May 18, 2018

PERFECTION

This was a first: the best part of last night's Cubs game was the Rain Delay. WGN played highlights from its 70 year baseball broadcast history.

One of the usual Cub historical highlight was Milt Pappas' 1972 "near" perfect game. He walked the next-to-last batter with two outs in the 9th inning on what he believed was a questionable call. The camera angle was behind home plate so the viewer cannot tell, but Pappas reaction on the mound to the call was nuclear.

Pappas was bitter for the rest of his life because of that ball four call.

A perfect game is baseball is defined as pitching a complete game where no runner gets on base by any means (walk, drop third strike, error). But is that definition of perfection really perfect?

Perfect is defined in the dictionary as having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be;  free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless;  precisely accurate;  and exact.

If you are a starter, what would you classify as the perfect, perfect game?

Pat Hughes continues to say that Kerry Wood's 20 strikeout game was the greatest pitching performance he has ever seen. That may be some biased Cub-homer opinion for Wood's accomplishment. But for an old school, power pitcher, the strike out was the goal against every batter. "You can't hit my stuff." "Take you bat between your legs and get some bench!" That is the mentality.

The "perfect" perfect game would be a pitcher striking out 27 batters in a row. The most strikeouts in a perfect game was 14 by Sandy Koufax (1965) and Matt Cain (2012). 

But we live today in an era of pitch count on starters.  It would be more difficult to have this kind of perfect game: 27 outs in 27 pitches. This improbable rarity would mean that every batter would be swinging on the first pitch. In order to be enticing, the starter would have to throw batting practice speed to the plate and hope his fielders can make every play. But that would mean every pitch was a strike and an out - - - it would be as good as it could get with no flaws (balls).

Baseball has its own language, but when we hear a pitcher is in the midst of a perfect game, is it really "perfect" or just "greater" than a plain no-hitter?

May 13, 2018

CENSOR SHIP

After Cubs relief pitcher Carl Edwards Jr. gave up three runs to the White Sox, a frustrated Cub fan tweeted that the for love of God, send Edwards to Iowa.

The fan reaction was not profane. It was normal. The Cubs have not met fan expectations. This was a championship year in spring training. A solid rotation, a rebuilt bullpen with a live arm closer, and a core of young players who would only get better. But all facets of the club have been disappointing this season. The rotation is hit and miss (more towards miss). The offense has gone into hibernation for most of the season. The defense has been really bad. The bullpen has had its moments.

The Cub fan tweeter was just saying Edwards appearance was not up to major league standards, or the standard the Cubs have set for themselves.

The Cubs responded to the tweet saying that in Edwards last 14 appearances, he had only given up two earned runs. Then the Cubs said that they expected the fan to delete the ("offensive?") tweet. In response, the fan deleted his tweeter account. The Cubs then responded again, trolling the fan with a remark that deleting the account would do.

What is clear is that the "troll" in this tweet volley was the Cubs.

How hypersensitive is the front office to troll its fans after a player has a bad performance?

The fans have invested a great deal of time, money and emotion to follow the franchise. And since the Cubs have been advertising non-stop for ticket sales to games to fill empty seats, one would think it would be bad marketing to criticize an invested fan.

The Cubs sit in third place in a crowded NL Central. The Cardinals and Pirates are surprisingly better than expected while the Brewers improved from last year's good squad. Fans have a right to complain if their team is disappointing them.

That is the big picture. Fans have a right to their opinion. The team has more important things to worry about than trolling their fans: like righting their own listing ship. In this instance, it turns into a form of bullied censorship.


April 17, 2018

WEATHER THERE IS A PROBLEM

Jeff Passan sees a potential MLB problem. In his latest column, he sees a pattern of attendance drop-off in large numbers, notwithstanding the horrible national weather.

After a weekend records for game  postponements, attendance is down precipitously, enough that one league official expressed concern that this isn’t simply a manifestation of the weather but something deeper and more troublesome for the game.
“I’m worried,” and executive told Passan. “The tanking scares me.”

Inside front offices all spring, officials wondered whether the significant number of teams that neither spent in free agency nor harbored realistic notions of contention would have a tangible, negative effect on fans attending games. The early numbers are chilling.

Compared to last season at this juncture, the Boston Red Sox are down about 2,500 fans a game. For the Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals, it’s nearly 5,000. The Cleveland Indians’ average crowd has dropped more than 5,000, the Texas Rangers’ more than 7,000 and the Pittsburgh Pirates more than 7,500. The Toronto Blue Jays, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals each are in the 8,000-fan range, and the Miami Marlins are pushing 10,000. The most severe is the Baltimore Orioles, who have played six games at home and are at almost 16,000 fewer per.

Even if some are obviously weather-related, the numbers are nevertheless staggering. The average crowd of 27,532 over the 221 MLB games played this season is about 2,700 fans per game lower than last year through the same point. Over the course of a full season, that would amount to a drop of more than 6.5 million fans.

Now, the last time the league suffered through an April with more postponements than this was 2007. Over the first 225 games that season, the average crowd was 29,888. By the end of the year, that number leaped to 32,704 per game for a total of more than 79.5 million, still the largest attendance figure in the game’s history.

However, last season drew only 73 million fans.  A projected decline of 6. 5 million would be a 8.9 percent decline in attendance. Or at least $325 million in lost gate revenue to the owners.

Weather may have been an early factor. But the high cost of attending games and younger children not playing the sport as much due to school, video games and other entertainment options are other factors to consider. The King of American Sports, the NFL, saw a large decline in TV ratings. Some attributed it to the anthem protests. Others thought it was because parents have stopped allowing their children to play contact football because of concussions. If kids don't play the games they watch on TV, they will likely not watch those games as adults.

April 9, 2018

MESSIN' WITH THE GAME

Baseball is a fundamental sport. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball and you run the bases. It has been a timeless game played by millions of people.

But the overlords of MLB want to mess with the rules to the point of absurdity.

The MLB executives want to "speed up the game." The reason is allegedly to attract attention-deficit disorder youngsters. But in reality, it is to appease the television networks who want to keep games in nice, neat, programmed blocks.

But baseball is the one sport that does not have a game clock. Even though umpires are told to put a timer on pitchers and batters going in and out of the box, the traditional game was meant to be played at its own pace.

So when you have 17 inning marathons that tax both players and managers, fans do appreciate the unique outcomes and drama of extra inning contests.  But MLB wants to force feed results.

The new rule in the minor leagues is to have any extra inning start with a runner on second base. The run expectancy with no outs and a runner on second base is 35 percent.

By implementing the rule, MLB is disrupting the holy grail of fandom: statistics. How do you "place" a runner on second? Is it the next player up in the line up? Or is it "free" managerial extra player, a designated runner, who gets no "at bat." And if the player scores, does his stat line get a "run scored?" Or if it is the next player up, why would he give up an AB since contracts are based upon the "big" stats: average, home runs, RBIs - - - which would be taken away.

Granted, extra inning ball games are not the norm. But that is also the best reason why MLB should not mess with it. Let the game play out in the normal course. So what if a manager runs out of position players. That is part of the charm and strategy of the game. So what if a manager runs out of pitchers. Fans love when their back up catcher comes in to throw an inning.

The extra inning rule experiment should die a quick death in the minors. If baseball wants to attract the next generation, it should help support youth baseball teams because kids who play baseball when they are small will grow up to be fans.

April 5, 2018

A SHIFT IN DEFENSE

Defense and statistic metrics have become so important in baseball. Teams can now accurately predict each batter's contact areas, fly ball rates, ground out locations, etc. The extreme shifts on certain pull hitters have become the norm.

But the Astros have taken defense alignment to a new level: the four outfielder set up. As Yahoo Sports noted, it was a success:

The first player to face the Astros extreme shift is one Houston will see a lot of over the years. Rangers slugger Joey Gallo, whose power-oriented approach often leads him to hit the ball in the air, looked out and saw this arrangement before him.

Astros third baseman Alex Bregman became the fourth outfielder and essentially played a straight up left field. Houston puts its three remaining infielders on the right side, with second baseman Jose Altuve essentially playing short right field. That wrinkle is included because of Gallo’s tendency to pull the ball to right field.

After one game anyway, Houston’s extreme shift should be considered a success.
Gallo hit directly into the shift in three of his four plate appearances. In the first inning, he lofted a fly ball to the relocated Bregman in left field. In the fourth, he hit a sharp fly ball that Josh Reddick  handled in left-center field. In the eighth, it was a fly ball to right field. Gallo added a strikeout to go 0 for 4.

 Here’s a clearer visual of the alignment via Statcast’s Daren Willman.