Baseball: Two Scoring Rules That Need Changed

Baseball is a staid old game and hates any change to the rules. There are two scoring rules that have always seemed wrong and unfair. The first one concerns what is considered an unearned run, which I feel is wrong. The second, is how a starting pitcher gets off the hook for not being charged with a loss. These two scoring rules have been in baseball forever, with no one questioning them, but I think they need to be changed. First let’s look at how runs are considered unearned.

In a particular inning, the first two batters make outs. The next batter hits a routine grounder to the shortstop, which he boots and is charged with an error. The next four batters hit a double, single, double, and top it off with a home run, which score 5 runs. Because all 5 runs scored with 2 outs, after the shortstop’s error, all 5 runs are considered unearned. It’s like if the inning had ended, and those 4 batters had to go out into the field, they would not have gotten the hits that they did. Was the pitcher so traumatized by his teammate’s error that he simply could not pitch properly? Most of the time, when something like that happens, a pitcher has a tendency to bear down, knowing the other team has this extra opportunity to score. There is no question, the batter that gets on base via an error and comes around to score, is an unearned run. When the next four batters get 4 solid hits which scores all 4 players, those runs should be considered earned, even though the inning was extended by the error. It’s almost like the four hits did not happen. It definitely can make ERA a false stat. It’s time to make all runs earned when they score from hits and walks, regardless of when they happen in an inning. Now let’s look at the way starting pitchers are charged with a loss, that is unfair.

In this scenario, the starting pitcher goes out and pitches a solid 6 innings giving up 1 run on 3 hits, walking 2 and striking out 7 batters. His team scores no runs for the 6 innings and the pitch count is at 99, so he is done for the day. The reliever comes on in the 7th and promptly gives up 3 runs and now the starter’s team is trailing 4-0. The starting pitcher’s team rallies but falls short and the final score is 4-3, with the starter being charged with the loss. The reliever, that gave up the 4th run, is the one who should be charged with the loss. The only way that the starter can get off the hook for the loss, when he leaves a game trailing, is for his team to tie the game, according to the scoring rules. By this method, the starter loses the game by sitting on the bench. Why should the starter have to take the loss, when it was the reliever, who gave up the runs that were needed to win the game? In other words, in any game, the losing pitcher should be the one who gives up the run that provided the margin of victory. If the final score is 7-3, then the pitcher who gave up the 4th run is the losing pitcher. What difference does it make if the team ties up the game or not? It really does not make any sense, to give losses to pitchers this way.

If these scoring rules were changed, I think it would give a more accurate assessment of how a pitcher is doing. You would not need some of the other analytic stats when evaluating pitchers. Earned runs and unearned runs became a stat in 1912. The rules about what constitutes an earned run have changed very little. That needs to change. Same for the loss rule. There really is no rational for the current rules. I know there is little chance for these rules to be changed, but it would be nice to see a pitcher not lose a game while he is sitting on the bench. It would make more sense for all runs to be earned, that have scored, when batters get on base via a walk, hit, or home run.

Pirates Morning Report:

FINAL SCORE: PIRATES 6 NATIONALS 4

WHY THE PIRATES WON: THE PIRATES HAD 3 OUTFIELDERS. THEY WERE ABLE TO OVERCOME A BASERUNNING BLUNDER. THEY GOT AWAY WITH GIVING UP SIX WALKS. THEY HAD OUTSTANDING DEFENSE AND A FEW LINE DRIVES THAT WERE HIT RIGHT AT SOMEONE. THEY HIT IN THE CLUTCH. THE BULLPEN WAS GOOD AGAIN DESPITE HAVING A SHAKY NINTH INNING. SHELTON HANDLED THE BULLPEN VERY WELL, BRINGING BEDNAR IN DURING A HIGH LEVERAGE SITUATION IN THE 7TH INNING.

KEY PLAY OF THE GAME: WITH THE PIRATES CLINGING TO A 3-2 LEAD IN THE BOTTOM OF THE 8TH, MICHAEL CHAVIS CAPPED OFF A GREAT GAME BY LEADING OFF THE INNING WITH WHAT LOOKED TO BE A ROUTINE DOUBLE AND TURNED IT INTO A TRIPLE, WHEN THE NATIONAL’S LEFT FIELDER MADE A LEISURLY TOSS TO THE SHORTSTOP. THIS BASE RUNNING GEM SET UP THE ENTIRE INNING THAT ENABLED THE PIRATES TO SCORE 3 INSURANCE RUNS, THAT TURNED OUT TO BE THE MARGIN OF THE VICTORY.

