August 22, 2019


Yahoo Sports had the following report on the post-game rift between an All-Star pitcher and asports reporter:

Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander still isn’t over his former team’s writers. Verlander had a Detroit Free Press writer banned from the Astros clubhouse following Verlander’s loss to the Detroit Tigers on Wednesday, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Following the contest, a 2-1 win by the Tigers, a writer from the Detroit Free Press attempted to enter the Astros clubhouse with the rest of the media. When that writer got to the clubhouse, (he) were told (he) could not enter. Three Astros' security guards were present to make sure the writer was not able to get into the clubhouse.

Verlander told the Astros he would not do his general media session if the reporter from the Detroit Free Press was in the clubhouse.

Once Verlander wrapped up his conversation with the media, the Astros let the Detroit writer into the clubhouse. The writer approached Verlander and asked about Wednesday’s game, but Verlander walked away after telling the reporter “I’m not answering your questions.”

It’s unclear why Verlander was upset with the writer. It’s possible a tweet was to blame. Following the game, the Detroit Free Press sent out a snarky tweet about Verlander picking up the loss. (It said Verlander pitched the Tigers to a 2-1 victory. Verlander only gave up two hits; solo home runs.)

The headline on the actual article and the article itself are totally normal, and makes no snarky reference to Verlander pitching the Tigers to victory. It’s possible the writer of that article had nothing to do with that tweet.

On Thursday, Verlander addressed the issue, saying he did not speak to the reporter due to “unethical behavior in the past.”

The Free Press will protest the issue to Major League Baseball and the Astros. Restricting a member of the press from a clubhouse goes against the mission of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

>>>> I have many problems here. 
First, MLB Rules with Baseball Writers Association and the CBA provide that BWAA credentialed sports writers shall have access to the clubhouse 10 minutes after the end of the game and players must be available to conduct interviews. The latter has not been strictly enforced if the player was getting trainer room treatment or was a pud hiding in another area of the clubhouse. The 10 minute rule is clear and enforced in the past. The Astros intentionally violated that rule. The commissioner can fine the team. 
Second, Verlander directing his team officials to violate a rule is problematic. When do team officials work for a player? It is the other way around. Since Verlander intentionally violated the rules, he could be suspended or fined by the Commissioner (including invoking the best interests of baseball authority since the press represents the fans). 
Third, Verlander could not speak to the reporter during the 10 minute Q&A period (we see that all the time - - - the players look like jerks, but can refuse to answer a question). Even if he shuts out the Detroit reporter, he is there to take down his other answers about the game. By barring him from the clubhouse, the Astros and Verlander took away the reporter's right to get information for his game story.

Fourth, and most important, this story misses THE REAL story. An All-Star player just slandered a reporter for "unethical behavior."  Why was there no follow-up on what Verlander meant and/or the details of what was the questionable behavior. This makes the rest of the sports reporters look weak and captive to the whims of sports teams. 

It is true that professional journalism is having a hard time maintaining its position as the Fourth Estate, an important vessel for truth and accuracy of daily news events. The internet and social media has made blabbering idiots the de facto voices of information (not fact or truth). In the vast majority of cases, there is no adversarial relationship between a beat reporter and the team he or she covers. But teams now see themselves as media competitors since they or their leagues have their own web sites and networks feeding fans information. Teams, like the Bears, severely restrict access and what beat reporters can say during practices. It is a horrible trend. All journalism is important to independently and accurately capture facts for history.

Verlander should have done his contractual job and listened to questions from all credentialed reporters, whether he liked it or not. The sports reporters after hearing Verlander's excuse, should have demanded the truth about his charge of unethical behavior. That is the real lost news story in this entire event. Everybody should do their job.

August 16, 2019


"That one is going to leave a mark,” manager Joe Maddon said. Last night's loss was not just a brown streak in the shorts, but an explosive diaper.

The Cubs blew a five run lead against the Phillies. Yu Darvish pitched one of his strongest outings of the year, but a few of us thought he was pulled early by Maddon. This indirectly led to using the bullpen which contributed to the collapse in the 9th.

The 7-5 loss on Bryce Harper's grand slam was the perfect example of what is wrong with the team.

For a long time, we have harped on the issue of playing players out of their natural position. David Bote was playing shortstop. His boot in the 9th opened the door to the huge comeback rally. Bote is not a shortstop. He is an average second baseman at best. But he sweet talked his way into a long term contract as one of Joe Maddon's "super subs."

