April 17, 2021

STOP THE NONSENSE

 MLB is trying to right the sinking ship of offense by experimenting with more rule changes.  We know Big Data is causing hitters to become free swingers and not contact hitters. But constant rule changes to try to increase scoring is bad for baseball.

Major League Baseball announced that it will experiment with a pair of new rules during the 2021 Atlantic League season: a “double-hook” implementation of the designated hitter and moving the pitching rubber back one foot. MLB and the Atlantic League began a partnership back in 2019 wherein the latter would serve as a testing ground for rule changes and pace-of-play alterations.

The “double-hook” designated hitter rule will be in place for the entirety of the 2021 Atlantic League season. Under the new rule, a team will lose its designated hitter once the starting pitcher is pulled from the game. From that point forth, the team will need to either deploy a pinch-hitter or allow a relief pitcher to bat in what was the designated hitter’s place.

The goal of the rule, per the league, is to “incentivize teams to leave their starting pitchers in longer, increase the value of starters who can work deeper into games and increase the strategic element in the late innings of a game.”

Turning to the pitching rubber experiment, that change will only be implemented in the second half of the Atlantic League season. (The first-half data will then be compared to second-half data as a direct point of comparison.) MLB’s release notes that the average fastball velocity has risen from 91.6 mph in 2010 to 93.3 mph in 2021. The league posits that a hitter’s reaction time on a 93.3 mph pitch thrown from 61 feet, six inches is approximately the same as the reaction time on a 91.6 mph pitch thrown from 60 feet, six inches.

Trying to use statistics to prove your case will not work here. These rule changes will only HURT pitchers. Pitchers moving back a foot will throw off all the mechanics and location control they have learned their entire careers. Moving back the rubber will mean some pitchers will throw harder in order to keep their velocity level at the plate. That will lead to more arm and shoulder injuries. 

The double-hook DH rule is worse than the regular DH rule. You penalize the team for taking out a starting pitcher, but you are really penalizing a pitcher by keeping him on the mound longer than he can physically go. Again, if a pitcher is struggling and needs to be pulled but you lose a valuable bat in the process, what is a manager to do? Keep a pitcher out their to hurt themselves mentally or physically? Besides, the whole DH rule was to stop pitchers getting hurt at the plate (HBP) or running the bases. Now, you want to have those issues thrown at relief pitchers? And where is a manager to get all those pinch hitters when rosters are so tight?

And these rule changes do nothing to improve the game. Like the runner on second in extra innings, it is more a distraction than valid solution. If you want offense, team should look at the Dodgers who are tearing up the league. If you want offense, teach your hitters how to hit instead of swinging at the fences in a "home run or bust" mentality. Tell your players that a strike out is a bad thing that can get you benched instead of being "just another out." 

 

April 10, 2021

THE REASONS

 It finally hit me. The reasons why the game of baseball is in decline.

Teams have special coaches, labs, and stat sheets on each player. Baseball has attempted to squeeze the game into a series of numbers.

Teams can use methods to strengthen a pitcher's arm, to increase the velocity of pitches and to increase the amount of spin on the ball. But they do not teach how to pitch at the pro level.

Teams can measure bat speed, exit velocity and launch angles for hitters. But they do not teach how to make contact, how to hit in situations or how to advance runners. 

Teams have done little to increase techniques in fielding. Teams have given up on teaching base running skills. Those are lost skill sets.

Baseball is a rare sport where the defense starts the action of each play. One would think it would be an advantage to improve your defense in order to win more games. 

The analytical side of baseball is driving the sport towards extinction. Players get paid because of their stats. Teams allegedly win because they use stats, the probabilities, on each play. Teams use the shift because of the stats of a hitter's spray chart. And batters keep grounding into the shift because they refuse to hit to the opposite field because their stats say power is in the pull field.

Early this season, the Cubs bemoaned the fact that a team of good hitters could not string two hits in a row. The experts and talking heads were at a loss on why. The reason is simple: the Cubs lack any .300 hitters. Contact hitters who can get on base. To put pressure on the opposing pitcher and defense. The Cubs have had no .300 hitter in the regular line up for years. It is a glaring hole in the line up but in the analytical world, batting average is a relic from the past. Strike outs are not cursed anymore because home runs are viewed as the most efficient scoring device. So the Cubs have a philosophy of home run swing or bust. And bust it is most of the time. 

