June 4, 2019

ANOTHER ARM

The Cubs first round draft choice was a college starting pitcher.

MLB.com stated:

27) Cubs: Ryan Jensen, RHP, Fresno State

This is the biggest surprise of the first round so far, as Jensen was ranked No. 99 on our ranking of the top 200 Draft prospects. There's a lack of college pitching in this Draft, however, and we may see more teams push some college arms up their Draft boards, as the Cubs appeared to here. Jensen has one of the best fastballs in the college class, usually working at 94-98 mph and maintaining his velocity into the late innings. The secondary stuff is inconsistent, as is his control, and he doesn't have a real big frame (6-foot, 180 pounds), so he could be a reliever.

It is surprising that the Cubs reached for a third round prospect in the first round. It is another small frame pitcher who projects to be a reliever.
First round arms are supposed to be starters (unless you are a dominant career closer like the White Sox Burdi) because all relievers are failed starters.

High velocity throwers are nice, but can they pitch to make outs?

The reason the Cubs picked a college pitcher: to try to fast track him to the majors. The minor league system is devoid of any immediate help for the pitching staff. Could Jensen's velocity be enough to be a late season call-up to bolster an overworked bullpen? It is doubtful. But the Cubs window for a second championship run is closing fast with the improvements in their own division rivals.

The Cubs in the Theo era have NEVER developed their own starting pitcher. The first round choice is already pegged for relief duty by scouts. 

It appears that the Cubs cannot solve their pitching problems by spending any money. Kimbrel and Keuchel are unrestricted free agents, but the Cubs are not thought to be interested in either. Ricketts has said he would not allow the Cubs to go over the luxury cap (where the Cubs payroll was on Game 1). The front office has been squeezing nickels out of dimes to supplement the roster. When the Indians gave up on Carlos Gonzalez (he was hitting .210), the Cubs picked him up for a prorated league minimum (from part of the payroll savings of not paying Zobrist who is on the restricted list). This is like trying to find lost change under the sofa cushions in order to buy a pizza.

Do not be surprised if the Cubs front load more pitchers in this year's draft because that seems to be the overriding need for the system.

May 23, 2019

TOUGH GET GOING

When the going gets tough, the tough get going . . . to Japan.

Carter Stewart, a 19-year old pitcher was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft. Due to an alleged injury, the Braves cut his signing bonus offer in half, to $2 million. Stewart refused the offer. He is now expected to be drafted lower, in the second round.

But he won't be drafted at all. It has been reported that Stewart will by-pass the MLB and sign directly with a Japanese pro team for a six-year deal worth over $7 million.

This is a clever runaround of the draft and stash MLB procedure for young talent. You sign with a team, get a bonus, then toil in the minors from four to six years at a bare minimum salary. He is getting more than his projected $2 million bonus by $5 million. Currently, minor league players are paid from $1100 to $1800 per month depending on what level they are at in the system. At best, he would make $60,000 to $80,000 for six years of minor league service. Japan is giving him $5 million for the same training.

Though he is now committed to playing in Japan through age 25, Stewart will, essentially, enter free agency once he’s finished and be able to sign for whatever the market commands when the time comes. Stewart would be considered a standard international free agent should he play in Japan for the next six years, according to writer Jeff Passan.

In addition, he will have six seasons of higher than MLB minor league experience which could drive up his market value (see, Yu Darvish).

This could be the future for highly prized prospects who do not want to wait years in the minors to get their shot at the Big Show. And this is also a way to avoid being drafted by sink hole franchises like the Marlins.

May 11, 2019

TANDEM

Yu Darvish had another Yu is Darbage outing. Four innings pitched, 97 pitches, 6 walks, one run . . .  his control was awful enough to get seven strikeouts.

Montgomery came back from his injury rehab to throw five innings of winning relief.

Which leads to a problem and a solution.

Darvish cannot command his stuff. Montgomery wants to be a starter. Darvish has such a fragile mental state that Maddon has to take baby steps with him. Monty has been the good soldier since he became a Cub.

At some levels in minor league baseball, teams have a "tandem" system for starting pitchers. In a game, one starter is delegated to throw 3 or 4 innings and then another starter comes in to throw 3 or 4 innings. In theory, this is less strain on a young arm by limiting innings per start. But at the same time, it helps to build up arm strength.

There was always a question on why Montgomery's minor league rehab was to stretch him out like a starting pitcher. The Cubs have their long reliever with Chatwood. But perhaps the Cubs inability to get a real closer is making the front office think about moving Chatwood to a late inning role.

But in the Marlins game, it was shown that the combination of Darvish and Montgomery can work in a "tandem" situation. I would not be surprised that Montgomery will not be used until Darvish's next scheduled start.

May 9, 2019

SYMBOLS & STRIFE

Yesterday, there was more non-baseball news than the actual Cubs-Marlins game.

Russell Addison returned from his 40 game suspension for domestic abuse to a chorus of boos and a light smattering of applause. Theo Epstein stressed before the game that the Cubs, as an organization, gave Russell the opportunity for a second chance for which he had fulfilled his conditions of his return. The Cubs also acknowledged that there would be many fans who would voice their displeasure at the return of a spouse abuser. Epstein said that the fans had their right to their own opinions on this issue.

The Cubs also announced it banned a fan for an alleged racist gesture that was caught on a live, mid-inning broadcast with Doug Glanville. The alleged offensive gesture was an upside down "OK" sign. There is a debate whether this symbol, which is part of a kid's "circle game," was intended to be a racist slur towards Glanville. But others have said that white supremacists have recently adopted this kid's sign as a racist slur. Most people watching the telecast were unaware of the gesture or its meaning. The Cubs stated that it had "zero tolerance" for any racist actions in Wrigley Field. Whether the Cubs did an investigation or interviewed the fan about his intent is unknown.

But the Cubs and ownership have created an even bigger problem. It has been well reported through the release of Joe Ricketts emails of his intolerant behavior toward minorities. Joe Ricketts, through a Cubs press release, apologized for his involvement in racist jokes and intolerant conversations he made in his emails. In the end, there was no further ramifications from that scandal. "Zero tolerance" apparently does not apply to ownership privilege.

The same is true with the inconsistent application of fan speech. The Cubs said it was okay for fans to boo the return of a spouse abuser, but it not okay to make an alleged racist hand sign. There are many more people offended about Russell's alleged criminal conduct than what fans say or do during a game.

If the Cubs have zero tolerance toward a fan's alleged action, why does the Cubs organization have great tolerance for spousal abuse behavior and its patriarch's racist remarks?

May 7, 2019

QUALITY START

What is a real "quality start?"

MLB defines a quality start as:

A starting pitcher records a quality start when he pitches at least six innings and allows three earned runs or fewer. A starting pitcher has two jobs: to prevent runs and get outs. The quality start statistic helps to quantify which pitchers did a "quality" job in those two departments.


This definition of a "quality" yields an absurd result: a pitcher who allows three earned runs over six innings would have an ERA of 4.50 -- not good -- and yet he still receives a quality start. 