Maddon is still living in the past (Rays days) when he had a unique asset, Ben Zobrist, who was the stellar utility man who racked up All-Star WAR numbers by playing multiple positions well. But he was in his prime and eager to show his skills. Bote is young but not skilled enough to play short.

Likewise, Ian Happ was a college second baseman. Since his return, he was been terrible at second because he spent all his time in Iowa trying to learn CF so he could platoon with Almora. But since the second base position was a sink hole disaster with Addison Russell, the Cubs traded for Kemp who has his own defensive deficiencies.

Maddon likes the "flexibility" of having players playing multiple positions so he can "rest" some players. But not playing in their natural positions costs the Cubs games. The Phils last night got at least two more outs which were used to complete their comeback rally.

In 2016, the Cubs played fantastic defense. They were number one in baseball. But defense has been spotty all year round. Anthony Rizzo has been a contortionist at first base trying to catch even routine throws.

The bullpen has been a sore point all season. The chronic injuries to Morrow, the implosion of Edwards, the inconsistency of Strop led to wholesale changes in the pen. But those changes were made on the cheap because Theo had already committed half of the payroll budget (approx. $103 million) to the rotation and Chatwood. Six pitchers took up half the budget. But the rotation rarely gave Maddon a six inning outing so the pen was taxed and gassed early on in the season.

Another issue with Maddon is that he has plus and minus relievers. Plus relievers are guys he trusts so he puts them in during tied games or leads. Minus relievers he uses when the Cubs are behind or losing badly. It is a matter of "match ups" he claims, but it is really a trust issue. But since the pen has been bad, he had been using the wrong pitcher in highly leveraged situations. Earlier in the week it was Strop. Last night it was Wick and Holland.

But a lot of the blame rests on the front office. The Cubs current roster construction is all on Theo and Jed. The bench is short and unproductive. The guys they brought in (Delcalso, Maldonando, Kemp, Russell) have been unable to produce consistent above replacement offensive stats. The parade of bad relievers continues to grow. The pitching problem clearly centers on the fact (screamed many times on this blog) that Theo has yet to draft and develop one starting pitcher in five years. Zero.

Instead, Theo's focus was drafting the "best" hitter in the first round to build a core of good young, "controllable" talent. He drafted and promoted quickly Bryant, Schwarber and Almora. But the two most valuable Cubs this season were Hendry draftees, Baez and Contreras.

The final straw may be the fact that Maddon did not get a contract extension after being the best manager the team has had in a century (from a win and loss stand point). The front office keeps saying its is not about wins or losses (which was the refrain during Renteria's era for another reason). But a manager is judged on his team's wins or losses. For good or ill, Maddon got the Cubs a championship. Today, the thought is that he is too old, or the players have stopped listening to him.

In reality, the owner and front office does not want to pay a manager $6 million per season. Theo and Jed would rather have a million dollar puppet in the dugout following their scripted analytic game plans than an old school manager. Is $5 million such a big deal for the Cubs? Apparently so, since the team was handcuffed all season by the Ricketts' decree of not spending more than the $206 million luxury tax cap.

Theo begat the budget woes on himself just as he did in Boston. He has a habit of making a lot of bad money deals. As noted above, six pitchers took up half the budget with underwhelming performances. If you add in the Heyward contract and Morrow's two year dead money absence, one can almost sympathize with the owner about a spendthrift general manager.

For a long time it was apparent that the Cubs, even though good "on paper," were not a championship caliber team. By comparison, the Astros, Dodgers and Yankees (with a record number of player injuries) are far superior in records and statistics. The Cubs are in a dog fight just to try to stay near the top in the NL Central. The lowly Reds have beaten up the Cubs.

But last night's loss was the worst of the road woes. It showed the world everything that is wrong with the "championship" Cubs team.

August 10, 2019


It is hard to miss a significant change in major league pitching since the All-Star break.

MLB is still on pace to hit a record number of home runs (with the modified baseball still being denied by the commissioner). Pitchers, specifically starters in the early innings, were getting crushed by the home run ball. Part of the issue was that batters were taking more pitches to work favorable counts. Part of the issue was that umpires were calling tight strike zones which frustrated many pitchers to the point of losing control, getting into early high pitch count/leveraged situations.