NEXT GAME: TODAY, NATIONALS, AT PITTSBURGH. WITH PATRICK CORBIN PITCHING FOR THE NATIONALS, THERE IS A GOOD CHANCE THE PIRATES WILL HAVE 3 OUTFIELDERS AGAIN BUT DON’T HOLD YOUR BREATH.

Opening Day 2022 and Another Pirate Season is Underway

Opening day is tomorrow and without a doubt it is my favorite day of the year. The start of baseball season is the official start of spring and summer is on the way. The 162-game grind is about to begin. Every team in baseball is going to have its ups and downs, with exception of the Pirates who will be down all year. The idea of starting to watch baseball, even pathetic Pirate baseball, for the next 7 months, just makes me smile and feel really good. It is the American pastime. Baseball will be going through some changes that will hopefully get the game moving along a little better and provide more action. With the exception of the Pirates, the other 31 teams in the league, all have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs, even the Baltimore Orioles. There is probably more balance in the league than ever before. You do have the one super team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, but they did not win the pennant last year, let alone the World Series. The young talent in the league is at an all-time high. The left side of the infield in MLB, has the best players on that side of the field, in the history of the game. I am in Western Pennsylvania and the team I will be watching every day is the Pittsburgh Pirates. This year could be the worse year in their franchise history.

Last year at this time I gave a fairly optimistic view of the upcoming 2021 season, based on the fact that the Pirates had some quality Major League players on the roster. The pitching seemed a little thin, but I thought there was some potential for the staff to put a good season together. I thought that the Pirates would have a chance to surprise people with a little luck and things breaking the right way. Luck went out the window on opening day when Ke’Bryan Hayes injured his wrist on opening day, wound up only playing 96 games and became a below average hitter with a lot of soft contact. Speaking of soft contact, Kevin Newman struck out very few times last year but unfortunately probably set some kind of record for soft contact, becoming the worst hitter in all of baseball last season. He now has a new stance. Big whoop. Last year Cole Tucker did not make the team that lost 100 games last year. This year is on the opening day roster. That in a nutshell says how bad this team is going to be. The pitching staff has a few new faces but certainly not enough to make much difference for one of the worst pitching staffs of 2021. They were in the bottom 5 of every significant pitching stat. in 2021. They were 7th from the bottom in total strikeouts. The thing that was scary about this staff is that they seemed to digress as the season wore on. The Pirates fired their hitting coach last year, but I think they should have considered firing the pitching coach also. The Pirates have one Major League outfielder in Bryan Reynolds. One thing that will make the season interesting is how much ground he can cover in left center and right field, since he will be the only one out there capable of catching a ball. I think over 120 losses can be a possibility.

Is there anything that could happen that might keep the 2021 season from becoming a total disaster? Yes, there are always things that can happen, that might make this team play close to .500 ball. Ke’Bryan Hayes could come back and be the hitter he was in 2020 or come close. To say that Hayes’s drop off in offensive production was immense is an understatement. The wrist injury was devastating. If he can get close to the numbers of 2020, the Pirates will win a few more games. Mitch Keller had a very good spring training until his last outing. I have always maintained that spring training performance is meaningless, but it does get the media people excited. He touched 100 MPH with his fast ball and pitched 8 scoreless innings in spring training until he got roughed up the last time. There are some who are touting him to make the All-Star team this year. WOW! If he can develop into a mid-rotation starter, I would be thrilled and surprised. Kevin Newman could become an average Major League hitter, but I doubt it. Then there is Diego Castillo the spring training home run machine, who fought his way onto the team. One thing the Pirates need is the long ball, as again, they were the worst in baseball on knocking the ball out of the park and trailed the 29th place Arizona Diamondbacks by 20 home runs. The final factor will be how good and how much the Pirate prospects will see Major League action. There are at least a handful of them that are better than what is on this team right now. The excuse that is used by management for holding a prospect back from the big leagues is that they are afraid it may affect his confidence if gets off to a bad start, and he seems overmatched. Here are some slash lines Bat Ave./ On Base%/ Slugging. 243/290/428, 255/284/389, 267/317/351, 256/352/333, 223/330/416. Who put these numbers up. Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Dick Groat, Bobby Bonilla, and Barry Bonds their first year in the majors. Those slow starts or less that stellar performances, did not seem to affect their careers negatively. The only way to really learn your trade is to play with the best as soon as possible. The only reason these younger Pirates are not on the opening day roster is simply greed and thinking that the Pirate fan base is just plain stupid. Tomorrow will begin the new season and I can hardly wait. I always enjoy a good laugh. If I am wrong and believe me I hope that I am, the crow will go down as smooth as can be.