Bill James addressed this in his 1987 Baseball Abstract, saying the hypothetical example (a pitcher going exactly 6 innings and allowing exactly 3 runs) was extremely rare among starts recorded as quality starts, and that he doubted any pitchers had an ERA over 3.20 in their quality starts. This was later confirmed through computer analysis of all quality starts recorded from 1984 to 1991, which found that the average ERA in quality starts during that time period was 1.91.

Former pitcher Carl Erskine said "in my day, a quality start was a complete game ... you gave everybody a day's rest." This view was also echoed by Fergie Jenkins who often said that it was his job every time he took the job was to have a complete game win. If he was going against an opponent like Bob Gibson, he knew that he could only give up one or two runs tops in order to win the game.


Growing up, it was the consensus gold standard for a pitcher to have an ERA under 3.00.

To get to that level, a pitcher would have to have these types of starts in order to get the win:

5 IP 1 ER = 1.80 ERA
6 IP 2 ER = 3.00 ERA
9 IP 3 ER = 3.00 ERA

2.57 ERA for 7 IP with 2 ER, but 3.86 ERA with 3 ER.
2.25 ERA for 8 IP with 2 ER, but 3.36 ERA with 3 ER.

Therefore, a quality start should be a scaled event for starting pitchers at points of 1, 2 and 3 earned runs allowed to get under 3.00 ERA.

The oddity in this analysis plays into the rise in the bullpen managed game. A starter with 1 ER in 5 IP can be pulled for a shut down bullpen of under 2.00 ERA to get under a 3.00 ERA for the entire game. Stat men claim that starter's batting average against climbs dramatically when facing a hitter the third time in a game. Managers are not only managing the pitch count but also the number of times through the batting order.

Conclusion: a quality start should be any start that yields a 3.00 ERA or under.

April 21, 2019

LAME DUCKS

Maddon said Morrow, who currently is on the 10-day injured list, struggled in his recovery from throwing off the mound earlier this week.

"The bounceback after the last time out wasn't as good," Maddon said. "So, we've got to back off of him once again and just slow things down. That's just where he's at. It's not unlike what had been going on (last season). It was all trending very well and then, like I said, this last time, just not as good. So, we just have to pay attention to what he's saying."

Pat Hughes was marveling yesterday  on the radio that the home crowd could reach 38,000.
Really? A 70 degree Saturday on a holiday weekend and only get 38,000 fans? It should have been
48,000 standing room only. But the game casts continue to hard sell single game, special event and
suite ticket packages like a desperate snake oil salesman. It is another sign that money is tight for the Cubs. Every unsold ticket is a lost asset.

It does go to show that Ricketts have clamped down on pennies and dimes for the baseball club.
Morrow cannot be counted on returning, and there is zero movement to find his replacement.
Kimbrel is still unemployed which is baffling for clubs in need of relief pitching.

But Theo has repeated his Boston downfall: overspending on players who underperform.
Morrow $21 million; Chatwood $33 million; Darvish $126 million = $180 million bust.
If you add the Hamels $20 million option to cover for the bad Darvish deal, that is an entire
season salary budget on four players.

As Maddon is the lame duck manager, I now wonder if cutting off the dollar taps by ownership
is a real signal that Theo & his Gang are also lame ducks (Theo only has 2 years to go on his contract).

Kenney continues to hype that the new Cubs channel will be like finding an untapped gold mine,
but he is as delusional as Theo was with his recent pitching acquisitions. The Dodger Network deal has been a disaster for broadcast partner Time-Warner. Regional sports networks are in flux due to the Disney-Fox merger. The Cubs trying to start their own network in an era of cord cutting cable viewers without a strong local partner is a recipe for disaster.

The Cubs struggled to get to .500, then Darvish gave up two back-to-back jacks in the first inning to set the tone for another bad day. He calmed down some, but was pulled again in the fifth inning when the offense failed to show up. Now, Chatwood takes the mound for a Lester DL start. The consensus is today's pitching is going to be bad as Chatwood became the lame duck when Hamels returned to help anchor the rotation.

The old saying is true: you cannot win the division early in the season, but you can certainly lose it. The NL Central continues to be highly competitive, with the Pirates surging past the Brewers into first place.

April 9, 2019

CONTRACT EXTENSIONS

 Everyone is trying to figure out the dynamics of a weak free agent market and the rash of player extensions. It may be a simple conversion of complex rational behaviors.

First, for the past several years, front offices have gone off the deep end on Big Data. Teams have figured out new statistics on spin rates, hit ball velocity and motion capture mechanics. Teams can break down their players into computer data. Now teams have more stats (good and bad) on their players to justify lower arbitration offers or free agency passes on veterans who used to be paid on past performance.

Second, while baseball is still generating record revenues, there are storm clouds on the horizon as attendance is down, TV ratings are down, TV advertising (and associated broadcast fees) have hit a plateau and demographics are trending to age out. Kids today would rather spend four hours playing Fortnite than watching a baseball game. In order to keep profit margins, teams are relying more on young, cheap and controllable players to fill major league rosters.

Third, the age of the super-agent is fading away. In the last two off-seasons, agents have missed the market trends, especially for the second tier free agents. Teams were armed with weaponized stats proving that older veterans decline in value after age 30. Teams were only going to pay for future performance, hence lower average annual salaries and contract years. Bryce Harper and Manny Machado got their deals because they were both 26, in their prime production years. Other veterans, including pitchers, still sit on the side lines without a job.

Fourth, veteran players and union officials are mad about the free agency market. They whisper collusion but cannot prove it. They are thinking about striking when the current collective bargaining agreement is over. But the prospect of a strike or a lock out does not sit well with a majority of baseball players. Hence, the surge in player extensions (usually at team friendly rates.)

Mid-February  25 contract extensions have been signed, notably by many young players including Ronald Acuña Jr., Blake Snell,  and Eloy Jiménez, who had yet to have a major league at-bat.  Acuña Jr. and Snell were last year’s Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Award winners while Jiménez could be this year’s ROY.
Acuña, Snell, and Jiménez’s teams locking them up this early in their careers has a two-fold effect: given how good they are (or, in Jiménez’s case, could be), they stand to potentially set salary records going through arbitration. Acuña, for example, was set to become eligible for arbitration for the first time in 2022. His extension is for eight years and $100 million, meaning he won’t become a free agent until after the 2026 season at the earliest. He will earn $15 million in 2022, and $17 million from 2023-26.

Compare that to Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado (who also signed an extension). Arenado earned a $26 million salary going through his final year of arbitration eligibility. Arenado avoided all the potential drama and cross currents of a broken free agent system by taking the familiar guaranteed money of the Rockies. There is some value in the stability of staying with your current team (professionally and family situations).

Agent Scott Boras, who has had many clients getting paid less than he projected, is not happy with these young prospect extensions:

"Great young players are getting what I call snuff contracts. And a snuff contract is that they’re trying to snuff out the market. They know the player is a great player, and he’s exhibited very little performance. So they’re coming to him at 20 and 21, and I’m going to snuff out your ability to move, to go anywhere, to do anything, and your value. And I’m going to pay you maybe 40 cents on the dollar to do it. What’s my risk?"

