General

A Terrible Loss

Reading the news this morning of Jose Fernandez’s death brought me instantly back to August 2nd, 1979. Then it was Thurman Munson, taken far too soon in a plane crash. Today it is Fernandez, taken even sooner in a boat crash. Somewhere in Florida there are plenty of six-year olds who feel the way I did so long ago and my heart goes out to them and everyone affected by this tragedy- especially Fernandez’s unborn child.

The loss of Fernandez seems harsher because of his personality and his potential. Here was someone who risked his life to get to this country and played the game with a certain kind of joy that you don’t often see.

And he was so good at it! Among starting pitchers, only Randy Johnson (twice), Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood, have ever had a higher K/9 rate than the 12.5 Jose put up this year. He was 38-17 in his career for a team that only won 45% of their games over the same period. He had a career ERA of 2.53 and an ERA+ of 150 (The average is 100) He was 24, and about to hit arbitration and provide financial security for his family for a long time.

What a sad day.

 

 

 

Deadline Day

Yesterday Brian Cashman told reporters to “stay tuned” about future moves. I am taking his advice to heart and will start a live trade deadline blog at 3pm. I hope you will stop by.

The Best and The Worst

Over on fivethirtyeight.com they have a ranking of every team since 1903 using their ELO system. (For those of you unfamiliar with the site, it is run by Nate Silver, a Baseball Prospectus founder who got into political forecasting and runs the site under the ESPN umbrella.) It is a fun list to look at and contained some surprises for me.

1- The 1906 Cubs finished second, to the 1939 Yankees, with the 1927 Yankees finishing 3rd. Not a huge shock that the ’39 Yanks did so well, that was quite a team.

2- The 1998 Yankees were fifth showing how historically great that team was.

3- The 2009 Yankees were 33rd, which really surprised me. I don’t ever remember feeling that team was that good.

4- The 2004 Red Sox ranked 64th while the 2004 Yankees finished 256th. That works with my contention that they were simply better.

5- Before becoming the Yankees, the Highlanders were really bad, but he 1989, 1990, and 1991 Yankees all were near the bottom.  It is worth remembering how badly George Steinbrenner had decimated the team in the late 80’s and how great Gene Michael’s rebuilding job was.

6- The worst team ever was the 1904 Washington Senators, but the second-worst was the 2003 Tigers. Three years later they won the World Series. (Thanks to Greg for pointing out that it was only the ALCS. My brain is not what it once was.)

Anyway, it is a fun list and you can search it by team and year if you want.

Trouble Ahead!

On the surface, facing David Price tonight might be the best thing for the Yankees’ moribund offense. After all, Price sports a 5.76 ERA and has been pretty lucky to win three games so far this year.

But don’t be fooled by the ERA, he has also been the victim of some extremely bad luck. Pick your advanced stat, but I like FIP, which takes the fielding out of ERA, and his FIP is 2.38. That’s in large part to his insane strikeout ratio of 14.0 per 9, but it is validated by the fact that Price has a BABIP of .386. So if Price pitches like he has so far this season the Yankees are in deep trouble and a shutout is on the table.

If they lose tonight they will fall to 8-15. That’s pretty ugly, but not an anomaly. I’ve been away and have some thoughts about why this is happening. I will share them tomorrow.

 

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.

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?

 

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!

 

 

A Tough Choice

There is an interesting story playing out involving the Chicago White Sox and Adam LaRoche. LaRoche retired Tuesday because the White Sox asked him to stop bringing his son around the clubhouse so much. In doing so, LaRoche walked away from a contract that would pay him $13-million this season. Things are now getting heated as the entire White Sox team apparently thought about boycotting their game yesterday in support of LaRoche.

Ken Rosenthal wrote an interesting article about this controversy and it leaves me conflicted. On one hand, baseball players are essentially working during the times most of us can see our families and allowing them to bring their kids to the clubhouse gives them a connection with their family that’s important. On the other hand, not all players probably love having kids in the clubhouse all the time. There needs to be time for a team to be a team, devoid of distractions that family and outside people bring.

I don’t agree with LaRoche’s opinion about school. In the Rosenthal article he said,  “We’re not big on school. I told my wife, ‘He’s going to learn a lot more useful information in the clubhouse than he will in the classroom, as far as life lessons.’ ” But it is certainly his right to think that way and essentially home school his son.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, if LaRoche truly retires (the paperwork hasn’t been officially submitted), and what the ramifications are for the White Sox if he does.

 

 

Three Strikes…

MLB announced this afternoon that Jenrry Mejia has been banned from baseball for failing a third test for PED use. (Technically, he can apply for reinstatement a year from now, but he must sit out two years before playing again.)

It’s an amazing story of stupidity. Mejia has been suspended at the start of the season last year for 80 games for failing the first test. He was suspended for 162 games almost immediately after returning to the team and is now out of baseball. This is a guy who was going to make over $1-million this year, despite his suspension, and has now failed three drug tests in less than a calendar year.

Give MLB credit for putting in a plan with serious teeth to try to clean up the game. I should note however that this case involves a 6-foot, 200-pound, reliever who threw in the low 90’s. You simply can’t tell who is cheating with your eyes.