Sports: The World Series

The World Series starts tomorrow in Houston, with the Astros taking on the Atlanta Braves. Thank God, the Braves were able to beat the L. A. Dodgers, or what a World Series that would have been. I was already to write about the series between the highest payroll team vs. the cheaters. Who would you want to win that one, like nobody. Even with the one feel good story, of Dusty Baker, having the chance to cap off a great managerial career, with his first World Series Championship, is not enough to keep one from hoping, that the Astros get destroyed. Atlanta is an easy team to root for, with all the things, that they have had to overcome, to get to the World Series. By playing the Astros, they will have a vast majority of baseball fans pulling for them. Houston will be favored, and has the home field advantage, but Atlanta definitely has what it takes, to pull off one more upset. What does Atlanta have to do in order to win the series. This is by far one of the easiest series to analyze.

The Houston Astros have played 10 post seasons games. There has been only one game, where they did not score at least 5 runs, and in that game they scored 3. There were 7 games that they got 10 or more hits. Contrast that with the Braves who in 10 games, only scored 5 or more runs 4 times with 3 of those games being 5 on the number. They only got double digit hits in 4 games. The Astro lineup has been hitting throughout the playoffs. The simple key to this World Series, will the Astros keep on hitting. As was proven in the post season, hitting can quickly come and go. This post season has been highlighted by teams crushing the ball for one or two games, and then seeing their bats go south, for the next game or two. The only consistent hitting team, up to this point, is those cheatin Houston Astros. The Atlanta bullpen has been superb, but will it run out of gas, the way Tampa Bays did, in last years World Series. The Braves hitting has been up and down all year, but should be able to have a good DH in Jorge Soler, who does seem to be hot right now. From a statistical point of view the matchup is very even except in one area. Defensive efficiency rating, The Astros were .713, the Braves .708, a dead heat. In OPS+ the Astros were 2nd in all of baseball with 113, while the Braves were 96 which placed them 15th, giving a big edge to the Astros. In ERA+ both teams are exactly the same at 114. It is those Astros bats at the basic statistical level, that make them the favorite to win it all. During the regular season, the Astros had one stretch of 7 games where they did not score more than 4 runs per game, and once they were shut out 2 games in a row. It will boil down to how long the Astros can keep on hitting, and whether or not Atlanta can stretch the series to go 6 to 7 games, which will increase the chances, of the Astros bats, cooling off. Let’s hope the Braves can do it, to make things right in the world again. Well, I don’t know if that will make everything right in the world, but I would like to see it happen, anyway.

Sports: Pirates, The Season is Over

The Pirate season came to a merciful end yesterday, with a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. The Pirates failed to get a series sweep the entire year, which marks the first time in baseball history, that a team went the season, failing to do so. We all know that this team was bad, despite what the shills in the broadcast booth say. Here are a few of things that the shills said in order to get you to believe, that there was something positive about the way the Pirates played baseball. The Pirates have improved their defense greatly. Well, if you improve from 30th, which is dead last, to 24th in the defensive efficiency stat, that is an improvement, but is that really significant. The Pirates are still in the bottom third, when it comes to fielding. They actually declined, from last years short season, when they were 15th. In the booth, they rave about Kevin Newman’s fielding. He is not that great a fielder. In all the comprehensive defensive stats, when it comes to shortstops, he is just in the middle of the pack. The idea, that the Pirates have major league players on their team, is another example of trying to hoodwink the fans. Let’s take a look at that claim from a statistical point of view, without the shill bias. There are statistics that give you an overview of a player’s value. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is an overall value stat of a player. It includes all facets of a players game, which includes, batting, fielding, and baserunning, and the volume of playing time. A major league player should have a WAR of 2.0 to be considered a big league player and a contributor to the team. The other two stats that tell you if you are an average major league player is is ERA+ for starting pitchers and OPS+ for batters. This rates the overall performance of a pitcher and a batter with 100 being an average major league player. Being an average major league player means you are pretty damn good. Just ask the Pirates, who have very few. So who are these elite Pirates?

