June 22, 2019
Getting the Jump on Summer
Regular B.A.B.E.S. readers know that my son and I started a summer tradition in 2015, visiting MLB parks with the intent of catching a game in all 30 venues. Our plan for this summer is to go to the Eastern Divisions and take in games in both the AL (NYY, BOS) and the NL (PHI, NYM). Well, the hallmark of our tradition is flexibility and when a pre-summer trip to the Western Divisions presented itself, we took advantage and took in some American history at the same time. (Discussion question: who would be on your Mt. Rushmore of MLB?)
Our first stop was Denver and Coors Field. We first visited the park in 2017 but the Rockies were not home. (Zac Brown and his band were, though, and we saw a promo this visit for his return this August. CO must love ZB.) We like the downtown parks in general and Coors is a very nice (and big) park.
Note the ring of purple seats in the upper deck. That marks the actual point of 5,280 feet above sea level, from which the Mile High City gets its nickname. Older B.A.B.E.S. members will recall the Denver multi-purpose stadium of that name that served as the Rockies first home, and the Broncos’ as well.
Coors Field is a little separated from downtown proper, but in a departure from most other cities the ballpark has actually spurred considerable growth around it. Kudos to Denver developers for taking the next step. Kudos also to TOR for its development work, as we got to see Vlad Guerrero, Jr., Cavan Biggio and Rowdy Tellez, three promising young players that the Blue Jays are building around. TOR might want to rethink the Edwin Jackson redoux, though. He gave up 10 earned runs in 2.1 innings. TOR may be his record-setting 14th MLB team, but perhaps should be his last.
Kudos (and thanks!) to Rockies first baseman Daniel Murphy who completed an unlikely relay on a ground ball out. If you have been to a park lately you know that a tradition has developed where the first baseman will throw the ball from the last out of an inning into the stands along the first base line. We just happened to be sitting about 20 rows up from first base, and when Nolan Arenado made one of his typical fine plays on a slow roller and got the out at first Murphy continued the play. Score it “Arenado to Murphy to Rose.”
Not exactly “Tinker to Evers to Chance,” but Jack will take it. His tall frame and long arms came in handy in making the play. I am not sure how much his summer blonde look had to do with it, though. (Anyone remember Joe Pepitone?)
Our next stop was Seattle’s T-Mobile Park, to hang out with The Kid.
Well, actually, with the kids. Jack and I were joined by my daughter and his sister at what we are used to calling Safeco Field. It, too, is a nice park but also a bit removed from the downtown action. It feels like several of the other new parks, with not much to distinguish itself except perhaps the standing porch in left field. That offered a nice vantage point from which to watch the end of the game, eat some ice cream and catch some close ups of the Astros’ bullpen. HOU didn’t need much relief help, however, as the team pounded out 13 hits and scored 11 runs in getting the W.
We ended the night with a post-game sit-down with Mariners’ Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Dave Niehaus who handled radio play-by-play duties for the first 33 years of the franchise’s existence, a run that ended with his death after the 2010 season. It is a very nice touch that the team memorialized his significant contribution with this interactive statue at the park. Radio broadcasters become as representative of the team to its fans as most players, and they should be remembered. (Thinking of you, Mark Holtz.)
So, it was an excellent Spring start to our ballpark season. These two visits represented numbers 18 and 19 in our quest, which should number at least 32 by the time we finish. We have to go back to ATL to visit the new SunTrust Field and to Arlington to the new Globe Life Field (can’t believe I was present for the opening of the existing Ballpark in Arlington in 1994 and it is already going into the dustbin of history). We also might even be visiting Montreal for TBR North before we are through. If you did not catch that story, it is an interesting approach to solving the problem of limited markets, where the struggling Tampa market could share its team with the already failed Expos former home. More to come on this idea that smacks of desperation on TBR’s part, and perhaps MLB as well.
https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/27016429/rays-explore-splitting-games-montreal. (Kudos to ESPN’s Jeff Passan for pre-Christening the bilateral squad the “Ex-Rays”!)
If you haven’t planned your own summer trip yet, I strongly recommend that you consider some out-of-the way sites like Mt. Rushmore and Devil’s Tower. One is an amazing feat of one man’s artistic vision and hundreds of workers’ industry. The other is an awe inspiring natural phenomenon that had the same feel to me as a ball park – serene and exhilarating and mystical.
May 1, 2019
May Day or Mayday?
