensely talented, but they can’t seem to put it all together- ever.

3- Arizona- Greinke will help a lot, but they aren’t there yet. Pollock injury is devastating.

4- Padres- They are accumulating a lot of young assets and were smart to pull the 180 they did last year.

5- Colorado- Tough break trading Jose Reyes for their most popular player. They won’t threaten this year.

ESPN Experts Picked Giants (20), Arizona (7), Dodgers (4)

AL Playoffs

Wild Card- Texas over Cleveland

ALDS- Kansas City over Texas and Houston over Toronto

ALCS- Houston over Kansas City

ESPN Experts Picked Houston (9), Toronto (8), Royals (8), Boston (4), Cleveland (1), Texas (1)

NL Playoffs

Wild Card Washington over Pittsburgh

NLDS Chicago over Washington and San Francisco over Mets

NLCS Chicago over San Francisco

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (19), Giants (6), Mets (3), Washington (3)

World Series

Get ready to head to the bunker- Cubs over Houston in six games!

ESPN Experts Picked Chicago (14), Toronto (4), Royals (4),  Houston (2), Giants (2), Mets (2), Texas (1), Washington (1)

Play Ball!

 

 

Almost Set

The Yankees have almost finished their roster construction, surprisingly the biggest question still remaining is who is the 5th starter?

We know that the competition was between Sabathia and Nova, and both have finished their springs, but we still don’t have an answer. All Girardi will say is that the Yankees are not going to use six starters.

Austin Romine is officially the backup catcher and Ronald Torreyes is the last guy on the bench. Torreyes is interesting as he has played short, second, third, and left field in his career, giving the Yankees plenty of flexibility. The Yankees traded for him, then waived him, then signed him back this offseason. I suspect his tenure in the bigs will be based in large part on what Refsnyder does in AAA at third base.

Another interesting note is that the Yankees are taking Luis Cessa and putting him in the big league pen. Cessa earned a spot with his pitching, but with Mitchell now on the DL, the starter depth at AAA is perilously thin. The bullpen, assuming Miller can pitch with his broken hand, will start the year as Betances, Miller, Shreve, Barbato, the loser of the 5th starter competition, and Cessa. Add one more player to replace Mitchell and you have the starting roster.

We know Chapman will be back May 9th, but I suspect the Yankees will be actively promoting and demoting players as needed in the bullpen. Barbato, Cessa, and Shreve all have options and could therefore ride the Scranton Shuttle frequently this year

In about 80 hours Tanaka will be delivering his first pitch of the season. I can’t wait!

Progress!

The Red Sox have announced that it will be Travis Shaw and not Pablo Sandoval taking the field as the everyday 3b.

This represents a massive change in philosophy for the Red Sox as they normally would forced the starting roll on their high-priced talent such as Hanley in left field last year or Rick Porcello staying in the rotation despite significant struggles.

It also sends a message to the other high-priced veterans that no one is above being benched.  This is a great development.  And considering how Sandoval showed up to camp this year, it means all the reports saying he was out to improve his play and show Boston fans that he is serious about baseball were just hollow words.  In other words, Sandoval got paid.

Here is the line-up: Betts – RF, Pedroia – 2b, Bogaerts – ss, Ortiz – dh, Ramirez – 1b, Shaw – 3b, Holt – lf, Swihart – c, Bradley – cf.

Your rotation is: Price, Buchholz, Porcello, Kelly and Wright with the bullpen being: Kimbrel, Uehara, Tazawa, Ross, Layne, Barnes, Ramirez and the bench consisting of: Castillo, Young, Sandoval, Hanigan.

The Red Sox are certainly better than a last place team and certainly better than last year’s last place team but they have serious issue with the rotation.  After Price, I have very little confidence, especially with Eduardo Rodriguez out with a knee injury.