Starting at the top of course, is Bryan Reynolds, with a WAR of 6.0 and an OPS+ of 146. These are all star quality numbers. He is a good fielding center fielder but not an elite fielder, that the shills would have you believe. However, he is a top 20 major league player. . Next is Jacob Stallings with a WAR of 3.0. He is one of the best defensive catchers in baseball, and is a solid contender for a gold glove. His OPS+ is 92 which is below league average, but his defense more than makes up for this. Some people feel, that he will be the next to go in the Pirate rebuild, but I hope that is not true. His value behind the plate will only magnify, by mentoring both the young pitching staff, and the young catchers that will be coming up. Next on the list, is Ke’Bryan Hayes with a WAR of 2.4. His defense at 3rd is second to none, and you have to hope that his hitting decline was due to the injured wrist, that never quite healed, which led to a very disappointing OPS+ of 89. Even with that defense, his hitting has to improve next year. The last major leaguer the Pirates have is relief pitcher David Bednar with a WAR of 2.1 and an ERA+ of 190. He was about as solid as a pitcher could be, coming out of the bullpen. His FIP was 2.69 and WHIP under 1. That is the end of the list. Now, as stated previously WAR is a volume stat, and there were some Pirates, who did perform at an above average major league level, but did not get enough playing time to get that high of a WAR number, or were just really bad in one area of the game, which caused them to have a WAR under 2. So who should, or could, be on the team next year and contribute to a successful season.

First, let’s get out of the way, the list, that if this regime is serious, should not be on the team next season, for various reasons: Cole Tucker, Kevin Newman, Colin Moran,(even if the NL goes to a DH), Michael Perez, Wilmer Difo, and Phillip Evans. I don’t know if anybody in the starting rotation, should be back, but somebody has to pitch. I suppose you have to give Mitch Keller, one more chance. The two late season acquisitions, Bryce Wilson and Dillon Peters, might be worth a second look. There is always hope, that J. T. Brubaker, might find his previous form. There were some young spot starters, that showed some potential, but everyone of them at some point, got rocked. In a nutshell, the starting rotation is just plain pathetic. In the bullpen, there were two, that did perform at an above average level, with a decent volume of work. Chris Stratton and Chasen Shreve each had ERA+ over the 100 mark at 116 and 132, respectively. Are there any other Pirates that deserve another look? Not many, but here is the list. Anthony Alford, because he did look better the second time around, compared to that awful way he started the season. He wound up with a .4 WAR and an OPS+ of 94. Compare that, with the shill’s favorite player, Kevin Newman’s WAR of .7 and an OPS+ of, are you ready, 56, ouch. Then there is Yoshi Tsutsugo, who as a Pirate had an OPS+ of 136, but he was a major liability in the field. If the NL goes to the DH, then he is a keeper. Even if they don’t, just put him at first base to replace the stoic Moran ,who is just horrible in the field. That just about rounds it out, so the Pirates have lots of places to fill.

I know, that most of what I am going to write in this paragraph is not going to happen, but some of it might, depending on what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement. I am not going into any details, but how rookies are perceived for their first year of service, and when free agent eligibility happens, could change the basic philosophy of major league teams. On opening day, the shortstop and second basemen for the Pirates should be named Cruz and Castro. Brian Reynolds should be flanked by at least one new outfielder, if not two. The starting rotation should have at least 2 new members and both should be 24 years or younger. Even if the results are not perfect, let’s hope we see an influx of new talent come up to the major league level, right at the start of the season. Let’s hope that this bodes well for the future, because it is essentially, here now. Hopefully, the Pirate fans will not have to endure another season like this, where the team plays just bad baseball, and never wins more than 3 games in a row. This great city deserves so much more.

Sports: Baseball’s Economic System Is Just Fine.

When Major League Baseball proposed some changes to teams payroll structure by lowering the luxury tax ceiling about 30 million and raising what the minimum payroll could be to 100 million, there were many complaints, that this was not enough to save a broken system. This was particularly true, here in Pittsburgh, where the “unfairness” of the system has kept the Pirates from competing. The only thing that has kept the Pirates from competing is an owner, who has refused to spend money, and some horrible decisions by the Neal Huntington regime. It is amazing, how everyone is for free enterprise, and the American way, until there is this perceived unfairness of the situation. In this case, the large market teams have an unfair advantage, because they have much more revenues, and therefore can spend more money. The salary cap has always been presented as the solution to the problem, since the other three professional leagues have one. Salary caps are basically an abomination, that causes teams to make hard decisions on getting rid of good to great players, to stay under the cap. Fans are always complaining, about how free agency causes players to move around, and not stay on one team. The salary cap forces them to move on, when they may have many more productive years for that team. There is no proof that this helps improve competition. In the other three sports, the teams that make bad decisions, continue to be bad, and the teams that are better at evaluating, and developing talent continue to play well. So let’s take a look at the current payrolls of all the Major League teams, and, at least according to Fangraphs, their chances of making the playoffs. These are the payrolls when they started the season.