Baseball is an ebb of flow of action and pauses. The pauses give fans an opportunity to digest the situation, the strategy and react. The drama, the contact of the bat to the ball, happens in a blink of an eye, as players scatter around the field in a century old ballet of roles. But the tenor of the sport now mirrors a video game, a series of computer coded numbers and very few different outcomes.

Baseball has always been about numbers. Sacred numbers. But numbers are leading it to its downfall.



March 19, 2021

THE URGENCY OF HURLING

 New team President Jed Hoyer spoke to NBC Chicago Sports. 

“When you talk about urgency of this team, and it’s been stated,” team president Hoyer said, referencing a roster full of players on the one-year contracts. “We need to play well out of the gate. That doesn’t mean we have to play well the first two weeks. But when you think about the first half of the season, we need to put ourselves in position to be a buyer, to be a team that’s competing. 

"That’s probably a slightly different feeling than you might have had two or three years ago when all these guys are [are much further from free agency],” said Hoyer, who’s optimistic he’ll have a lot of payroll flexibility in July, depending on attendance allowances as COVID-19 restrictions presumably are lifted gradually into the summer. 

There is no way around the Truth: this is the last season for "The Core," the foundation players who won the championship. It really is the last gasp for the Cubs to try to win another championship before sinking in the total rebuild muck.

But this talk makes some fans hurl. The Yu Darvish trade was an early White Flag deal in which the Cubs could never recover. Marquee not showing live Cub spring training games is a cheap farce in a year public relations is needed to bring back fans to baseball.

The urgency to sign pitchers like Shelby Miller and Jake Arrieta past their primes is an indication of the one-and-done front office mentality. The starting rotation is a mess. The bullpen is also a mess. The farm system is a disaster. 

The only bright side is that most of the NL Central had their own talent fire sales due to financial pressures from 2020. Only the Cardinals made a splash to become the front runner in a weak division. The Cubs 2021 plan is hoping other teams stumble and their old veterans somehow find some magic to outperform expectations. Expectations that are very low.

With as many as 18 players on the Cubs’ projected 26-man Opening Day roster are players expected to be in walk years (either free agents at the end of the year or facing club-option decisions for 2022), the do-or-die mentality seems to be not there. There is such little local media coverage one wonders if the pandemic has sapped all interest in the team.

One can see now why Theo Epstein bailed on his last contract year to not oversee this pending dumpster fire. With ownership claiming biblical losses (of their own bad business practices), the Cubs are no longer the lovable losers but a failed dynasty. The team lacks an identity. It also lacks talent. It woefully lacks depth. 2021 is shaping up as a season to forget before it starts.

March 3, 2021

ANOTHER LISTLESS SPRING

 The Cubs start another season with very little competition for roster spots.

The Cubs went into the winter hibernation in early fire sale mode. The Yu Darvish salary dump and the owners cry of "biblical losses" due to the pandemic were not greatly received by Cub fans. The Atlanta Braves, the only publicly held team, reported a 2020 operating loss of $54 million.  The league claims $2.8 billion in losses (if Braves are average team, the league claim is double). 

A round of journeymen signings leads the Cubs who are really on the last year of the championship core window (which has effectively closed). Bringing back Jake Arrieta after two below average years is not a solution to a rotation that lost 4/5ths of last year's opening day starters. 

Barring any injury, this appears to be your Opening Day roster:


Starting Rotation: Hendricks, Davies, Arrieta, Mills, Williams

Catchers: Contreras, Romine

Infielders: Rizzo (1b), Hoerner (2b/ss), Bote (2b/3b), Baex (ss), Bryant (3b)

Outfielders: Happ, Heyward, Pederson, Marisnick

Bullpen: Kimbrel (closer), Workman, Winkler, Ryan, Wick, Wieck, Chafin, Tempera, Alzolay

Not a dominating team with any real depth.

The bullpen is basically last year's hit and miss crew. Kimbrel is still the closer by default since Jeffries left for free agency. Out of the mix are two of last year's spot starters: Alzolay and Rea.