Pitchers tried to combat these issues with using their change-up as their "out" pitch. It worked for a while until many sluggers decided to wait (and feast) on the change. Now, pitchers were suddenly throwing batting practice to good hitters. In retaliation, pitchers tried to pitch "old school" inside. This has resulted in many hit batters and fights. The Pirates took it too far in headhunting the Reds which resulted in an epic brawl and many suspensions.

Recently, pitchers have gotten a break. Umpires are now calling the high strike. Batters have been stat analyzed to death on launch angle, exit velocity, contact zones and count management to be able to predict pitches below the waist that can get the right attack angle to hit home runs. Batters are having a hard time adjusting to the high fastball which for most of the season was called a ball. (Traditionalists believe the strike zone is from the jersey letters to the knees. Umpires each call a different strike zone each game; most having it at lower rib cage to knees, plus or minus a few inches outside the plate corner.)

The high strike call is the pitcher's best friend. Batters have a hard time getting launch angle contact with the high strike since they have conditioned themselves to put the bat angle below their hands through the zone. Even with contact with high fastballs, they are usually spoiled or popped up.

For this evolution in balls and strikes to occur, two independent things had to converge: the umpires deciding to call a high strike and pitchers willing to risk throwing high strikes in leveraged situations.

August 3, 2019


There is an earthquake type shift in front offices. The glory days of "ace" starting pitchers are going to start to fade . . .  fast. Just like the NFL has caused the running back position to become a generic commodity in its pass-happy offenses, baseball is soon going to put less emphasis on starting rotations to win games.

The trend has been accelerating this year. A report indicated that the amount of innings pitched by MLB starters is down 37 percent. It means that starters are pitching more than 2 innings less than they did a decade ago. It is apparent when you watch games. It is now a rarity for a starter to pitch into the 7th inning. A generation ago, starters all took the mound with the one goal of tossing a complete game. Today, starters are content with finishing just 5 innings.

Teams are constructing their bullpens not as emergency help for faltering starters but as a machine to win games. During Kansas City's World Series runs, it developed a killer bullpen of three dominant, "shut down" arms in the 7th, 8th and 9th innings. If the Royals were winning after 6, the game was over. The emphasis began to shift to the back three or four innings and not the front five.

Stats gurus have allegedly found that starting pitchers get hammered more when a batter sees them for the third time during a game. The logic is that the batter has now seen all the pitches of the starter so he can better anticipate what he will see. Also, the stat men found that the key innings in a game for a starter are the 2nd to 7th. Therefore, the Padres developed the concept of an "opener," a relief pitcher who would throw the first inning then give way to the starting pitcher. That means the starter will see the top of the opponent's order one less time during the game. This is how odd pitching metrics have gotten.

Closers used to be just mop up guys. Now, they are the highest paid bullpen pieces because for some mental reason, not every relief pitcher can get the last three outs in a game. Closers typically have one lights-out pitch; a 100 mph fastball, or a devastating fork ball. They are strike out pitchers. Teams now set up their bullpens just to get to the closer.

With starters only covering 5 innings, they are really no different than traditional "long" relievers who can spot start or throw 3 innings in a game. Long relievers are not paid as well as starters or closers. But in the new pitching playbook, they may become even more valuable.

Some teams without a decent fifth starter will result to having a "bullpen" day where long relievers will try to get 6 innings in the book before turning it over to the last three bullpen arms. In the near future, all teams may employ bullpen days for every game.

Teams are already carrying 12 or 13 pitchers on the 25 man roster. That is why so many teams, especially the Cubs, try to find bench players who can play multiple positions because they have very limited substitutes. The idea of expanding the roster to 26 players does not mean an extra bat will be added to help managers. Some teams are now employing the dual role of a pitcher/position player. The Reds have a relief pitcher who also can bat well and play the outfield. It is not usual for star pitchers to be the best player on their youth, high school or college teams. And it is not usual that they used to be the best hitter and fielder at multiple positions. But they lose part of the skill set when they just concentrate on pitching.

Even colleges are now concentrating on developing relief pitchers such as closers. In the past, Steve Stone remarked that all relief pitchers were "failed" starter. College World Series teams often have designated closers. Minor league systems now quickly separate prospects into starters and relievers as it is now just as important to find closers and long relievers.

Ownership has a vested stake in this new pitching philosophy. It should cost less payroll. the age of the $20-30 million starter will be over. Relief pitchers salaries have been going up recently, but closers usually top out around fifth starter money. If a team can save half of the starters annual salary, that is pure profit to the owners.