Los Angeles Dodgers 267 mil. 100%

Chicago White Sox 141 mil. 100%

Milwaukee Brewers 98 mil. 99.5%

San Francisco Giants 160 mil. 99.0%

Houston Astros 192 mil. 94.3%

Tampa Bay Rays 70 mil. 94.2%

New York Yankees 204 mil. 81.1%

Atlanta Braves 148 mil. 73.5%

Boston Red Sox 182 mil. 72.4%

Cincinnati Reds 126 mil. 44.9%

San Diego Padres 176 mil. 41.5%

Oakland A’s 89 mil. 37.7%

Philadelphia Phillies 184 mil. 22.5%

The rest of the teams have a less than 20% chance of making the playoffs. Here they are in descending order to make the playoffs, with the last 12 having no chance of making the playoffs. Toronto Blue Jays 151 mil. New York Mets 198 mil. St. Louis Cardinals 169 mil. Seattle Mariners 81.4 mil. Los Angeles Angels 181 mil. Baltimore Orioles 57.4 mil. Texas Rangers 95 mil. Cleveland Indians 47.9 mil. Detroit Tigers 85 mil. Kansas City Royals 85 mil. Minnesota Twins 117 mil. Miami Marlins 58 mil. Washington Nationals 149 mil. Chicago Cubs 141 mil. Arizona Diamondbacks 90 mil. Colorado Rockies 114 mil. Then there is our beloved Pittsburgh Pirates, with the second smallest payroll at 55 million dollars, with 11 million of that going to one, Gregory Polanco. I will say one thing for the Pirates, they are making him earn the money, by playing him as much as possible, which can be the only reason, he is getting so much playing time.

Of the 13 teams that are still fighting for a playoff spot, according to Fangraphs, 3 of the teams are in the bottom half of payroll expenditures. Six teams that have little of no chance of making the playoffs are in the top 15 in total payroll. The Phillies who are fifth in payroll, most likely will not make the playoffs. The Mets, 3rd in payroll, are fading fast, with their chances rated at about 10%. There are lots of things that baseball needs to fix, pace of play being the no. 1, but the way players are paid, is not one of them. Teams spending money is not a guarantee for success, not even close. Everyone deserves to make what the market will bear. Baseball does a good job of spreading the wealth around to the small market teams. When good baseball decisions are made, and players are properly developed, a baseball team will thrive, and contend for championships. One of the final arguments for making change in the economic structure of baseball is, yes, small market teams have great regular seasons, and will make the playoffs, but they will never win a World Series. Looking back over the World Series of this century, the small market teams have had their moments, but there is no question, the big boys win most of the World Series titles. Some of that, may be due to the fact, that the smaller market teams are reluctant to spend the money on late season rentals, that can make a big difference in a short series. Even giving some credence to the World Series argument, it is not enough to change a system, that works quite nicely, in the long run, and gets players the money they deserve, with the exception of Gregory Polanco, of course.