The only bright spot is that only the Cardinals seemed to have attempted to improve their roster with the Arenaldo trade. The rest of the division have been salary cutting veterans. But it will be another long 2020 type season as the pandemic starts its fourth wave right around Opening Day.


January 4, 2021

UP THE DOWN GRADE

 Let us look at the Cubs current major league roster depth chart:

LF: Open 

CF: Happ

RF: Heyward

3B: Bryant

SS: Baez

2B: Hoerner

1B: Rizzo

C: Contreras

SP1: Hendricks

SP2: Davies

SP3: Mills

SP4: Open

SP5: Open

Closer: Kimbrel

Bryant, Baez and Rizzo will be free agents after 2021.

Heyward and Kimbrel are untradeable due to their dead money contracts.

Even if you move Bryant to LF and Bote to third, how is this roster going to be any better than 2020?

Losing Lester, Chatwood and Darvish from the rotation is a killer issue. Will you go with inexperienced pitchers like Alzolay, Rea and Marquez to be placeholders?

The roster down grades are apparent in the OF, starting rotation, bullpen and closer.

With Contreras, Bryant and Baez being actively shopped by Jed Hoyer, who knows what dumpster fire will take the field during spring training.

December 30, 2020

TEAR DOWN

 Part of the MLB Trade Rumors live chat from December 29:

Cubs (Comment)
2:01
Seems they just gave away Darvish. Also are Cubs in rebuild now.
 
Steve Adams (Response)
2:03
They pretty much did. They're a worse team now with Davies than with Darvish and Caratini, and no one else they acquired will help them before 2023. This team won the division and went to the playoffs -- and despite the fact that no one else in the NL Central is trying, the Cubs are content to just deliberately get worse. I'd be furious if I were a Cubs fan.
 
 "I'd be furious if I were a Cubs fan."

The Cubs are not in a rebuild. They are in a tear down. Epstein left early because he did not want the terrible job to trade away or cut his "friends" (players he signed). One commentator said of the Darvish deal, he did not realize that Jed Hoyer was still working for the Padres.

It does send an awful message to Cub Land.

It was reported that the Cubs lost $200 million in 2020. However, if you look closely, that is an exaggeration. And most of the losses were self-inflicted by ownership.

The Cubs biggest problem was its television deal. Or lack of one. The Marquee Network was a first year failure. Comcast did not pay the Cubs network until October.  The national TV revenue was probably cut to a third. The Cubs current radio rights deal is very small when it burned itself by leaving WGN in a bumbling fashion. The Cubs probably had total broadcast revenue of $25 million.

But the Cubs payroll of $214 million was prorated down to $71 million. Plus, the Cubs saved on not funding any minor league affiliates. Plus, early in the year, the Cubs laid off most of its scouting and development staff. In reality, the "baseball operations" may have lost $50 million in 2020.

But the Ricketts biblical horror has to do with the fact no fans came to games. They claim that 67 percent of their revenue comes from fans attending games. Again, there is no way to know if that is true.  But the argument is mixing apples and oranges as a great portion of Ricketts family revenue comes from non-baseball operations. Wrigley Field is a separate revenue entity. Ricketts lost all extra concert revenues. The bars and restaurants in Gallagher Way had no thirsty fans to spend big money pre and post games. There were several tenants in Ricketts buildings that went out of business, including Joe Maddon's restaurant, meant that rental revenues were seriously down. The hotel was closed for the entire year, so no revenue from that property. The other ancillary businesses, such as the parking lot revenue, also evaporated. But part of the problem of Ricketts financial cries is that they overbuilt the neighborhood, relied on public support at inflated prices, and bombed at creating their own cash cow network. If Ricketts lost $200 million, it is fair to guess that most of it is from bad ancillary business operations.

As it stands today, the Cubs projected 2021 payroll is $122 million. If the Cubs trade of Darvish is any indication, the pending free agents of Bryant (owed $18.6 M), Rizzo ($16.5 M) and Baez ($11 M) are also trade targets (but at much lesser value than Darvish). You might as well add Hendricks ($14 M) to the fire sale bargain bin. If you trade those players, Ricketts lops off another $60.1 million in payroll. NOW, YOU CAN BOAST you are at $62 million, small market level which means you may be able to break even on the baseball side in 2021.