Ken Rosenthal recent reported that the players believe team representatives are even circumventing the player and his agent by appealing to the players’ families, especially for players with poor and/or Latin American backgrounds. That may help explain why many young players are taking the guaranteed money.  Contract negotiations do not happen in a vacuum. A multimillion dollar guaranteed contract is life changing for most families.

By taking themselves out of the picture, Acuña and Snell cannot set the bar for the industry for players of their caliber, age, and service time, which makes agents jobs much harder to push the boundaries of free agent money. Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel have been caught on the other side looking in as the season started. By testing the free agent waters, Kimbrel and Keuchel have been swept away by teams signing younger players earlier.

But there still are puzzling aspects to contract extensions. The Cubs extended utility infielder David Bote for 5 years, $15 million. Bote is not even a starting player! He is a career .240 hitter. His career WAR is 1.0, not even the level of a AAAA replacement. Yet, Bote went to management and begs for some job security. The 24th man on the roster got his wish with a cash strapped club paying him five times what he was projected to earn in the next 5 years. Teams can still spend oddly in this new era of extensions.

April 4, 2019

TILT

The Cubs have started the urgency of the 2019 campaign like a bunch of Keystone cops falling over each other. It started with horrible pitching, then moved on to terrible fielding, then moved on to lack of hitting, and finally to questionable base running. After another bullpen meltdown, Jon Lester claimed that the team feels "the pressure" from the front office.

Yes, Theo Epstein was mad at the end of last season. He wants the players to take accountability for their performance. Prospects are no longer potential players. He wants results. Now.

But in reality, Epstein is both diverting the blame and redirecting his anger against ownership. He created this roster of underperforming, overpaid pitchers. He created the atmosphere of dread by not extending Joe Maddon's contract. He overspent on players in the past two seasons which gave him no payroll flexibility in this off-season to fix any glaring problems.

In all levels of the organization, the Cubs have fallen flat on their faces.

The fan angst will boil with another Yu Darvish start. He says he is fine; his pitching coach thinks there is a problem with his pelvic tilt; or vice versa. The embrace of big data in pitching (the
Cubs have a motion capture system where each pitcher in spring training threw a "base line" delivery) is further messing with the mental aspects of the pitcher's routine. Carl Edwards suddenly showed up in the first series with a new (illegal) delivery. There is no confidence that the coaching staff has any real insight or control of the staff.

But things get stranger. In the midst of the losing streak, David Bote suddenly gets a five year, $15 million extension. WTF? Bote got an extension before Schwarber, Almora, Baez or Contreras? Bote is not even a STARTER. Why is he getting a raise five times more than he would normally earn? Is Theo a spendthrift? Or was this giving ownership a quick middle finger? Clearly, the front office is also on tilt with this extension.

The team is playing bad, the front office has no answers, and the Brewers are off to a hot start. This all plays into the gloom and doom of the season opening 9 game road trip.

March 28, 2019

THE INDICTMENT

The national news is filled with Chicago criminal headlines of celebrity favoritism, clout and pandering to voters. But the real indictment is the following:

When you looking at this pitching staff, what do you see?

STARTING PITCHERS
Yu Darvish
Cole Hamels
Kyle Hendricks
Jon Lester
Jose Quintana



RELIEF PITCHERS
Brad Brach
Tyler Chatwood
Steve Cishek
Carl Edwards Jr.
Brandon Kintzler
Mike Montgomery
Randy Rosario
Pedro Strop


The answer is obvious and criminal: none of these pitchers were drafted and developed by Theo Epstein.

Every one came by trade or free agency. 

In seven years (seven amateur drafts), Epstein and company have failed to draft a pitcher and develop them to be on this year's 2019 Opening Day roster.  

As a result, the starting rotation is the financial sinkhole of the team. If you include 6th starter Tyler Chatwood, the rotation's payroll is $97.9 million (or 47.5% of total budget).

The bullpen does not have a real, full time quality closer. Brandon Morrow is still on injured reserve, but his health for 2019 is always going to be a nagging issue. 

As we have opined for years, the lack of developing home grown pitchers is killing the Cubs ability to make moves, keep a youthful core and combat arm injuries. Now, without any money to spend in case of injury, the Cubs are in a very tight spot in a very competitive NL Central.

March 22, 2019

ONE OF THE GREAT GREATS

The last bow of a legend came in his home country. Irchiro Suzuki announced his retirement after the second game of the early season. As MLBTR stated:

With these two games, the 2653rd game of his MLB career,  Ichiro, 45,  has now appeared in parts of the last 28 seasons in both Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball, completing one of the most remarkable careers in the history of the sport.  Over 951 games with the Orix Buffaloes in Japan and then 2653 games with the Mariners, Yankees, and Marlins in North America, Ichiro recorded more professional hits than any player ever.

Heading into today’s action, Ichiro had an incredible 4367 career hits — 1278 in NPB, and 3089 in MLB, reaching the 3000-hit club in the majors despite not playing his first North American game until he was already 27 years old.

After nine years as a star in Japan, Ichiro made a heavily-anticipated jump to the majors prior to the 2001 season after the Mariners won a posting bid to acquire his services.  The transition was more than just seamless — Ichiro’s debut in the Show saw him hit .350/.381/.457 over a league-high 738 plate appearances for a 116-win Mariners team.  He became just the second player to win both the Rookie Of The Year and MVP Awards in the same year, also winning the first of three Silver Slugger Awards and the first of 10 Gold Gloves.

Ichiro’s smooth left-handed hitting stroke and quick acceleration out of the box made him a threat to reach base every time he made contact.  Perhaps the most notable of his many achievements was setting a new single-season hits record in 2004, as his 262 hits broke the 84-year-old mark formerly held by Hall-of-Famer George Sisler.

Ichiro’s defense and baserunning were perhaps just as impressive as his exploits at the plate.  He stole a league-best 56 bases in 2001, and finished his career with 509 steals, tied for 35th-most in Major League history.  As a right fielder, Ichiro unleashed a throwing arm that instantly drew comparisons to Roberto Clemente in terms of both power and accuracy.

While his skills inevitably declined with age, Ichiro did his best to stave off Father Time, playing past his 45th birthday due a fitness regime and nonstop preparation.  This work ethic helped make Ichiro one of the most respected players of recent times, idolized by both fans and teammates alike all over the world.

Irchiro ends his MLB career with a 59.4 WAR, .311 career BA, 117 HR, 780 RBI, 509 SB and 3,089 hits. His career is comparable to Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Lou Brock and Tony Gwynn. Despite his accomplishments, Irchiro probably had the "quietest" superstar career in MLB history.

March 16, 2019

BAD RULE CHANGES

Despite the increasing bad blood between the players union and owners in regard to the stagnant free agent market, MLB is pushing forward with some terrible rule changes.

CHANGES EFFECTIVE IN 2019
 
Inning breaks: Subject to discussions with broadcast partners, inning breaks will be reduced from 2:05 to 2:00 in local games and from 2:25 to 2:00 in national games. The Commissioner’s Office retains the right to further reduce the breaks to 1:55 in local and national games for the start of the 2020 season.


REACTION: Hold my beer!!!!! That is a whopping 6 minutes of alleged time saved during a game.

Trade Deadline: The waiver trade period will be eliminated. The July 31 Trade Deadline will be the only deadline. Players may still be placed and claimed on outright waivers after July 31, but trades will no longer be permitted after that date.


REACTION: A hard deadline affects all teams the same. The change in the waiver rule only helps bad teams who can make a claim of a good player trying to be sent down (when another player is activated from the DL).

All Star Game: As far as the game itself is concerned, the 10th inning -- and all subsequent innings -- of All-Star Games that go into extra innings will begin with a runner on second base.



REACTION: A horrid rule!  It FUNDAMENTALLY alters the foundation of the game: earning your way on base by a hit, a walk, a dropped third strike or catcher interference. But to put a runner in scoring position with no outs is a face slap to the origins of the game AND the poor pitcher who starts the inning in an artificial hole. This does not speed up the game because the pitcher now has to slow down and concentrate more, since the runner on second is trying to steal the signs.

Home Run Derby: Total player prize money for the Home Run Derby will be increased to $2.5 million. The winner receives $1 million.



REACTION: Who cares? It is an exhibition game.

Mound visits: The maximum number of mound visits per team will be reduced from six to five per game. MLB had instituted an initial mound-visit limitation prior to the 2018 season.


REACTION: Woo-hoo Johnny, that change saves a whopping 4 minutes in game time (2 minutes each for each team.)

CHANGES IN 2020 SEASON:
 
Active roster provisions: The roster size from Opening Day through Aug. 31 will increase from 25 to 26 (with the minimum number of active players rising from 24 to 25, and roster sizes for doubleheaders rising from 26 to 27).


REACTION: Adding another player but limiting the number of pitchers on the roster to 13 in regular season (and 14 in September) does nothing to help the players union beef on service time. Contending teams used to call up a half dozen players to help them win games down the stretch; including more relievers and specialty players like pinch runners or defensive specialists who could not make the regular season roster. Also, it is not like the 26th man is going to be a big money veteran player. More likely it will be the team's best AAAA earning the minimum salary.

The 40-man active roster for September will be eliminated. From Sept. 1 through the end of the regular season, all clubs will carry 28 players.


REACTION: Again, adding just two players does not help if a team is struggling with a tired arm pitching staff (especially with new restrictions on batters relievers must face and the inability to use position players as mop up guys). In the past, a team could bring up 15 players or their entire 40 man roster up in September. No one did, but they could. If a team does not want to pay for extra players, why penalize a team that wants or needs to do so?

Furthermore, the number of pitchers a club can carry on the active roster will be capped at a certain number, to be decided by a joint committee. (But MLB is suggesting 13 in regular season; 14 in September). To adhere to that rule, clubs will have to designate each of their players as either a pitcher or a position player prior to each player’s first day on the active roster for a given season. That designation cannot change for the remainder of the season.

Position players will not be allowed to pitch except in the following scenarios:

They are designated as a “Two-Way Player.” A player can only qualify for this designation if he accrues at least 20 Major League innings pitched and at least 20 Major League games started as a position player or designated hitter (with at least three plate appearances in each of those games) in either the current or the prior season.

Extra innings.
In any game in which his team is losing or winning by more than six runs when he enters as a pitcher.


REACTION: I guess this is the Otani Rule, where clubs will have to scout Japan to find the next SP-OF star. This anal retentive rule about telling the world if you are a position player or pitcher is stupid. They are all BASEBALL PLAYERS. As kids, we played all the positions depending on the circumstances. I can see dumb unintended consequences such as a manager pulling his pitcher and place him in the outfield for a reliever (which is still fine), then have the reliever get an out then switch with the original pitcher (because who says a reliever has to pitch 3 "consecutive" batters, see below). Let the managers manage for gosh sakes.

Three-batter minimum for pitchers: Rule 5.10(g) will be amended to require that starting pitchers and relief pitchers must pitch to either a minimum of three batters or to the end of a half-inning, with exceptions for incapacitating injury or illness. This will effectively end the so-called “LOOGY” (left-handed one-out guy) and other specialist roles in which pitchers are brought in for one very specific matchup.

REACTION: Another terrible rule because it destroys in-game strategy. The rule is another feeble attempt to speed up play, but it will not do it because the new rule forces a manager to leave a starter in longer. A struggling starter takes more time between pitches. A reliever is on a shorter pitch count than a starter, so instead of throwing a dozen pitches in consecutive days, a reliever can be used up after one appearance. That creates more wear and tear on pitchers . . . equates to more injuries and expensive DL time.

Injured list: The minimum time a player spends on the injured list will be increased back to 15 days from 10, and the minimum assignment period of pitchers who are optionally assigned to the minors will increase from 10 days to 15. MLB had reduced the minimum injured list period to 10 days prior to the 2017 season to reduce the incentive for teams to play shorthanded or for players having to play at less than full strength. However, teams manipulated the rule change to rotate relievers on and off their active rosters, thereby maintaining a full stash of rested arms, which resulted in more pitching changes.


REACTION: Teams were trying to PUT THE BEST PRODUCT on the field. Now, they are penalized for using their full 40 man roster? If MLB wants more action by having tired, injured and bad players on the field, then let the batters hit off tees and run around the bases like little kids.

None of these rule changes help the game. It is trying to hack a quality video game. 

If you really want to speed up play of the game, do not allow batters to leave the batter's box after the first pitch (except if they are knocked down or a foreign object gets into their eyes). A batter takes 10 seconds between pitches to re-set his gloves and armor. In a 300 pitch game, that is 50 minutes of dead air. Once a batter is in the box, the ball remains live. If he steps out, the pitcher can throw home for a ball or strike. Remember, current rules allow the umpire not the player to call time out. Umpires can speed up the game by not giving batters unlimited time outs to step out of the box. In fact, quick pitchers like Mark Buerhle got the game into a fast rhythm that home plate umpires liked (and subliminally helped him with calls).

March 8, 2019

ODDITIES FROM CUB CAMP

It was very strange that the Cubs reworked new reliever Brach's contract.

The Cubs just signed him, but then after a week of spring training, decided to rework the deal.

The deal basically back loaded the original money into the second year, saving about a million dollars in payroll for 2019.

If the Cubs are so tight with cash now to rework a middle reliever's new deal, things are going to be a problem throughout the season if injuries to pitchers come to the forefront as many experts have predicted. The reason for this situation has been that Epstein and Hoyer have yet to draft and develop any major league starting pitcher. Instead, they have had to rely on more expensive, veteran arms to fill the pitching staff. Worse, the Cubs farm system now ranks near the bottom.

Another oddity is that there really is no competition for any roster spot. Usually there is a competition for at least a bench role or a starting pitcher or relief arms. But the Cubs, since they did not do any major moves, are basically bringing back the 2018 squad. Delcasco replaced LaStella as the last bench player. Brach replaces Chavez.

As a result, Cub fans have not been excited about spring training. Most of the recent off season news have been about off-the-field transgressions by players and ownership. The PERCOTA prediction of 79 wins did not sit well with the club (even though the history of those predictions is very poor). But the rest of the NL Central has improved more so than the Cubs.