Sport: Pittsburgh Pirates 2021

In a few hours from now, the Pittsburgh Pirates will embark on the 2021 season. This will be the first full season of the Ben Cherington-Derek Shelton regime. The predictions for this season are dire. One headline read, the Pirates embark on their 2021 season, and they are going to be terrible. One person on MLB Network predicted they would lose 115 games, which would be one of the worst seasons in Pirate history. This is all because the Pirates are on the rebuild, or are they? When pressed about this, Ben Cherington has refused to say the word rebuild, and nobody seems to notice. If the Pirates are rebuilding and/or tanking, why didn’t they get rid of everybody. They only made 3 trades, and yes, they added a lot of prospects, to the point, that they have moved into the top 10 of minor league systems. But they still have Adam Frazier, Colin Moran, Kevin Newman, Gregory Polanco, Jacob Stallings, Erik Gonzalez, Richard Rodriguez, and Steven Brault. With the exception of Polanco, all of these players have value, and would have brought even more prospects to the team. The one excuse that is made, is that these players will have more value at the trade deadline, and will bring even more prospects, as the Pirates languish in last place in July and August. The other reason given for such a poor season this year, is how bad the Pirates were last year. They had a record of 19 and 41, which would compute out to 51 and 111 for a 162 game season. In my view, the Pirate management looked at last season as a lost season, anyway. Instead of trying to win games, management decided to evaluate talent for 60 real games, and I think they succeeded. During the 60 game season, they played players all over the place, and used a different batting order, almost everyday. This led to some surprising cuts at the end of spring training. The most surprising in my view was Geoff Hartlieb. He has looked very good at times, and last year had an ERA+ of 127. Obviously, at least for right now, the Pirates feel they have better options in the bullpen, than Hartlieb. The same thing can be said for Edgar Santana, another pitcher with decent major league experience and an ERA+ of over 120,the last 2 years that he pitched. Not putting Cole Tucker and Todd Frazier on the opening day roster, is significant. What kind of season do I think the Pirates are going to have?

I think this team will play right around .500 baseball, and with any luck will finish with 85 wins. Now things won’t have to be perfect, for them to do this, but a few things will have to break their way. The rotation is very thin, and they will have to avoid any more serious injuries, like what’s happened to Steven Brault. He looks like he may be able to return in June, but who knows. The infield is solid and hopefully will have some improved hitting from Frazier and Newman. Moran at first base may be a disaster, but I think Phillip Evans may wind up as the regular first baseman, and Todd Frazier may come up and fill some of that void. Hayes at third, will be solid, no matter what he hits, and hopefully he reaches full potential this year. The outfield does not have a lot of depth but again Evans and Adam Frazier can fill in there, but I hate to see Frazier move off 2nd base, where he really seems to have found a home. Hopefully, Brian Reynolds can get his hitting stroke back, and I am confident he will. Then there is Gregory Polanco, the 11 million dollar man. Hopefully he does not run into anybody and end their season like he did last year. Since 2014 he has had 3 decent seasons for the Pirates and 4 horrific seasons either due to poor play or injury. He practically destroyed his body, sliding into second base in 2018, and has not been the same since. He has become the project of the Pirates hitting coach, Rick Eckstein. If Polanco can stay healthy and have a 2 to 3 WAR season it will go a long way in helping the Pirates, be a competitive team. The bullpen should be solid, and it will be interesting to see how Shelton handles the various arms, and how the Pirates are able to finish close games. I think one of the biggest keys, will be if Richard Rodriguez can develop into the main high leverage guy, and if he doesn’t who will. We will all see what happens with this young Pirate team. Every 10 games I will do a blog on how the season is going. I watch every game they play when televised. I also watch the game with no sound. I am not going to listen to Joe Block, ask questions, that my grandson would ask, who is just learning the game. Could this season be one where they might lose a record number of games? Maybe, but I do not think so. See you at the 10 game mark. HAPPY OPENING DAY! Let’s go Bucs!

Sports: Opening Day, The Best Day Of The Year

That’s all you have to say is opening day, and everybody knows that means the first day of the regular season in baseball. This opening day, is even more significant, as baseball tries to have the first normal regular season in sports, since the pandemic began. It all begins on Thursday, and for me, this is the best day of the year. I know that pro football has supplanted baseball, as the most popular sport, in America, but there is only one sport, that is called our National Past Time. There is still nothing like it. It should be declared a national holiday, and kids should be off school, to either see the games in person or watch them on TV. This year many kids are off, thanks to the Easter break. This year baseball is doing it right, with all 30 teams starting on the same day. Even though around here, it will be far from a spring day, you know the good weather is about to begin. The days will be getting longer, and the wonderful days of summer are just around the corner. There will be that nice secure feeling, that you are about to settle in, to that long, and beautiful 162 game season, that was so missed last year. Yes, the 60 game season was better than nothing, but just barely. Sixty games of regular season baseball, well, it’s just not right. It seemed it was over in an instant, and baseball was very fortunate, that the best two teams made it through the expanded playoffs. This year with the exception of the 7 inning doubleheader, we are totally back to the way things use to be in baseball. The playoffs are the same this year, as they were before Covid, with 5 teams getting in, from each league. As of now, there will be no DH in the National League. Hopefully baseball will be able to maneuver through this long regular season, with no major Covid problems.