It is obvious that Ricketts and the front office do not care about the fans. The Cubs WON the division this year. The Reds and Brewers already signaled that they were giving up on 2021. The Pirates are already in the early stages of a complete rebuild. The Cardinals lost veterans and seem to be willing to stay pat this off-season. The NL Central is going to be a weak and crappy division that the Cubs could win again if the team stayed as is. 

To say that Davies, Mills, Alzolay and Rea are just as good as Darvish, Lester, Chatwood and Quintana is an insult. The Cubs currently only have TWO outfielders listed on their 40 man roster. It speaks to the fact that the 2021 roster will be filled in with cheap, journeymen players at the end of their careers. It stinks like the teams Epstein pulled together during his rebuild (the ones he wanted losses from to get high, no risk first round draft picks).

The one elephant in the room that the Ricketts cannot see is that the great Cub fandom is not going to pay premium prices to watch a crappy, tear down AAA team play at Wrigley Field. Fans do not have to - - - they have their World Series Championship and those memories. The Cubs lost their "lovable loser" badge in favor of dynasty championship franchise. The latter did not materialize even though the Cubs did make the playoffs. The bitter taste is that the young core that has aged out underperformed (sat on their laurels) with only one World Series appearance.

This tear down will be brutal and further be financially destructive to ownership who still thinks owning the "Cubs brand" is like printing money. The pandemic may not be under control until July, 2021 when the vaccines will be readily available to the general public. The middle class that lost their businesses due to lock down closures, bankruptcies and lack of employment opportunities is not going to be season ticket holders or even cable subscribers as the season starts. 

No one is going to shed a "tear" for ownership during the tear down because the Ricketts are not very well liked in Chicago. The family politics and relationship with Sinclair still irks some fans. People will not pay premium dollars for an inferior product when there is a young and exciting baseball team on the South Side of town.

December 17, 2020

OFF-FIELD BALK

 Major League Baseball and all 30 of its teams are suing their insurance providers, citing billions of dollars in losses during the 2020 season played almost entirely without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the vast majority of business cases involving the pandemic (contract clauses, payment issues, insurance claims) have failed to give aggrieved parties any relief.


The suit, filed in October in California Superior Court in Alameda County, was obtained Friday by The Associated Press. It says providers AIG, Factory Mutual and Interstate Fire and Casualty Company have refused to pay claims made by MLB despite the league’s “all-risk” policy purchases.


The league claims to have lost billions of dollars on unsold tickets, hundreds of millions on concessions, tens of millions on parking and millions more on suites and luxury seat licenses, in-park merchandise sales and corporate sponsorships. It also cites over a billion dollars in local and national media losses, plus tens of millions in missed income for MLB Advanced Media. It says all of those losses should be covered by their policies.


Since COVID-19 sparked government-ordered shutdowns in March, judges have dismissed more than four times as many business-interruption lawsuits as they’ve allowed to proceed, according to a preliminary analysis by the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

Industry executives say pandemic-related losses may be their biggest ever, and business-interruption claims will likely be part of that, even though many insurers added virus waivers to policies over the past decade following the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The Insurance Journal reports most of the cases tossed out so far had virus-exclusion clauses. When policies don’t have the exclusion, insurers are arguing COVID-19 can’t cause the physical damage or loss required for a business-interruption payout, like from a tornado or flood. And the industry is winning dismissals with that argument, according to the Insurance Information Institute.


“Business-insurance policies are meant to cover physical things,” said Sean Kevelighan, the chief executive at the institute, which has more than 60 insurance company members. “There’s a ways to go” in the legal battle over coverage, but “the beginning of it is encouraging,” he said.


A September win by Farmers Insurance Exchange in California typifies how some judges interpret “physical loss or damage.” A federal judge concluded a barbershop chain couldn’t show its business suffered a “distinct, demonstrable physical alteration.”


Other businesses have also struck out in trying to persuade judges to allow their claims to go to trial over policies that had virus exclusions. A federal judge in Arizona ruled Nov. 13 the Class AA Chattanooga Lookouts and more than a dozen other teams couldn’t overcome the exclusions.