Today is an international holiday celebrating the arrival of Spring. According to some historians, the tradition dates all the way back to the Roman Empire when the celebration was focused on the arrival of Spring flowers. In modern times, the emphasis has turned more to the celebration of workers’ rights, and presumably their craftsmanship. A summary of both traditions can be found here: https://www.history.com/topics/holidays/history-of-may-day.
B.A.B.E.S. thinks there is no better combination of Spring and workers than Major League Baseball, so let’s celebrate May Day and the beginning of the second month of the 2019 season with some great worker – and teams of workers – performances:
- Cody Bellinger – one of the greatest opening months in MLB history – .434 avg.; 14 HR; 37 RBI; .1413 OPS
- Christian Yelich – the blazing second half in 2018 that earned him the MVP award is looking legit – .353 avg.; 14 HR; 34 RBI; .1234 OPS
- TBR – 19-9 – best record and lowest payroll in MLB – $3.2 million/W = best organization in baseball?
- Marcus Stroman – only a 1-3 record, but he has a 1.43 E.R.A. and hasn’t allowed a single HR in 37 innings pitched (a modern miracle).
There are several other shining examples worthy of a May Day celebration, but there are also some very distressing performances to note. As you probably know, “Mayday!” (same letters, no space) is also an internationally recognized distress call used in the time of a life-threatening emergency. Although they are only 1/6th of the way through the schedule, the season is almost on life-support for some players and teams. For example:
- BAL pitching staff – 73 HR allowed in 30 games, a pace that would almost double the worst previous performance in MLB history. The next closest team is STL with 51.
- Chris Sale – 0-5 record; 6.30 E.R.A.; how does John Henry feel about that $150 million contract extension? More for BOS’s ownership to worry about below…
- Jose Ramirez – .181 avg; 2 HR; 9 RBI, .557 OPS – the guy finished 3rd in the MVP voting the past two seasons!
- Chris Davis – .176 avg.; 3 HR; 13 RBI; .606 OPS – the guy has a $161 million contract!
- BOS – 13-17 record – The defending World Champions have the highest payroll in MLB and are 7.0 games behind TBR ($17.3 million/W = worst organization in MLB?)
There are other woeful performances and startling stats that I will write more about later, but if you have been following the season and this Blog you may acknowledge that my “Fields of Change” post in December is proving to be accurate. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2018/12/31/fields-of-change-2019/. There continue to be more home runs and strike outs, but fewer balls-in-play and even fewer hits. Most of these changes appear to be the consequences of advanced analytics and organizational strategy. The future of the game seems a bit uncertain, but it is probably still too soon to issue a Mayday call for MLB.
The same is true for our B.A.B.E.S. predictions, but they aren’t looking so great, either. Of course, we have learned that this is one area where you really have to wait until the end of the 162 game season. Much can change in the next 130 games.
If you haven’t already, please review my record of your picks at the link below and let me know if you can verify any errors (no revising your picks to drop BOS!)
(Plaque gift of Mrs. Commissioner, Opening Day, 2015)
March 28, 2019
It’s Next Year!
Of all the clichés associated with sports I think “Wait till next year!” is the most meaningful for fans and the one most associated with baseball. A noted political historian, Doris Kearns Goodwin, even used the imperative sentence as the title to her memoir of a childhood spent rooting for the Brooklyn Dodgers. https://www.amazon.com/Wait-Till-Next-Year-Memoir/dp/0684847957. Used as an expression of hope more than as a command, it is still relevant today even though the Red Sox and Cubs broke sports’ most famous title droughts (curses?) after 86 and 108 years, respectively. The Red Sox have since become something of a dynasty and the Cubs are now a perennial pennant contender, but these accomplishments just heightened their fans’ expectations and shortened their patience for the next title. Indeed, the euphoria felt in Wrigleyville over the Cubs’ 2016 championship has apparently worn off after only two seasons. https://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/baseball/cubs/ct-spt-cubs-joe-maddon-theo-epstein-anthony-rizzo-perceptions-20190327-story.html.
Though few of us feel sorry for the Red Sox or Cubs any longer, if we ever did (we still feel for you, Bill Buckner and Steve Bartman), there are other long-suffering fans who truly deserve our compassion. CLE’s MLB title drought has now reached 70 years and includes two excruciating 10th-inning Game 7 World Series losses. That certainly seems like a curse, as does the fact that TEX had nine different pitches on which it could have become a World Champion in the 2011 Series, yet could not turn any of them into the requisite final out. Curse or destiny? https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2011/10/29/destiny-is-a-two-timer/.
The Rangers are one of seven franchises that have never won the Series. (Can you name the other six?) The fans of these teams have been waiting and longing for their first championship for periods ranging from 42 to 58 years, and two of these clubs have yet to even appear in a World Series. (One of them has broken the hearts of fans in two countries.) Here is a link if you’re interested in studying these tales of woe, although some of you may know the painful stories personally already. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Major_League_Baseball_franchise_postseason_droughts.
Despite these painful proofs of history repeating itself and the obvious likely re-occurrence in the new season, excited fans still show up in every park on MLB’s Opening Day. And no matter how unrealistic it may be, most of them hold out hope that this will at long last be their team’s year. It reminds me of the oft-repeated line from Disney’s baseball movie, Angels in the Outfield: “Hey, it could happen!” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HdqvIC-AbvE. I am reminded also of the effervescent personality and eternal optimism of B.A.B.E.S. co-founder Rocky Walker, for whom our championship trophy is named and whose legacy I try to honor each year at this time. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/03/20/remembering-rocky/. So, as the metaphorical beginning of Next Year, MLB’s Opening Day gives us hope for the future even as we remember the past, no matter how painful it might be.
Opening Day 2019 calls for us to look to the “long past,” as Dickens put it, since the year is being celebrated as MLB’s Sesquicentennial. CIN (my childhood favorite team) is recognized as the first professional baseball club, having been organized as the Red Stockings with all paid players in 1869. (That was 150 years ago, for those of you who weren’t certain of the definition of sesquicentennial). Interestingly, the history of organized baseball leagues dates back only to 1882, with the formation of the first American Association, but MLB has always taken liberty with its history. (Cooperstown and Abner Doubleday?) Recognizing 2019 as the 150th Anniversary continues a practice of anniversary celebrations started in 1969 (100th) and repeated in 1994 (125th), that gives the teams a basis for promotions to sell more tickets and merchandise complete with commemorative patches. https://uni-watch.com/2019/02/20/cincy-one-five-o-reds-buck-trend-on-mlb-patch/. (I include this observation mostly so that I can reference the very cool blog of Paul Lukas, https://uni-watch.com/. If you have never looked at it, do it now! Yes, that is an imperative command.)
We know that professional baseball is a business and that it needs our financial support as much as our emotional investment. Even if we can’t confirm when the game was invented or agree on when MLB began, the important thing for fans is that it continues today. Our responsibility is to pay it homage each year and to do what we can to keep it going, like buying tickets and souvenirs, and supporting its advertisers. But competing for the “Rocky” is also our special way of honoring the game and ourselves at the same time, and this will be our twelfth year to do so. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/309-2/.
I was honored to win the very first year, 2008, but haven’t come close to winning since. In the best tradition of being a sports fan, however, and in the best spirit of my departed friend and colleague, Rocky, I tell myself that this is Next Year and that I can end my personal title drought. (Also, I want to become the first Society member to win two Rocky’s.). Hey, it could happen! Here’s how:
NL East – WAS
NL Central – STL
NL West – COL
NL WC – CHI
NL WC – LAD
NL Pennant – WAS
AL East – BOS
AL Central – CLE
AL West – HOU
AL WC – NYY
AL WC – TBR
AL Pennant – HOU
WS – HOU
NL Cy Young – Scherzer
NL MVP – Goldschmidt
NL Batting Title – J. Turner
AL Cy Young – Cole
AL MVP – Trout
AL Batting Title – Betts
Those are my picks for 2019. Whether you are hoping to beat me to becoming a repeat Rocky winner, or still looking for that elusive first B.A.B.E.S. championship, it is Opening Day and thus officially Next Year. So it could happen, but only if you get me your picks by 5 p. m. today.
Play ball! (Another imperative command.)
(The New York Daily News report of Brooklyn’s first World Championship in 1955 after seven consecutive losses in the World Series.)
March 26, 2019
Freedom is Apparently Overrated
Or at least doesn’t pay as much as it used to. That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the surprising number of contract extensions signed this Spring by MLB’s top stars. Of course, there were still high profile free agent signings – Harper, Machado, Corbin, .etc., but there have been more examples of players forgoing the opportunity to become a free agent by signing new long-term deals with their existing clubs – Trout, Arendado, Goldschmidt, Kershaw, Sale, Bregman, Verlander, Hicks, and several others. [Story update: News just broke that the Mets and Jacob deGrom have agreed to a 5-year extension. Am I timely, or what?] [Another story update: CHI just announced a four-year extension for Kyle Hendricks!] Further, many established stars elected not to opt out of their existing contracts, preferring to stick with the deals they have with their current clubs rather than try for better ones on the open market – Arrieta, Strasburg, Darvish, Jansen, Chapman, Andrus and more.
(Chris Sale will be taking the Fenway mound for five more years with $145 million in his pockets. This picture from my personal archives was taken seconds before Sale threw a pitch behind Manny Machado’s head in the 2017 dust-up between BOS and BAL. Any surprise that the BOS fans wanted him back?)
Could it be that the arc of free agency has finally peaked and the “Moneyball” approach is now being adopted by the players as well as the clubs? I’ll have more to say about that in the days ahead, but for now we can finally look to the field for the action after a Spring Training where all the news seemed to occur off the field. At least several stars and their fans now know where they will be playing for several years to come.
(Justin Verlander wouldn’t mind another opportunity to kick the rubber on the mound in Chavez Ravine during the two-year contract extension he was given by the Astros. The $66 million was nice, too.)
And we’re off!?
March 21, 2019
One week until MLB’s official Opening Day, and yet SEA is already 2-0 and OAK is 0-2? That’s the way the world of sports goes in the 21st Century, with openers on both sides of the globe.
I am fine with that, as I long to see baseball become as popular around the world as the younger American sport, basketball, has become. However, when a game starts at 4:30 a.m. locally, that is almost taking the term “opener” too far. Fortunately I could watch comfortably in the darkness of my room, with the sound off so as not to wake Mrs. Commissioner. Of course, she has slept through thousands of games during our 32 years of marriage, so no real problem there.
You may not have gotten up for the start of either game, but I hope you saw the send-off for Ichiro in the 7th inning of Game 2. Although he could not produce any Derek Jeter-type magic in his final plate appearance,
there was an instant when I thought Ichiro might at least end his career with a signature infield hit. It crossed my mind that OAK SS Marcus Semien double-clutched on his throw to first just to give Ichiro a chance to beat it out, but there just wasn’t quite enough left in his 45-year old legs. Unfortunately the umpire called him out and SEA manager Scott Servais did not challenge the call. Even so, the end of a phenomenal career is something to be celebrated anytime, and but particularly when it comes in an official game played in the player’s home country even before the official MLB Opening Day. The fans in Japan (or should I just say the whole country) certainly celebrated him, and I think MLB was very wise to set this stage for the finale of one of the greatest MLB careers by a non-American so far. (That’s an interesting debate. Who would you pick? Clemente would be mine. As to future possibilities, do you think Shohei Ohtani was watching?)
My own tribute to Ichiro is that I thought enough of him to record this photo in my personal archives when we visited Marlins Park in 2016. The fact that Jack also had an Ichiro shirt is high praise in our house. Jack is very particular about who he reps.
So two games have been played and a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer has already retired, but your B.A.B.E.S. picks are not due for another week. Just a little more 21st Century analytical data for you to consider. Perhaps the performance of OAK’s pitching staff makes you doubt that Billy Beane can conjure up another 97-win season with his no-longer-mystical ways. I will reveal all of my picks on 3/27, but I will tell you now that I am not going to have OAK in the post-season, and that decision was made before they lost the first two games of the season.
March 19, 2019
And I thought the off-field news was interesting before today.
This morning news broke that Mike Trout is about agree to an extension with LAA that will crush the “record” contract Bryce Harper signed just two weeks ago, and I do mean crush: 1 year shorter, 100 million more dollars! Something about Harper’s deal seemed off to me when it was announced (note my skepticism about his value in the 3/1 post below). In addition to disputing whether he is worth the money, the contract itself seemed artificially structured to save face for him and his agent, Scott Boras. Boras had proclaimed that Harper was worth $400 million, and Harper had already turned down $300 million over 10 years from his existing team, WAS. Sure, he ultimately got more total dollars and more annually than any other player, but it seemed contrived to me. Just like his overall value seems contrived around his one good year – 2015.
Well, Mike Trout has had seven great years, five of which were better than or at least equal to Harper’s one great year. If you really study the stats, and if you assume that Harper’s money is appropriate for his performance, the new contract underpays Trout. Apparently LAA’s owner Arte Moreno agrees that it is a good deal because he is committing this enormous sum of money two years before Trout is even eligible for free agency. He must know that the market will only go up. And it is a true sign of Trout’s stature given that Moreno has already had two bad experiences with big contracts – Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton (the latter being perhaps the worst contract in MLB history, even though there is a lot of competition for that title).
(Now Jack and I know why Mike Trout was smiling so big in this banner hanging outside The Big A.)
As with all contracts, short and long, the true value to the team will only be known over time. But my guess is that in this particular comparison $430 million for 12 years will prove to be cheaper than $330 million for 13.
March 15, 2019
The action is still off the field more than on it
So we are a month into Spring Training and have only two weeks to go until Opening Day (five days if you count the OAK v. SEA games in Japan March 20-21). All thirty teams will be in action on March 28 for the earliest domestic openers in MLB history. The schedule was moved up last year to create more off days during the year for the players. That seems appropriate to note as this year the most interesting news around MLB is what is happening off the field rather than on it.
I noted in my opening 2019 post on March 1 that the biggest news is where will all the veterans be playing, if they are playing at all. Well, Opening Day is almost upon us and a couple dozen players remain unsigned, including Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel and Gio Gonzalez. Today that is still a story, and perhaps even more confounding since both LAD and NYY have ailing aces. Kershaw may be ready for Opening Day, but it will be dicey since he has been held out almost all of Spring Training. Luis Severino is definitely out for the month of April and perhaps longer. Couldn’t one of the two richest franchises take a financial risk when the team’s performance is at stake? Apparently even the traditionally big spenders are sticking with the new attitude towards over-30 veterans and long-term contracts.
And, as I wrote in my end-of-year post on 12/31,
the real question this year is whether MLB and the MLBPA understand the crash course they are on. And the answer is apparently, “yes.” In another surprise off-field move, the league and players announced an agreement on significant rules changes for 2019 and 2020, and their agreement to open CBA negotations over 2 years early!
Apparently Mr. Manfred and Mr. Clark read our site and take our advice. Good for them, and Good Luck to them. The initial reviews from expert analysts were not favorable, at least as to the rules changes effecting strategy for play on the field.
My guess is that some of these may either get dropped even before being tried or abandoned shortly after implementation. The real news to me is that the parties see that they must be pro-active in dealing with the serious issues between them. The fact that MLB, led by Commissioner Manfred, seem bent on changing the game in order to appeal to younger fans is worrisome, but we have to believe that it is well-intended. And some of the changes off the field are clearly aimed at the fans, such as the changes to All-Star voting. The redo at the end of the voting should create a lot of fan involvement and some exciting election day coverage. We will need some more time to study the impact of the on-field changes.
But, as we count down the days to Opening Day, let’s be thankful that we have the attention of the stewards of the game, both on and off the field.
March 1, 2019
It’s March – do you know where your favorite players are playing?
A free agent veteran wondering where he is going to be playing this year….
Hello, B.A.B.E.S. veterans, and perhaps some rookies, as well. In case you haven’t been paying attention, Spring Training 2019 is underway. I know this because I am listening to the A’s v. Rockies on the MLB At Bat app (the best $20 anyone can ever spend). It is awesome to have live baseball to listen to again and not have to listen to non-stop speculation about where Bryce Harper is going to be playing.
You may have heard that Harper agreed to a new 13-year contract with the Phillies. In addition to staying within the NL East, Harper gets to continue wearing red.
The picture above is not the first shot of Harper in PHI’s spring training camp in Clearwater, FL. It was actually taken in 2015 at the Nationals’ old Space Coast Stadium home in Melbourne. Harper struck out in that at bat, but he did go on to have an MVP season – one that barely justifies his $330 million contract. But more about that later.
For now my only reaction to his new deal is to confess that my first prediction for 2019 has already been proven incorrect. Back in November I expressed my belief that NYY was sure to sign Harper to play first base and set HR records with the short right field fence in Yankee Stadium. Well, if you need any further evidence that there is a new Steinbrenner in charge in the Bronx, and a new fiscal approach to team management everywhere in MLB, look no further than the fact that the Yankees did not sign either of the two top free agents this year. No, the Padres and the Phillies took those honors. But more about that later, also.
The question for now, as we begin to consider our picks for 2019, is where will the rest of the dozens of free agents sign, if at all? I always like to wait until the end of spring training to make my selections, not because I think spring performance is particularly relevant but because I am concerned about injuries. Now I have to add the variable of a significant free agent signing – Dallas Keuchel anyone? Or perhaps one or more of these dozens of available veterans?
Whether you like to wait like I do, or have already made your picks, make a note that Opening Day, and the deadline for submitting your picks, is now only four weeks away, March 28.
While you ponder your 2019 selections, you may want to revisit yours and others’ 2018 approach, particularly the Rocky winner Gus Pompa who proved that the term “analysis by paralysis” is not always a criticism.