I have been following baseball, and the Pittsburgh Pirates since 1958. I will write about the 2021 version of the Pirates on Wednesday. With all those statistics, baseball helped hone my math skills, which in turn, helped me to get into veterinary school. I played the game right through the 60’s until I became obsessed with golf. Baseball to me, is still the best sport to watch, and follow, and by far the most interesting. The most unique thing about the game, is that there is no clock. In order to win a baseball game, a team has to accomplish getting the last out of the game. There have been many times, where teams have never been able to do that. There is no running the clock out in baseball. Baseball is by far the most historic game we have, beginning organized play in 1876, with the birth of the National League. The game has had its ups and downs, through out history, just as America has. It was the No. 1 game in America for almost 100 years, until football took over in the late 1960’s. It is the sport that has it all. Even though there is the team concept, you have that mano a mano confrontation between the batter and the pitcher. Baseball has more strategy in one game than football does in an entire season. Baseball is the only sport whose head man is called a manager. The game and the team needs to be managed, not coached. This week, we will feel as close to normal as we have been in over a year, when opening day arrives. Let’s hope that America’s Pastime, is just the beginning of those normal feelings, as we push past this pandemic.

Sports: Baseball, Eliminating the Great at Bat

Anybody who watches or follows baseball, knows what the great at bat is. For those of you that don’t, the great at bat, is where the batter battles the pitcher, by fouling off pitch after pitch. The pitcher will throw between 10 to 15 pitches, and once in awhile more. No matter what the batter does, strikes out, makes an out by putting a ball in play, or gets a hit or a walk, the announcer will say, that was a great at bat. I absolutely agree 100%. It is also very BORING and TIME CONSUMING. As the pitcher gets more and more frustrated by the batter fouling off all those pitches, he usually slows down his approach. In the era of 100 pitch counts, the pitcher is using up 10 to 15% of his limit on one batter. Other than the appreciation of the great at bat, there is nothing good about the great at bat. It slows the game down, it is by far, the longest period of time in the game, where there is little, or no action, except the pitcher throwing, and the batter swinging, and fouling off pitches. It wastes the pitcher talents, by having to throw so many pitches, to one batter. The problem is the foul ball. Baseball has never really known what to do with the foul ball. In the beginning, it was hard to define, and through the years the definition changed. The one thing that has never changed, is there is no penalty for foul balls, except when you foul off a bunt attempt, with 2 strikes, and your out. This all needs to change, if baseball is going to move along in the 21st Century, and add some excitement to the game. It will take a couple of simple, but bold rule changes to make this happen.

We need to make 3 the magic number in baseball. We already have 3 strikes your out. We need for 3 fouls to be an out. Foul balls would become a separate entity. Finally, walks would be reduced to 3 balls. Let’s look at what this would do. The most pitches any batter would face would be 7. The new full count would be, 2 balls, 2 strikes, and 2 fouls. This would be the first true full count, because on the next pitch something is going to happen. The batter is going to strike out, foul out, walk, or make an in play hit, or out. There would be this defined end point, to the pitcher-batter confrontation. It would be the first time in baseball history, that you would know, that something was going to happen, on the next pitch. There would be this new, and I’m sure some would call odd strategy situation, when a batter would foul off the first two pitches. He could take 2 strikes in a row. However, does the pitcher groove two strikes, thinking the same thing. Would the batter take those strikes, or would he go after those pitches risking hitting the 3rd foul ball, and making an out. With these rules in effect, the starting pitcher would have more of a chance of going deeper in the game. Pitchers would be forced to throw the ball over the plate more. The 3 ball rule may not get more balls in play, but it would make walks happen faster. These two rule changes would keep the game moving. It might not cut down how long a 9 inning game lasts, in time, but in that time frame, there is going to be a lot more action. Baseball is realizing that people can not spend 3 to 4 hours at a baseball game. We now have the 7 inning doubleheader, and a runner on 2ond, to start an extra inning. Baseball needs to continue to catch up to the times, and have a game that is going to have continuous action, and not a spot in the game, where one batter fouls off pitch after pitch after pitch, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. This is the best way to get new fans to start watching, what use to be called the national pastime.