It is also odd that a team with 95 victories is making their star manager go through the final season of his contract without an extension. The writing seems to be on the wall that the front office is at odds with Maddon over how he has run the club. But the front office also has to be held accountable for the revolving door of hitting instructors. Maddon, and his $6 million salary, appear to be gone at the end of the season, barring a World Championship.

The question remains will the players play hard for a lame duck manager. A few need to prove themselves: Bryant and Darvish coming back from injuries; Contreras from a bad year at the plate.

The Cubs will start the season with the bad finish of 2018 front and center. Is there enough leaders in the young core to motivate the club to keep the championship window open?

March 2, 2019

NO COMPETITION

Spring training is supposed to be about the competition of players to earn a spot on the major league roster. The Cubs are in the unique and boring position of having no roster battles. The 25 man roster was set prior to the camp opener.

The only mystery will come in May when the team has to decide to add Addison Russell back to the roster, and when Brandon Morrow returns from the DL.

But other than those in-season moves, the Cubs roster is set:

Rotation:
1. Lester
2. Darvish
3. Hamels
4. Hendricks
5. Quintana

Bullpen:
1. Chatwood, long relief spot starter
2. Montgomery, long relief spot starter
3. Kintzler mop up duty
4. Duensing
5. Rosario
6. Brach
7. Cishek
8. Strop

Outfield:
1 Almora
2. Schwarber
3. Heyward
4. Happ

Infield:
1. Bryant
2. Baez
3. Zobrist
4. Rizzo
5. Descalso

Catcher:
1. Contreras
2. Caratini

It is basically the second half 2018 team with the addition of Brach and Descalso.

February 24, 2019

THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

Last season, Joe Maddon used 152 different line ups.

He used to text his players the night before the game what the line up would be.

This year, he says he will change this routine. He will now text line ups for the entire series. But this does not mean the Cubs are changing to a set, regular line up.

Yahoo Sports writes that that is not going to happen. Maddon doesn't want a stable lineup with 7-8 regulars playing every day. Theo Epstein doesn't want it. Jed Hoyer doesn't want it. The "Geek Squad" doesn't recommend it. And the roster doesn't allow for it. In theory.

If the Cubs have a 3-game set beginning on a Monday night in boring ole St. Louis, for example, Maddon or new bench coach Mark Loretta plan to text players on that Sunday night to let them know what the projected lineups would be for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The whole "set lineup" narrative got a lot of traction last year as an ill-informed potential reason for why the Cubs lineup may have struggled or why some young players took a step back. It picked up steam the day after the Cubs were stunned in that National League Wild-Card game. Some players have quietly complained to management that they do not like the day to day uncertainty of the line up.

"Part of it is developmental, part of it is match up. Some of it's trying to put you in a situation to make you look better. It takes time for young players to understand it. I think veterans get that a little bit better. Even though a veteran might want to play more often, he understands his role may be in this and it might be the best thing for him. It just takes time," Maddon said.

Part of the problem is that Maddon likes a roster with players playing multiple positions. This gives him more flexibility to find better hitter match ups. But playing multiple players out of their natural position does hurt their defensive metrics. Last season the Cubs took a large set back in the team's overall defense.

Also, the Cubs still do not have a traditional lead off hitter who can get on base for the run producers in the second, third and clean up spots. Stat gurus now quibble with the notion of the old school lead off hitter being important in line up construction, but baserunners are still key in even a home run centric era.  

Players are creatures of habit. If they know they are going to bat second every time they play in the field, it is one less thing to worry about. But Maddon has his players batting anywhere from lead off to 9th. 

The Cubs do have fielders that deserve a regular, everyday spot in a set line up: Rizzo, Bryant, Contreras, Baez and possibly Zobrist (if Russell does not make the club). The rest of the line up can be in a regular platoon situation.

For example:

1. ______________
2. Bryant 3B
3. Rizzo 1B
4. Baez SS/2B
5. Contreras C
6. ______________
7. ______________
8. ______________

If Russell stays, he is a shortstop batting near #8, possibly sharing time with Bote.
Happ and Almora could platoon in CF.
Heyward, depending on his start, would be in RF platooning with Zobrist or even Bryant.
Schwarber has LF to lose, but he could platoon with Happ and Zobrist as well.

But you can set a "regular" portion of the line up (two through five) quite easily, but Maddon is stubborn in his ways.

February 23, 2019

A DUMB IDEA

Major League Baseball has formally announced the implementation of a 20-second pitch clock to be tested during Spring Training games. Jeff Passan of ESPN reported minutes prior to the announcement that it’d be made today. Per the league’s announcement, there has been no decision made regarding the potential implementation of the pitch clock during the upcoming regular season, though Passan tweeted that there is a “very real possibility” of that happening.

Early in Spring Training, as players adjust to the latest pace-of-play tactic put in place by commissioner Rob Manfred, there will not be any ball or strike penalties for pitch-clock violations. By the second week of games, umpires will begin to issue warnings, and eventually, umps “will be instructed to begin assessing ball-strike penalties for violations.”

Notably, the pitch clock comes with numerous restrictions. It does not apply to the first pitch of a plate appearance, and the pitcher need only start his motion before the clock expires rather than deliver the actual pitch. Hitters will be required to be in the batter’s box by the time there are five seconds remaining on the clock, and the clock will reset when the pitcher receives the ball back from the catcher.

On pickoff plays, the clock will reset when the pitcher once again receives the ball from the infielder to whom he threw. The clock will also reset if pitchers feint a pickoff motion or step off the rubber with a runner on base. Mound visits will also cause the clock to reset. If an umpire calls or grants time, the pitch clock will not be used on the following pitch (unless time was called to swap out a ball thrown in the dirt).

Manfred has the ability to unilaterally implement the pitch clock for the 2019 regular season even if he does not come to an agreement on its implementation with the players’ union. However, Passan notes — as does today’s release announcing the clock — that the league will continue to negotiate with the players in search of an agreement on the matter.

>>> I have real problems with the proposed pitch clock.

1. It does not speed up the game because the biggest waste of time is the batter getting out of the batter's box, adjusting and re-setting. By giving the  batter 15 seconds and the pitcher then only 5 seconds to start his delivery is nonsense because the catcher can't relay the signs in hurry with 5 seconds to go.

2. Pitchers can beat the clock by stepping off the rubber when a man is on base. That will become a common strategy which adds time to the game.

3. If an umpire calls time (like they have been conditioned since the beginning of time), the pitch clock is not used on the next pitch. This is a glaring inconsistency within the rule itself. It then rewards slower play.

4. The idea of an artificial ball or strike because a pitch was not made is a mockery to the essence of the game.

5. The rule is too complex and will be ripe for abuse by batters and umpires.

If the Commissioner really wants to speed up the game, have the ball live whenever the pitcher has it in his possession. That means he can throw it if the hitter is out of the batter's box adjusting his equipment. Mark Buerhle used to throw consistent 2 1/2 hour games because he got the ball and threw it in a rhythm that the batter had to adjust to.

February 22, 2019

PAINTED IN THE CORNER

The Cubs bumping up to the luxury tax threshold which Ownership refuses to surpass, the Cubs have to go to battle with the guys they have under contract.

The lack of flexibility and the vacuum of AAA talent has painted the Cubs front office into a corner.

How trapped are they?

This year, very.

Next year?

The following contracts are set to fall off the books for 2020:

Hamels SP $20 million
Zobrist IN $12 million
Chisek RP $6.5 million
Kintzler RP $5 million

A total of $43.5 million will be freed up next season.

Is that a lot?

Probably not.

If you add in the exit of Joe Maddon's $6 million salary, the net figure probably goes up to $48.5 million.

The problem is that the Cubs have been in a cycle of constantly rebuilding their pitching staff because the Epstein-McLeod scouting machine has failed to draft and develop a quality starting pitcher. They don't have the pitching prospects to make veteran trades so they continually have to overpay for relief pitchers. This off-season the Cubs had to lurk around the discount bin to land Brach.With Morrow's return uncertain, there seems to be the likelihood of a closer-by-committee bullpen.

February 19, 2019

A STUMBLING START

To be objective, the Cubs stumbled into spring training.  The off-season story lines were less baseball and more "sand in the ice cream" moments for fans.

After months of educated speculation, Tom Ricketts finally admitted that the Cubs had no money to spend this off-season. As some critics retorted, he really meant to say he had the money but would not spend it. His answer lacked credibility. Ownership set a hard line payroll and operations budget. Theo Epstein could not knock down that wall. From one calculation, Epstein has booked $376 million in unproductive contracts. That was the knock that got him booted in Boston, bad dead money deals (Crawford, Gonzalez, etc.) The one thing die hard fans, who know the championship window is short, is that your team cannot spend any money to fix last season's problems.

Another family stumble and subsequent bumble was Daddy Ricketts racist emails. A baseball business that prides itself on being inclusive (because everybody's money is green) was extremely slow to address the Joe Ricketts story. And when Tom Ricketts addressed the media, he came off defending his father's tactless posts than appeasing the public's negative reaction to the story.

Piling on to the narrative was the fact that the Cubs have partnered with the most right wing extremist media company, Sinclair, to launch the new Cubs network. There is a partial "guilt by association" splatter when the new cable channel was announced by the business operations folks like Crane Kenney. But Kenney came off clueless with the changing dynamics of cable and entertainment distribution. He is still following the failed Dodger model. Yes, the team got its money but the cable partner got burned at the stake. Other cable operators in LA refused to pay the carriage fees for a Dodgers only channel. So, less than half of the coverage area can see Dodger games. And that number is shrinking because people are revolting from high cable bills (mostly unwanted sports add-ons) by cord cutting.

Besides the political incorrectness with Sinclair, the "sales pitch" of the new regional sports channel was a thud. An introductory rate of "only" $6 per month per subscriber was received as a greedy slap in the face. Lost on the Cubs is that their former home, Comcast, is the largest cable provider in the metro area. Comcast could probably say it will not carry the new Cubs network because it has its own sports channel (featuring White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks). Comcast is not going to push away its current subscribers to a $100/month cable bill just for the Cubs sake.

It is possible that the revenue projections and "investment" outside the baseball team have come to haunt the Ricketts. They bought the team with the largest debt in baseball history. That has to be coming due. They over built around Wrigley Field. They are pushing premium prices for everything around and inside the ball park. It is pushing our the casual fan and families. If the new network was going to be the revenue savior, that will not be the case. The Cubs will have build their own broadcast studios, invest in new programs to cover the 24 hours of time to fill, and to find advertisers who have bolted from TV and cable for internet platforms (Google and Facebook).

Then finally, the Addison Russell long over due press conference came off as an over-coached, lawyered-up, one memorized answer fail. Veteran beat reporters came away scratching their heads. Russell did not appear contrite. He did not sound sincere. His delivery was robotic and terrible. And he refused to admit even the basic allegations. Those who were critical of his behavior believed they had confirmed the worst. Many blame the Cubs for giving Russell a second chance when you are selling the Cubs as "family friendly" entertainment. But Russell is one of "Theo's guys," so management is going out of its way to protect their player, even though Russell has been trending down in production the past two years.

As spring training opened, there was little baseball buzz in Cubs camp as the non-baseball issues dominate the media and sports radio. And the Cubs PR machine broke down and did not handle any of them well.

February 15, 2019

NEW RULES

League executives think that they must continually tinker with their sports rules in order to make their product "better."

The NFL went through several seasons tinkering with what constitutes "a catch" to the dismay of most fans.

Baseball has caught the tinkering bug. 

The trial balloons floated this off-season could fill a New Mexico sky.

PITCH CLOCK.  MLB wants to speed up games from 3.5 hours to a more manageable 3 hours or less. The reason is TV. TV wants clear start and stop times for their program blocks. They don't like 4 hour games. Since the action starts on the mound, MLB thinks that putting a pitcher on a 20 second pitch clock would speed up the game. But there is no cause and effect between the time a pitcher receives the ball on the mound on whether the throw will be a strike, ball or hit into play.

The real problem in dragging down the sequence is in the batter's box. After every pitch, a batter gets out of the box to adjust his armor, re-digs a foot hole, and makes several practice swings. A more feasible solution already exists; once a batter gets into the box, the ball is live. The batter should stay in the box for the entire at bat (with the exception of being knocked down). If a batter takes 15 seconds to reset after every pitch, and there are 250 pitches a game, in theory you could save an hour.

BAN THE SHIFT. MLB wants more offense, which means more balls in play. The big data stat gurus can plot the tendencies of every hitter and make comparison predictions on every type of pitch and pitcher. Teams employ the shift in order position the defense where the ball is most likely to be hit. Hitters complain that three fielders on one side makes it unfair, especially if one is in short right field.

But the solution is simple: learn to hit the ball where they ain't. If three players are on one side of the infield, there is a huge hole on the other side. Learn to hit the ball to the opposite field. Bunt for a single. There are many strategic alternatives an offense can employ to negate the shift. But hitters don't think they will get paid for drag bunts or measly singles. They are taught launch angles, hard contact and home run swings.  They have not adapted to the new defensive alignments.

EXTRA INNINGS. MLB wants to end games quicker. It believes extra innings are boring and harmful to bullpens. So the idea is to drastically alter the fundamentals of the game by placing a runner at second base, in scoring position, for each extra inning. Why "gift" a runner in scoring position? Does that make the runner who scores "unearned?"

Other leagues have adopted quick finish overtimes. Th NFL has its strange rule where one team can win the game after the OT coin toss. Hockey adds a short extra period with less skaters, and if that does not work, a shoot-out. Soccer uses the shoot out only after another full period of regular play.

Baseball has always been a timeless game of innings. Only players, not rules, can manufacture scoring on the field. A problem with hitting philosophy today is that managers do not make their players manufacture runs (get a walk or bunt single, steal a base, perform a sacrifice fly) because those aspects of the game do not help an individual player's WAR or contract value. If a team wants to win a close game, you put pressure on the defense by manufacturing a winning run.

THREE BATTER RULE. MLB is fed up with the bullpen specialist. Managers are using one relief pitcher for one batter, then making multiple pitching changes in one inning. It seems like the strategy makes the game drag on. But the manager is paid to win games, and he has to use his roster to get his players the best opportunity to succeed. By forcing a pitcher to throw to at least 3 batters would actually artificially increase the change of injury to bullpen arms (not protecting valuable arms because specialization is now normal with 13 man bullpens).

The obvious way to lessen the impact of bullpen use is to get one's starters to pitch deeper into games. The large bullpens makes it easier to pull a starter in the 4th inning instead of the expected 7th or 8th inning performance. Also, if you want to make the strategy to use pitchers longer in games, mandate that teams can only have 11 pitchers on their staff (5 starters and 6 relievers). Bullpens would then have to be assembled with different roles from closer (1 IP) to set up men (1-2 IP) to real middle relievers (2-3 IP).

For every proposed rule, there is something already in the game to solve the alleged problem.  More rules equate to more confusion.

February 8, 2019

THE BANE OF THE CUBS

The Great Failure of Team Theo is the lack of development of one starting pitcher.

The Tribune's Mark Gonzalez finds that this is a troublesome development, especially when Theo's Plan B, buy pitching, has hit a fiscal brick wall. The Cubs traded one of the few pitching prospects, Dylan Cease, to the White Sox (with star OF prospect Eloy Jimenez) for Jose Quintana, a quality starter for a team in the position to win now.

Cease was still in low Class A at the time — two full seasons after returning from surgery.

The Cubs have been open about their failure to develop a deep pool of homegrown pitchers despite an abundance of candidates, and they have vowed to push those pitchers harder than in the past.

“We have to re-evaluate what we’ve been doing because it hasn’t been working,” Jason McLeod, the Cubs’ senior vice president of scouting and player development, said last month at the Cubs Convention. “It’s really that — looking at ourselves and looking at some of the things we can do to change that.”

Given the age and cost of their projected 2019 rotation, the Cubs have an urgent need to develop young starting pitchers. Cole Hamels (age 35), John Lester (35) and  Yu Darvish (32) will earn $62.5 million in base salaries, with Hamels scheduled to be a free agent after this season and Lester after 2020 unless he meets certain innings benchmarks.

Cease, one of seven pitchers selected by the Cubs in the first 10 rounds of the 2014 draft, isn’t the only pitching prospect the Cubs have traded for veteran help. They dealt 2013 10th-round pick Zack Godley to land catcher Miguel Montero in 2014. And they traded 2012 supplemental first-round pick Paul Blackburn in a deal for Mike Montgomery in 2016. The result has been a reliance on the free-agent and trade markets to fill out their rotation at a high cost. None of those pitchers have set the league on fire.

We have expressed frustration in the past as half of the draft classes were used on pitching prospects.
The irony is that the Cubs scouting department and minor league coaches are good at drafting and signing hitters as the roster is full of home grown talent. The best prospects are still in Class A, a long way from showing any major league potential.

Some teams seem to have a higher level of competence than others. The White Sox have a ton of quality starting pitchers in their minor league system. Their problem is that they cannot draft and develop hitters (especially under the Kenny Williams GM days).

The only way the Cubs can change this major sink hole is to hire the best pitching development coordinators from a proven major league organization. But that is easier said than done.

February 6, 2019

THE NEW OLD SYSTEM

For the past week, team equipment trucks have been motoring to Arizona and Florida. Spring training begins in about a week.

But about half of the Top 50 free agents remain unsigned. And the prospects of mega-deal long term contracts are fading fast.

The new free agent dogma is actually the renewal of the old ownership system. Way back, teams used to be owned by individuals or families. The baseball club was their sole business. They operated it like a mom and pop store. If they could get by cutting corners (player salaries) to make a profit, they made a profit first.

Small market clubs still operate under that guide line. Low attendance, small fan base, and lower local television deals means these clubs are under financial pressure against signing a player to a large contract. But under the CBA and baseball rules, all the small market teams have enhanced revenue sharing from the league, and extra draft picks to acquire "cheap" young talent to remain "competitive."

General managers now covet draft picks because they can retain a player for six years (three in arbitration) at a relative small cost. The farm system is now the most important aspect of the operations. If you can draft and develop talent consistently, your team can be frugal, competitive and profitable.

In order to do so, teams now "tank" more often to obtain higher "can't miss" prospects. It is okay to tank if you have very little fans to complain (see, Marlins.)

You have now about one-third (1/3) of MLB clubs at the bottom in salary budgets, many whom have little desire but to tank to acquire top ten draft picks.

You have the top four spenders, big market clubs, who are at the luxury cap limit of $206 million. These previously annual big spenders do not want to go over the salary cap because of the financial and draft penalties. To take on a salary like Harper's $30 million/year $300 million total, it could cost a team over the cap as much as another $300 million in penalties over that ten year period. To avoid that, the team would have to off-set or cut $30 million a year for the duration of the contract (which some GMs would classify as three veteran players or four quality relief pitchers in value.)

The rest of the clubs position themselves to spend $100 to $150 million per year. If their division is weak, like the AL Central, they could be in contention most of the season (thus validating their "plan" to their fans). Fair weather fans might return so everybody is happy. But with an average starting pitcher making $10 million, a team could have almost one-third of their payroll in a rotation. That leaves an average salary of $4 million for every other player on the roster. That is why prospects being paid the league minimum ($555,000) are so important as they free up money to sign or retain veteran players (second tier).

Player agents may be late to recognize this new paradigm being the old system before steroid fueled free agency. Teams now have the MBAs, computer geeks and stat analysts crunching big data to find that players over 30 in the non-steroid era are not as valuable or productive going forward. So many teams have been burned by long term, dead money contracts to be gun-shy about signing another player demanding even more money.

It seems that Harper's foray (or folly) into free agent basically ended when he rejected the Nationals pre-free agency extension of $300 million/30 years. Machado has not formally rejected the White Sox $175 million offer, but it seems no one else has topped it. The Phils said they would spend "stupid money," and if that was the case Harper and/or Machado would have had last month a press conference in Philadelphia. Agents must be frustrated by the "take it or leave it" offers from teams (who are giving their best contract first without being pushed and pulled by other teams or the agent.) Free agency is no longer a live auction between teams. It is more like a Priceline value search.

January 25, 2019

TINKERING FOR OFFENSE

One of the reasons teams now go less on starting rotations to more workload on bullpens is the disabled list. Yahoo Sports:

One of the changes brought forth by the 2016 Collective Bargaining Agreement was the reduction of the minimum disabled list stay from 15 days to ten days. At the time this seemed like a win-win. If they only faced being out ten days rather than 15, players would be under less pressure to play through an injury. Likewise, teams would be less likely to play shorthanded while injuries were assessed.

Teams began to use the DL as a means of cycling pitchers on and off the roster, allowing them to bring in fresh arms with greater frequency. The result: a significant increase in the amount of players used, particularly relief pitchers. Bullpenning strategies that have developed over the past couple of years have been greatly aided by a shorter DL stay. Such strategies, in turn, have contributed to a reduction in offense.

The Associated Press reports Major League Baseball has proposed going back to a 15-day disabled list and increasing the time optioned players usually must spend in the minor leagues, a person familiar with the negotiations tells The Associated Press, moves aimed at reducing the use of relief pitchers and reviving offense.

This bargained for operational rule does get more players on active major league rosters (with prorate MLB pay and benefits) so the union must like the 10 day DL. But perhaps the owners have found that adding players to payrolls (with benefits count toward the luxury cap) for the sole purpose of extending the 25 man roster to a turn style 30 man team is not worth the cost.  

MLB does want offense. The home run derby days during the Steroid Era helped keep baseball from having serious financial issues. If the game is deemed "boring" for lack of scoring, then casual fans will swipe their streaming device to find some other form of entertainment.

January 18, 2019

SO QUIET THERE ARE NO WHISPERS

This off-season has been quieter than a strict library.

It has been dominated by the lack of offers for superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.

But what is even more telling on how bad the market is for players is the other free agents who are not getting the attention; it is like a playoff roster waiting for an expansion team.

Yahoo sports broke down the unsigned talent:

Pos. Name fWAR
C Matt Wieters 1.3
C Martin Maldonado 1.0
1B Logan Morrison 0.8
2B Asdrubal Cabrera 2.0
3B Mike Moustakas 2.8
SS Manny Machado 5.0
LF Marwin Gonzalez 1.8
CF A.J. Pollock 3.1
RF Bryce Harper 4.9
IF Jose Iglesias 1.1
IF Josh Harrison 0.8
OF Adam Jones 0.8
OF Carlos Gonzalez 0.9

Total 26.3     
At 26.3 fWAR, the Free Agent Team would have projected the ninth-most offensive fWAR in the league. It’s a well-balanced team with solid power and versatility that slots ahead of the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians and New York Mets. The pitchers on the market are well known names, but like most pitchers they are on the second half of their career. But there are a few All-Stars on that list.

Pos. Name fWAR
SP Dallas Keuchel 3.3
SP Brett Anderson 1.3
SP Wade Miley 1.1
SP Clay Buchholz 1.0
SP Gio Gonzalez 0.8
CL Craig Kimbrel 2.1
RP Cody Allen 0.5
RP Bud Norris 0.3
RP Ryan Madson 0.1
RP Brad Brach 0.1
RP Justin Wilson 0.1
RP Drew Pomeranz 0.8

Total 11.5

January 14, 2019

NEW METRICS PLAYER VALUE

The Machado rumors heated up with contradictory reports on the White Sox latest offer
(is it 7 years or 8 years? $200 million or $225 million?)

I read an interesting follow up article on the new aspect of the off-season: "player values."
Player agents are using the old system to value their clients: WAR from past seasons
was worth $8 to 10 million.


Teams have economists look at a new stat: player revenue generation. How much more
revenue does a free agent bring to the team? Teams found it is only about $1.5 million/WAR.

The great divide in valuation is probably better expressed as what a player brings to the table.
If a team is about winning, great. But most teams are now about making money because of
high debt loads and investors wanted return on their investment (dividends).


A team like the White Sox could get a substantial revenue jump with signing Machado.
If he draws in another 5,000 fans a home game, that would be at least $20 million in new revenue.
But that may not be enough to get his $30 million/season asking price. If he draws 10,000 more
fans per game, then he works as a profit center and a good team investment.

Teams like the Nationals are already at their local revenue ceiling. Signing Harper would not
increase the top line at all. How many new season ticket holders will there be if Harper re-signs?
Not many.

This is why teams are more focused on touting and developing their minor league players.
When they get to the majors, they are paid a league minimum. For home games, it costs
the team about $6,800. If a rookie can generate enough buzz to get more than 140 new fans
through the gate, the team is making positive revenue growth at minimum cost.

Teams are now looking at two component for player value. First, past performance metrics.
Second, cost-benefit analysis on whether the player will enhance local revenues. The latter seems
to be gathering more traction in front offices.

January 5, 2019

CATCH-22

You are damned if you do; and damned if you don't.


Catch-22.


It continues to be a quiet off-season for the Cubs, though president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said in the Chicago Tribune  that the team remains active in exploring various options for upgrades.  “There are times to be aggressive and times to be patient, and there are times when you can be aggressive and times where you have to be patient,” Epstein said.  “Every off-season is unique. We’re working hard, and there are a lot of things we’re trying to do behind to the scenes to make sure we have a successful season next year.  I know thus far we haven’t added the big names that get the fans excited. I understand that’s part of the expectations in the off-season.”  Trades, more so than free agents, have taken up much of Epstein’s time as of late, he told Paul Sullivan.  They cannot make a big play for a free agent like Bryce Harper only if they can carve out enough payroll room.


Ken Rosenthal wrote that baseball’s “current economic system is outdated and flawed.”  Teams are increasingly leery of signing players to ultra-long contracts, yet are also just as worried about signing players to contracts with fewer years but higher average annual salaries out of fear of crossing the luxury tax threshold.  The result is “baseball’s version of a Catch-22,” Rosenthal writes, and he also points out that teams seem unnaturally adverse to making luxury tax payments given that relatively tiny amount of money actually spent on the tax.


Rosenthal's analysis is only rudimentary. Baseball's economic business model is changing towards uncertainty. The sport has had very good revenue, but the idea that current revenue partners like cable television distributors are going to poor billions into national and local TV rights is a thing of the past. Cable viewership is being slashed on a monthly basis. The main entertainment demographic (24-54) is moving quickly toward on-demand choices through streaming services, internet videos and on-line game platforms.


Baseball, first and foremost, is a business. On both sides of the labor issue. Each side wants to get the maximum out of a contract. Owners have been burned by long term deals that turn into dead money. Players want to be paid for past performance and/or market values tied to other (better) players rather than statistical projections of future performance (which is usually less valuable).


A team wanting to sign a $400 million player contract for 10 years must have some reasonable guarantee that their team net revenue is going to go up at least $40 million a year. With some teams local broadcast rights hovering around that number to begin with, it is extremely difficult to think that those fees will double overnight to pay for a superstar. And teams with high attendance cannot imagine that signing a superstar will increase the gate and ticket revenue. Many teams believe that they have hit revenue ceilings.


As such, owners will not lose money long term. Ownership is getting more cautious and strict on how much money a GM can spend on players. These are not artificial constraints but business reality for teams with high debt loads, and mortgage covenants. Player agents do not realize the potential squeeze some teams may be under.


 The other aspect of cost control is a team's minor league system. More GMs are focused on building a deep minor league system because those players can be cost controlled for six years. Teams have found winning formulas by playing young players at the major league level. You do not have to field a team of All-Stars (at high salaries) to be playoff competitive.


This is the second off-season where the new economic shift is taking agents back a few steps from their client expectations. Only one team, the Phillies, announced that they were willing to spend like a drunken sailor. But there has been little action as quality first and second tier players start to get antsy as winter rolls toward spring.