I would be remiss, if I did not mention the NFL Championship games, where my predictions were 50-50, just like flipping a coin. Even though I thought Kansas City would beat Buffalo, I thought Buffalo would give them a better game. They jumped out to that 9-0 lead, when Kansas City muffed a punt, and Buffalo recovered on the 2 yard line. But after that, the Chiefs dominated the action, for a fairly easy 38-24 win. Is Tom Brady riding some kind of destiny thing? I don’t know, but two teams in a row have handed him victories. The Packers weren’t quite as bad as the Saints, but a 50+ yard touchdown pass with 12 secs left in the half, that wasn’t even a Hail Mary, was horrific. Then boom, a fumble to start the 2ond half, returned to the 8 yard line. One play later, Brady threw a touchdown pass, and the Packers put themselves in a huge hole, that they could not overcome, even with Aaron Rodgers. Will the fates be kind to Tom Brady for a third time, who knows? I will be watching, the game only, as I speed through every one of those God blessed commercials, and the ridiculous half time show, on my DVR.

Sports: World Series

The World Series starts today, and Major League Baseball lucked out, by having the two teams, with the best record, make it though the expanded playoffs. Think of all that excitement, if it would have been a Reds-Blue Jay Series. The only way it would have been better, was for the Yankees to win, and play the Dodgers. It would have been a ratings coup. Both teams had their scary moments, as the Tampa Bay Rays jumped out to 3-0 lead in the series, only to see Houston win the next 3. However, they were able to prevail, in a fairly tense game 7. The Los Angeles Dodgers fell behind 3 games to 1, in their series, with the Atlanta Braves, but then went on to win 3 straight, as the Braves went brain dead on the base paths, and bat dead in the last 5 innings of game 7. We have the Tampa Bay Rays vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, and on paper, this looks like a bigger mismatch, than last years series, when Washington played the heavily favored Houston Astros. Hey, wait a minute, Washington won that World Series, that saw the visiting team win every game, for the first time in World Series history. Can it happen again, this year. The Los Angeles Dodgers finished in the top five in baseball, in OPS+, OBP, runs scored, ERA+, FIP, Whip, and Defensive Efficiency. On paper, this has the makings of a sweep. If on paper was the determining factor, the Dodgers would be playing the Astros. Let’s take a look at a most interesting 7 game series.

When this series started, I thought the Houston pitching was not going to hold up, but the pitching held up, quite nicely. It was the Houston batters, that left this series on the table. Houston outhit the Rays 59 to 44, but could only muster 22 runs, from those 59 hits. In the four losses, Houston was held to 2 runs or less, and only once scored more than 4 runs. Houston walked 29 times, 5 more than the Rays, and struck out 27 less times. Tampa Bay averaged over 11 strike outs per game. About the only thing they did better than Houston was hit more home runs, but only by 11 to 9. Of course, they won more games, and did score more runs, over all. So how did they do it? By embracing the way the game is played today. Like it or not, the basics are this. Swing for the fences. Strike out a lot, but do not care. Shift players around on defense. Do not let opposing batters see the same pitcher more than twice, if at all possible. The Rays add one little wrinkle, play everybody. Recent history shows, that during the post season, teams have a tendency to shrink the line up, rather than expand it. The biggest example is in bullpen usage. Bullpens of 6 or 7, may see 2, or even 3 relievers, not used, or used very little. Not so, with Tampa Bay, as everybody gets into the act, and I expect to see no change, during this World Series. Even the batting order and line up, changes on a daily basis. Tampa is the poster child for team concept, in this world of individual glory.

I thought Tampa Bay would beat the Astros in 5 games, and even though they won, it was a scary struggle. I also thought if a team won the first 2 games of the National League Series, they would go on to win the series. Of course, that did not happen. So, what is my cracked crystal ball saying for this World Series. You have the Tampa Bay Rays, who are dedicated to today’s style of baseball, vs the Los Angeles Dodgers, who use sabermetrics, but still play a more traditional game. They have the most potent offense in baseball, and as a team, do not swing at balls, outside the strike zone. Both teams are equally confident. You might think that Tampa Bay may have lost some of that swagger, when Houston made the comeback. However, they seemed to take it in stride, as they played a great game 7. The Rays have the system, which they rely on, and believe in. The Dodgers rely on Dave Roberts instincts, which in previous World Series and playoffs, have not been too good. I think having a day off, between games 2 and 3, and 5 and 6, may help the Rays. So far, this has not been the year for ending playoff hexes, as Oakland and Minnesota continued their playoff woes. The Dodgers have not won a World Series since 1988. Is this enough to have another upset winner. Me thinks so.

%d bloggers like this: