July 19, 2022
It’s Still Early, But…
Some conclusions about the 2022 MLB season can be drawn. It’s only the All-Star Break, but I have to admit that NYY is going to make the post-season. Due to the Mid-Summer Classic being scheduled a week later than it usually is played (it practically is “mid-summer” this year), every team has already played at least 90 games and some as many as 94. Therefore, despite all having at least 68 games still to play, some teams, including NYY, appear certain to be playing in October (I discuss the growing disparity in the standings below). So, I’ll admit my total snub of NYY back in March was wrong. However, I’m still not ready to give them Rob Mandred’s “piece of metal” (f/k/a the “Commissioner’s Trophy”). Rob Manfred apologizes for calling World Series trophy a ‘piece of metal’ (espn.com).
Lest you think I am obsessing over my Yankee hatred, the truth is that their performance is one of the top stories of the MLB season. So I will start with them in making six observations about the current state of play, on and off the field, in late July, 2022.
Brian Cashman definitely reads this blog.
Perhaps the entire NYY organization reads it, since everyone in pinstripes seems hell-bent on proving wrong my negative prediction about the 2022 team. Until the past two weeks (which included three losses to HOU), the team was on pace to win more games than any other NYY team in history (their record is 114). They are still on pace for 113 wins and easily could surpass that, as well as the all-time MLB record set by SEA in 2001 (116). Of course, we all know that the Mariners did not win the World Series that year, or even get to it (SEA still hasn’t been to the WS, but they are currently on a 14-game winning streak. Is this their year?) Thus, we know that regular season success is not a guarantee of post-season triumph. Therefore, I am now predicting that the Yankees will be the 2022 version of the 2001 Mariners in MLB, or more timely, the equivalent of the 2022 University of Tennessee (my alma mater) college baseball team.
The Vols had a historic regular season (their 57-9 record would equate to a 140 wins in 162 game season!), but the Big Orange failed to even make it to the College World Series in Omaha. The same is likely to be true for the guys in Midnight Navy Blue pinstripes, no matter how many games they win in the regular season. This new prediction, however, is not built on my lifelong dislike for NYY, but rather on a careful analysis of the pinstripe line-up. As loyal reader and 2017 “Rocky” winner Hudson Stone observes, “this Yankees team is not built for a short series”. HOU shutting them out for 16 consecutive innings in the Bronx (including a combined no-hitter) suggests that Hudson is right. Are you Yankee fans (Bill, Tom, Steve, Pete, Jed, et al.) worried about that? Can a team be both the best team over the long-haul and the most vulnerable in a short series? Hudson and I say “yes”.
Either CWS is much worse than we all predicted, or BAL is much better.
The White Sox and the Orioles have the same record (46-46). How can this be? It is almost as interesting a question as the one posed above about NYY. Perhaps BAL’s surprising success is attributable to the moving of the leftfield wall back at Camden Yards. I suggested as much in an early June email to IBWAA co-director, Dan R. Epstein, after Dan wrote a great article about it for Baseball Prospectus (pay-walled, but the site is worth it). Every organization in a deep valley needs something radical to lift them out, and perhaps messing with the perfection of Camden Yards was just the trick for BAL. It certainly messed with NYY: Yankees blast ‘Create-A-Park’ Camden Yards: Why Orioles changed dimensions of MLB’s once home run-friendly park | Sporting News. (As if Yankee Stadium isn’t a “creation”, from the Little League right field dimension to the sterile corporate atmosphere that in no way evokes the history of the prior Yankee Stadiums). Anyway, BAL is one of the best stories of the season so far. Let’s hope the team continues to play well. MLB is simply a better product when the team with the Orange and Black Smiling Bird is good, reviving the memories of Cal and Frank and Brooks and Boog and Jim Palmer. Images of these and so many other Oriole greats, including Manager Earl Weaver, come floating back to my mind through the black and white TV images of day-time World Series games.
Black and White are the White Sox colors, and their pinstripe uniforms have a classic look also, but the 2022 team has been so bad and has performed so far below expectations that the 1919 Black Sox team is starting to come to mind. It would almost be easier to accept that this collection of players is throwing games than it is to believe that they have tried their best and only won 46 games so far. Injuries have been a factor, but mostly it has been very poor play. Twins, Byron Buxton turn the first 8-5 triple play in MLB history vs. White Sox – CBSSports.com. And, of course, self-styled baseball genius manager Tony La Russa has contributed a few bonehead plays of his own: Was Tony La Russa’s intentional walk of Trea Turner the worst in MLB history? A ranking (espn.com). How does La Russa still have his job when Joe Maddon and Joe Girardi have been fired? He must have pictures of CWS owner Jerry Reinsdorf.
This will be an interesting story to watch for the rest of the season, but for the opposite reasons as BAL – like watching a train wreck rather than a phoenix rising. Dan Epstein said it best in another email last week: “I hope La Russa gets fired in the fifth inning of a game with an 0-2 count on the batter”. That’s a hilarious thought, and it would be well-deserved treatment for a guy who should never have come out of retirement into an era where he just does not belong. Here is an interesting analysis of the evolving role of the manager, featuring BAL’s Weaver, written 17 years ago! Few manage on their own – Baltimore Sun. (Spoiler alert: La Russa still takes himself too seriously. Some guys never learn.)
Old Guys don’t rule.
Whether or not La Russa gets fired, clearly the brief Renaissance of the “old baseball guy” is in peril. Joe Maddon’s firing was apparently a shock to him, and he blamed “analytics” for it. Joe Maddon calls out Angels’ GM, baseball analytics after firing: ‘You’re unable to just go to the ballpark and have some fun and play baseball’ | Sporting News. The truth is, however, Joe’s act had already run out of steam in Chicago and was probably never going to work in Los Angeles. He was just another worn-out toy that Arte Moreno dramatically overpaid for. And news flash to Joe: “it’s hard to have fun at the ballpark when your team is losing 12 games in a row”. Time for you to hit the road in your RV and let baseball move on. Maddon Shows Off His Winnebago | ESPN – YouTube.
I hated to see Joe Girardi also get the ax in PHI, but it was probably time. The team simply was not responding to his old school ways any more than it embraced Gabe Kapler’s new school. Gabe Kapler fired as Phillies manager under weight of losses and leadership issues | RSN (nbcsports.com). (Speaking of Kapler, has his magic in SFO run out after one season? Did I miss that prediction, as well?) PHI interim manager Rob Thomsen has been around forever (38 years in baseball) but does not seem to belong to either the Girardi or Kapler camp. Perhaps he can mesh the two and get PHI back into the post-season. I am pulling for him since I picked them as a wild-card team, and everyone likes to see someone succeed in the spotlight after a lifetime of serving as a roadie (Think ATL’s Brian Snitkner: Brian Snitker’s long journey through Braves organization leads to World Series title – Sports Illustrated.
Buck Showalter is not an old guy.
But he is controversial. Buck does not fit into any category other than his own. We all know he’s the original OCD manager and consequently he’s never gotten the credit he deserves (I would take him over La Russa any day). Admittedly, he has never taken a team to a World Series and is barely above .500 after 21 years as a manager (.509), but NYY, ARI and TEX all went to the World Series shortly after he was fired as their manager (winning 5 championships between them). He had a lot to do with the development of those teams. And BAL was very competitive in the ultra-competitive AL East while he was there. His opening three months in Queens has been up to his usual standards. NYM (yes, the Mets!) have the second best record in the NL even with Max Scherzer having missed most of the season and Jacob deGrom having missed all of it. Buck has to get credit for that.
Regardless of whether NYM can hold off ATL for the NL East crown, I believe they are better-suited for the post-season than their cross-town rival, especially if both Scherzer and deGrom are available. I might actually enjoy a subway series if Buck finally got to pay the Steinbrenners back for George’s firing him less than a year before winning the 1996 World Series. Did NYY win because of Buck’s work or because of his absence? The same question can be asked about ARI firing him 13 months before winning its only World Series title in 2001. As I said back in May, I owe Buck an apology for not believing that he could overcome the Mets’ history and get his new team into the post-season. Might he also overcome his own history and actually lead the Mets to the World Series title? That would earn him an apology from all of baseball, and no doubt make the Steinbrenner family most unhappy. What really interests me about NYM, however, is whether the new club owner may want to stick it to the Steinbrenners even more than Buck does. This could happen twice, both on the field and in the off-season.
Belief in one’s ability is a powerful asset, but understanding the market for your services is smarter.
We all know that Aaron Judge turned down an eight-year, $230 million contract offer from NYY. We know this because Brian Cashman announced it to the world at a press conference. New York Yankees offered Aaron Judge $230 million contract, GM Brian Cashman says (espn.com). We also know that Judge is having a stellar season that most believe will make it a prudent decision on his part to have turned down the Yankee’s pre-season offer. However, did Judge make his decision solely on his personal self-belief, or does he have an understanding that no matter how he performs Mets’ owner Steve Cohen will make him an offer in free agency that will swamp the Yankees’ offer?
Cohen is MLB’s richest owner and he has made it clear he is willing to spend whatever it takes to win a championship. $340 million to Lindor? Check. $46 million/year to Scherzer? Double-Check. Perhaps $350 million to take Aaron Judge away from NYY? Check-mate?? It makes perfect sense to me, and probably does to Aaron Judge also. And he won’t even have to move cities! Perhaps that assurance is one of the reasons he is so calm and has performed so well under the pressure of his “walk” year. The only possible flaw in this plan would be if Buck leads the Mets to a World Series title without Judge. Would Cohen still overpay to sign him? Probably so, in order to try to build a Mets dynasty. And, of course, Cohen has his own understanding of economics – a $17+ billion net worth will do that for you (even with an insider-trading scandal and a $1.8 billion fine). Who Is Steve Cohen? What Is His Net Worth? (investopedia.com)
And speaking of having your own perspective on money, 23-year old Juan Soto turned down a $440 million contract offer! Sources – Washington Nationals open to listening to Juan Soto trade offers after $440M contract rejected (espn.com). Tienes que estar bromeando!* (I now have a new favorite Spanish word – “bromeando”). Perhaps Juan thinks he can earn more somewhere else, or perhaps he just hates Washington so much he’ll risk nearly a half-billion dollars for over 24 months until he gets to free agency. Or perhaps there is a two-word explanation. When asked about now possibly being traded by the Nationals, Soto answered that his hands are tied and there is nothing he can do about it. “I talk to my people and they take care of everything.” “My people” – a/k/a “Scott Boras”. That explains everything. Juan Soto Presser | 07/18/2022 | MLB.com.
But is this a future agent/player dispute in the making, even with an agent of Boras’s stature? We all know that didn’t go so well for Freddie Freeman, and his agent isn’t taking the bad press lightly. Agent Casey Close sues Fox Sports radio host Doug Gottlieb for libel over tweet about contract offer to Los Angeles Dodgers’ Freddie Freeman (espn.com). I hope Juan doesn’t regret his decision as much as Freeman apparently does. Freddie Freeman saga not doing him any favors with Los Angeles media (fansided.com). What price happiness? Apparently it is whatever price Scott Boras names. But seriously, is $440 million really not enough? Juan Soto seems to be happy all the time, so perhaps he isn’t motivated by money. But if that is the case, why not just take the mind-blowing offer that is on the table? So many mysteries in baseball and life….
The MLBPA (or its members) has some explaining to do.
I am working on a separate post about the impact of the new CBA, but I can give you a preview here. It’s not working out quite like the players hoped. (And I use the term “players” intentionally. Recall that the negotiating committee voted unanimously against the deal. That is part of my analysis, and I am rethinking my criticism of the committee for its vote.) Teams are still tanking (have you looked at the standings?) and service time is still being manipulated, and of course the length of time to arbitration and free agency are still the same. So what did the MLBPA gain? It’s hard to recall, and we are only three months into the five-year deal.
Even the items left on the table, such as the international player draft, do not appear to be moving in the players’ favor. Sources – MLBPA counters MLB’s international draft proposal; sides still far apart (espn.com). And my long-time insistence that increased payroll does not equate to success on the field has more empirical support, and not from the darlings of Moneyball, OAK or TBR. Recall that CWS and BAL have the same record, 46-46. CWS’s payroll – $195 million. BAL’s payroll – $45 million (and that includes over $11 million of dead money for players such as Chris Davis. BAL’s active payroll is actually only $33 million!). MLB 2022 Payroll Tracker | Spotrac.
With no obligation to spend a minimum amount of money on payroll, and substantial amounts of data that establish there is no direct correlation between the amount of payroll invested and the number of W’s collected, not to mention a third wild-card team in the post-season, it is easy to predict that teams are going to continue to squeeze the players for the remaining 4+ years of this CBA. It is not a good picture for the MLBPA, and it doesn’t help the optics that MLB’s marquis franchise, NYY, is likely to get outbid for its star player (although I may actually side with the Steinbrenners on this, depending on what the final contract price turns out to be). It’s still early in the life of the deal, but I predict the sides will again be very much at odds when the next bargaining period comes around. Or could we see a strike even before this CBA expires?
That is not a happy note on which to conclude my summary of the first half of the 2022 season. There are many positive stories that I haven’t touched on, including many bright new faces with brilliant futures. Did you see Julio Rodriguez last night? Have you seen Yordan Alvarez swing a bat? He’s not a new face but his future just keeps getting brighter. And have you seen Jeremy Pena play? How quickly he has made Carlos Correa an afterthought in HOU! The future of the game in terms of exceptional players is clearly bright.
There is also the third wild-card spot that will make the next month very interesting for fans and extremely difficult for many team GM’s, presidents and owners as they try to decide whether to sell or buy or stand pat. (Chip Babcock, what is going on in BOS?). And, of course, is someone going to empty the farm system to acquire Juan Soto and then sign him for a half a billion dollars? How much did I say Steve Cohen is worth?
Baseball is a game we all love, but it is also a business. And business rules often determine the outcome of the competition more than do the rules of play. Once you make a sport a profession rather than an amateur pursuit, that is inevitable. Actually, it is inevitable even if you try to keep it an amateur pursuit. The Olympics are an obvious example, but if you are interested in the historical development of amateur sports into a profession, as well as a dramatic depiction of the inherent tension between labor and capital, take a look at The English Game on Netflix. https://www.netflix.com/title/80244928. These issues facing MLB are not new and will not be resolved any time soon. In the meantime, we should just try to enjoy the sport we love as best we can. No bromeando!
* Translation: “You must be joking!”
May 11, 2022
Way too early for a Mea Culpa
You have probably seen the newest trend in sports prognosticating – the “way too early…” lists. Whether it is the NFL post-season qualifiers (NFL Network’s Adam Rank’s way too early playoff predictions for 2022 season), or college basketball and football rankings (North Carolina Tar Heels are No. 1 in Way-Too-Early Top 25 men’s college basketball rankings for 2022-23; espn.com; 2022 Way-Too-Early college football top 25 – Biggest question mark for each team (espn.com)), we can’t seem to get enough “analysis” from the “experts”, even if it is months in advance of any competition. Some guys have even created their own enterprise on this premise (Joe Lunardi releases way-too-early 2023 NCAA Tournament Bracketology (on3.com). Arguably, every prediction that Lunardi makes is beyond “way too early” since he purports to put teams in the exact position that the selection committee will assign them. This is even more speculative than predicting the result of actual competition, but he has generated so much interest that there is now even “way too early” criticism of the committee! (March Madness: NCAA Tournament bracket may be most controversial ever (usatoday.com).
As for our own B.A.B.E.S. prognostications, we are now actually thirty games into the MLB season. That is nearly 20% of the season from which to evaluate empirical data. Analysis today might not be considered “way too early”, and there have been some surprises that are certainly worth noting even at this early stage:
1) BOS is surprisingly bad; 2) batting averages are surprisingly low; 3) the NL West is surprisingly strong.
However, the limited amount of data means that it is still “too early” to draw emphatic conclusions. Thankfully, I can relate two other “surprises” without yet admitting that I was “way off” in my predictions:
1) NYY is 22-8; 2) NYM is 21-10.
You will recall, no doubt, that I did not predict either of these teams would make the post-season. I even called them out in my “analysis”. Perhaps Brian Cashman read this page and took seriously my admonition to “prove me wrong!” Perhaps, also, Buck Showalter was offended that I went with one of my favorite managers, Joe Girardi, and forgot that I have often asserted that Buck himself is one of the best managers in the game. (Early Returns – BEST AMERICAN BASEBALL EXPERTS SOCIETY (wordpress.com). Fortunately, that post from October, 2012, actually proves the unreliability of “way too early” polls.
You will recall, of course, that baseball is the object of the maxim “it ain’t over ’til it’s over”. Other sports also provide evidence of this truth:
Therefore, I am not going to confess “my bad” just yet. It is way too early for that.
April 17, 2022
Holy Days, MLB Games and Pilgrimages
Opening Day, 2022, which most of us anticipated with the fervor of a religious holiday, has come and gone. Completed as well are this year’s observance of Passover and Easter, with every team (and every player) playing right through both Jewish and Christian observances. Gone, apparently, are the days of Sandy Koufax sitting out a World Series start on Yom Kippur. https://www.si.com/.amp/mlb/2015/09/23/sandy-koufax-yom-kippur-1965-world-series.
The article suggests that Koufax was not always so observant, and I admit to having followed the games on these special days as a fan, myself. So, I offer no criticism of any player who plays the game (or doesn’t play the game) depending on his own religious conviction. In fact, I admit to being somewhat surprised to hear Bryce Harper first give thanks to his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as he received his third MVP award (MV3) in Philly last Saturday afternoon.
Public professions of faith, and particularly Christian ones by star athletes, are seemingly met with more skepticism now than ever. (Harper played today, and got three hits, although PHI lost to MIA 11-3.) Further, the simple decision to play the games on holy days seems to have been decided long ago by leagues other than MLB. The NFL on Thanksgiving and the NBA on Christmas Day are now unquestioned American traditions. And I even got a text this morning from one of you, who I know to be a devout believer, comparing a certain pitching performance on Saturday to a resurrection miracle. I had to call “anathema” on that one. However, I certainly got the point that the priority of faithful observances has been skewed, perhaps forever.
Nevertheless, Koufax’s decision to sit down in 1965, as well as Harper’s willingness to stand-up in 2022, stand out as notable exceptions to the times. I will likely have more to say about them after further reflection and as the season progresses. What is the next Holy Day? Mother’s?
For now, I ask you to please fulfill your own annual dedicated secular observance by clicking the link below and confirming that your 2022 picks have been recorded correctly. An extended delay in seeking corrections of any error I have made is not guaranteed to receive grace.
Also, if you have not already done so, please read my post below from April 10 chronicling the continuation of Jack’s and my pilgrimage (religious or not?) to see a game in every MLB park. Ballpark #23 is a noteworthy beginning to our annual quest, as well as a milestone for the professional sports season(s).
April 10, 2022
City of Brotherly Love, A Beautiful Ballpark and More!
(OAK@PHI, Citizens Bank Park, April 9, 2022)
Philadelphia was the site of ballpark #23 in my quest to see a game in every MLB city with my son. Citizens Bank Park was surprising in that it offered a nearly perfect game experience: a beautiful facility with open vistas and yet an intimate feel; open concourses allowing unrestricted travel all around the park, assisted by a very friendly operations staff; good food and very engaged fans.
The only drawback is that it is not an “urban” park. It is located three miles and a $17 Uber ride from the center of the city. That weakness, however, is more than compensated for by the development of a complete sports complex – MLB, NBA, NHL and NFL facilities all within the same gates. This feat of civic coordination allowed for the exceedingly rare triple-header, three-pointer or hat trick, depending on your favorite sport.
In just over 8 hours, Jack and I saw an NBA game, a MLB game and an NHL game, all without leaving the premises. That is an awesome sports day even if you are not in the center of the city! And it certainly puts Philly in our top 5 ballpark experiences.
April 7, 2022
Errors and Rainouts!
Welcome to Opening Day, 2022, where I have already committed two errors before the first pitch is thrown and two games have already been postponed due to weather. An omen?
Kudos to devoted B.A.B.E.S. reader and 2017 Rocky winner, Hudson Stone. He caught my mistake in claiming that HOU is the only franchise to go to five consecutive league championship series. In fact, Hudson corrected me, there have been two earlier teams to do it – the A’s in the 70’s (5) and the Braves in the 90’s (8!). So, Hudson is now the official editor of my posts, and the historian for the Society, in addition to occasional contributing writer. But what can he do about the weather?
BOS@NYY and SEA@MIN have already had their games cancelled due to rain and cold. Also, NYM@WAS has been moved to a night game in hopes of outlasting the storm. That certainly is an apt metaphor for the 2022 season, which is already starting seven days late. With an already condensed schedule, weather delays are just going to make things tougher on players and managers. But, there will be Major League Baseball today, despite the lock-out, my errors and the bad weather. So, I say it is a beautiful, new day.
(Although it is raining in the Bronx today, I am posting this picture to assure Brian Cashman that, indeed, the sun will come out tomorrow.)
April 4, 2022
Winning my second Rocky fourteen years after the first one can’t be considered a streak, but at least I now have a chance to start one officially by becoming the first Society member to win back-to-back Rocky’s. Not likely, I admit, but neither were some of the streaks I identify in my 2022 picks below. So, you know, it could happen.
(My 2008 and 2021 Rocky’s, along with my Cal Ripken, Jr., autograph ball – talk about streaks! Rocky kind of looks like Cal here, don’t you think?)
From my position as defending 2021 B.A.B.E.S. champion, I offer the following 2022 predictions, with explanations that support the continuance of my winning streak.
NL West – LAD – The Giants miraculously dethroned the Dodgers as division champions last year, stopping a streak of eight in a row, but I just can’t see that happening again. A new streak starts for LAD rather than for SFO. There is much buzz about LAD’s “historically good” line-up, which I say more about below, and it should at least earn them the division crown.
NL Central – MIL – “Pitching and defense wins championships”! Well, it should at least win a division that seems to have only two legitimate contenders. MIL has suspect hitting and STL has suspect pitching, but one of them is most likely to prevail in an otherwise weak division. I’ll go with pitching and defense. As for streaks, this will be Bob Uecker’s 51st consecutive year as the Brewers’ announcer. The Brewers started playing in 1970, the year before Uecker became their broadcaster, and now have the third longest non-championship streak (53 years if you count the one year in Seattle). No less an expert than IBWAA Co-Director Dan R. Epstein picks this as the year the Brewers win it all. I agree that it is long past time for MIL and Ueck to move up to the front row, but I don’t see this team getting past the division round.
NL East – ATL – No team has won back-to-back World Series since 1999-2000, and I don’t expect ATL to break that streak. I do expect them, however, to win the division for the fifth consecutive year, which is less than half-way to their amazing streak of 11 consecutive division crowns from 1995-2005.
NL WC – SFO – Kudos to Matt Bardwell for calling the Giants’ shocking 2021 division crown. Perhaps equally shocking is that Matt doesn’t even have SFO in the post-season this year! What does he know?? Even if they win fifteen fewer games than last year, the Giants will still have 92 wins. I think they will do better than that and will earn one of the three NL Wild Card spots, marking two consecutive years in the post-season, after a three-year absence.
NL WC – PHI – I had NYM as this pick until yesterday. Jacob deGrom going down for a month was an alarm bell. Max Scherzer being scratched from a Spring Training start was a siren wailing. And, of course, they are the Mets, so that’s the death knell. I am going with PHI and one of my favorite managers, Joe Girardi. (Jack and I will be in Citizens Bank Park on Saturday to cheer for him!) PHI currently has a streak of ten consecutive years out of the post-season, after winning five consecutive NL East crowns. PHI hired Joe to start that winning streak over again. He gets going this year by first making the post-season as a Wild Card.
NL WC – STL – I have picked STL to win the NL Central three consecutive years. I am breaking my own streak this year and dropping them to the Wild Card spot, which will be their fourth consecutive appearance in the post-season.
NLCS – LAD – No streak to discuss here, but there is the “greatest line-up ever” talk: Do the 2022 Los Angeles Dodgers have the best lineup ever? | FOX Sports. I am not buying that. However, I have said in the past that Dave Roberts is a nice guy, and Dave stuck his neck out in a major way last week: Dave Roberts guarantees a Dodgers World Series – ESPN Video. I have to at least give him the NLCS.
AL West – HOU – Even with Carlos Correa gone, HOU is still “Chapter 1” in Brian Cashman’s new book: “Bad guys finish first?” Unfortunately for Cashman, the Astros are also still really good, and should win a weak division. Already the only team ever to make the LCS five years in a row, conditions look good for the future of that streak. See below.
AL Central – CWS – A really good team that just added AJ Pollock and subtracted Craig Kimbrel. That’s a win/win in my book. Unfortunately, it was just announced that #1 starter Lance Lynn will be out for at least four weeks. I still expect them to take the crown for the second year in a row in a weak division.
AL East – TBR – Two consecutive division crowns with a payroll 1/3 of NYY and BOS! Smoke and mirrors, or pure genius? I don’t know, but I am not betting against them extending the streak to three in a row.
AL WC – TOR – The best team that did not make it to the post-season last year, most experts are picking them to win the division. I am not ready to go that far, but I predict that they start a streak of several post-season appearances with a Wild Card spot this year.
AL WC – BOS – They made a surprise return to the post-season last year with the near redemption of Alex Cora. They added Trevor Story to an already strong infield and should make it to the post-season for the second consecutive year. The pitching, however, will keep them from completing Cora’s redemption.
AL WC – LAA – This is my personal wild card. The Angels have been a disaster for so many years in a row I can’t count, and we all know that Mike Trout has never won a post-season game. However, with Ohtani, Trout, and Rendon seemingly healthy, and the management having enough confidence in rookies Adell, Marsh and Ward to DFA Justin Upton (and eat $28 million in salary), I think the Angels’ six-year streak of losing records will end. A first post-season appearance since 2014 will start a run of limited success before Trout retires as one of the greatest players never to win a World Series. https://bleacherreport.com/articles/1382148-ranking-the-40-greatest-mlb-players-never-to-win-a-world-series-title. (Future prediction: Ohtani signs with LAD as a free agent and wins multiple World Series!)
ALCS – HOU – Last year I predicted that Justin Verlander would come off the IL late in August and lead HOU to the AL championship. Verlander did not return, but HOU won anyway. He’s back for 2022, but unfortunately Lance McCullers is now out indefinitely. So, this year I am predicting that McCullers will return some time during the season to bolster a stellar pitching staff and fearsome line-up that will get HOU to its sixth consecutive ALCS, and its fourth World Series in six years.
World Series – HOU – We don’t pick the Rookie of the Year as part of our B.A.B.E.S. competition, but I am predicting that Jeremy Pena wins it for HOU and makes the franchise’s decision to let Carlos Correa sign with MIN look brilliant. In the process, an already accomplished core of players – Altuve, Bregman, Gurriel and Tucker – cement their place in history by redeeming the 2017 victory over LAD with another 7-game conquest.
NL MVP – Austin Riley – He is perhaps the best player on a team with several stars, although still largely unknown. He could have won the award last year, but lost out to his famous first-baseman teammate. I predict a year so impressive that Riley will win the MVP even if Freddie Freeman repeats his performance from last year wearing his new Dodger blue.
NL Cy Young – Walker Buehler – I saw one prediction that he will win 25 games! I doubt that, but he definitely could win the Cy Young Award.
NL Batting – Juan Soto – He may walk 200 times, so his OPS should be really high. That will make him a strong MVP candidate, but like last year the poor performance by his team will cost him votes and he will finish runner-up for the second year in a row. Fortunately, he doesn’t need votes to win the batting title.
AL MVP – Shohei Ohtani – Make it two in a row for the second-coming of Babe Ruth (and future Dodger Hall-of-Famer).
AL Cy Young – Justin Verlander – He is coming off Tommy John surgery, but that just means that he is very well rested. I predict that he will win 18-20 games, and I know that the sportswriters will love voting for him because they want to make Kate Upton happy.
AL Batting – Kyle Tucker – See the description of Austin Riley above. This is the year that everyone will know Kyle Tucker’s name. I think he will win the batting title and then back it up by winning the World Series MVP.
Hey, it could all happen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CuwMvesrw7w.
March 31, 2022
Time Does Tell*
To all our NYY faithful among the Society membership (especially Bill Cupelo), please know that I am still trying to honor my pledge to refrain from hating on the Yankees so much. I made the pledge back in 2012 when the then new team principal Hal Steinbrenner declared that his administration was going to operate under a different fiscal model than had his father. In addition to seeming fairer to every other team, this change actually gave me hope that we would finally see the true skill of GM Brian Cashman, which always seemed to get buried by the avalanche of The Boss’s money. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/12/01/love-your-enemies-part-1-the-yankees/.
Here is Hal’s “money quote” during the Hot Stove season of December, 2012: “If you do well on the player development side, and you have a good farm system, you don’t need a $220 million payroll. You don’t. You can field every bit as good a team with young talent.”
I believed then, and I still believe now, that Hal’s statement is correct. See Exhibit A: Tampa Bay Rays! I also have frequently complimented Cashman for his ability to find the right “fit” pieces to go along with the big free agent or trade deals that he has been able to work into Hal’s budget. Unfortunately, in the ten years that he has operated under this regime Cashman has not produced the same success as small-market franchises like TBR or KCR(!), or even other large market teams who have won World Series titles with smaller payrolls than NYY – ATL, WAS, HOU, CHI, SFO. https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/world-series-champion-opening-day-payroll-ranks-in-the-wild-card-era/.
I was reminded of all of this today as I read this article on ESPN.com:
So Brian blames the Astros’ 2017 use of a trash can as the reason why NYY has not won the World Series since 2009! I think the pressure is finally getting to him, and I have to say that I feel a little sorry for him, and maybe even a little angry with him. He not only wants an asterisk placed beside the Astros’ championship, he wants his own asterisked championship banner to hang beside NYY’s other 27? I wonder what LAD thinks about that?
Setting aside the fact that NYY was also caught stealing signs during this period – and it has taken a federal court lawsuit for us to get to see just how culpable they were – https://www.si.com/mlb/2022/03/21/yankees-letter-apple-watch-sign-stealing-court-rules-unsealed – the fact is that NYY has had a payroll in the top 3 of all MLB teams for 19 out of the past 20 years, during which time they have gone to one World Series. TBR has been in the bottom 3 for 18 of the past 20 years. https://www.fueledbysports.com/mlb-payrolls/. Yet, TBR has been to the World Series twice in that period, and has won the past two AL East division crowns over NYY and averaged 96 wins over the past three full-seasons!
Brian, shut up and do your job better, or I will stop defending you. Neither the Astros’ morality nor Hal’s definition of penury is an excuse for your team’s performance on the field. Do a better job developing your own players, and try to get your roster a little more versatile and a lot younger. Oh, and you might want to start looking for a replacement for Luis Severino, again! I put the over/under on his starts this year at twelve. https://www.mlb.com/news/luis-severino-looks-good-after-injury-scare.
To my fellow Society members, know that this is not hating on NYY generally, but simply calling-out their general manager’s hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness. Next Monday I will post my picks for 2022, (yours are due by April 7), but I will disclose now that I am not picking NYY as one of my six AL post-season teams.
Time will tell whether Brian can prove me wrong!
March 14, 2022
More Work To Do
World leaders have not yet solved the crisis in Eastern Europe, but MLB and the MLBPA did come to an understanding last week that ended the 99-day lockout by the owners. I will have more to say about the new Collective Bargaining Agreement as we move toward the reset Opening Day, April 7, but the main points of the over 175 pages of the agreement are outlined here: https://www.blessyouboys.com/2022/3/14/22973710/all-the-details-in-mlbs-new-collective-bargaining-agreement.
The only change I will reference now is that there is now an additional post-season qualifier in each league, meaning you must now pick 3 wild-card teams from both the NL and AL. Here is the link to our updated format: https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/membershipcompetition/.
Thus, we all have more work to do this year, and less time to do it in. You have until April 7 to email your picks to email@example.com. Of course, you might want to wait to see where some or most of the over 200 free agents sign in the coming weeks, https://www.mlb.com/news/mlb-2021-22-free-agents-by-team, not to mention the many expected trades that have already begun to occur. https://www.mlb.com/news/josh-donaldson-traded-to-yankees-gary-sanchez-to-twins https://www.espn.com/mlb/transactions.
Brian Cashman and the other 29 GM’s have much more work to do before we can do ours. Oh, and there are 197 potential arbitration cases for players tendered contracts but not yet signed. https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2022/03/march-22-set-as-new-date-for-teams-players-to-exchange-arbitration-figures.html. So, yes, everyone has a lot more work to do.
And one more thing, there are always injuries that occur during the off-season that are late coming to light. This year is no exception: https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/fernando-tatis-jr-injury-padres-star-out-up-to-three-months-with-fractured-wrist-may-need-surgery/. And will there be others that occur during the compacted Spring Training or early in the season due to the shortened preparation time? Likely.
March 6, 2022
Heart of the Heartland
Peter Ostroushko was a world-renowned, but mostly unknown, American musician of Ukranian ancestry. His musical influence through composition and performance on the mandolin and violin can be heard around the world. He should be celebrated here today, as should many other Americans who trace their roots to that region, some of whom I call my personal friends. I hope you will start the effort by listening to the Youtube clip above.
I challenge you to listen to Heart of the Heartland and not be moved. In this title track, as well as the complete work of 10 tracks, Ostroushko paints a musical depiction of why his ancestors, and many of our own, came to this continent. He does so, however, by drawing on the musical heritage of his ancestors’ homeland, the Ukraine region of Eastern Europe. I am sure that you will hear it as clearly and powerfully as I do.
I was reminded this morning by Garrison Keillor that the world would be a better place if people stopped to listen to these particular notes, as well as many others that Peter composed during his long career. https://www.peterostroushko.com/. I enjoy many of Ostroushko’s works, but Heart of the Heartland has always been the most arresting to me.
Merriam-Webster gives three definitions of “heartland”, the third of which is “a region where something (such as an industry or activity) most strongly thrives”. I would revise this to add “cultural” as an adjective modifying “activity”. Perhaps that is encapsulated in M-W’s second alternative definition: “the central geographical region of the U.S. in which mainstream or traditional values predominate.” I am surprised that M-W limits this definition to the U.S. Every country must have a heartland, right?
In the track above, I hear an American-Ukranian artist who grew up in Minnesota expressing in music the beauty and hope as well as the anguish and despair that those in the heartland often experience. The names of the other tracks on the recording make clear that he is thinking mostly of the American heartland in these compositions (Montana, Dakota), but I have to believe that his music was infused with memories of his ancestors’ home, a land that has long been dominated by “Mother Russia”. (Interestingly, there is one track entitled “Nicaragua”, another land that has long endured interference from the outside, including from our own country.) The heartland of Ukraine must certainly be experiencing anguish and despair today. I wish the residents there a sense of peace and hope and endurance, to go along with the pathos, that this music expresses to me.
That is the “heart” of the heartland to me. It is a mental destination as much as a geographical one. I also think the phrase is an apt metaphor for baseball, a game that lies at the heart of my personal interest in sports, just as it does for many of you. I have spent over ten years writing on this blog trying to express that view fully. It may seem improper to use a military invasion as an introduction to, and analogy for, the status of Major League Baseball today, but one of the most defiant acts civilians can take against military aggression is to carry on with their lives as if unaffected by the actions of dictators around the world. I am no where near a war zone, or even remotely experiencing any serious effects of this conflict. However, I can make this my simple act of defiance – to continue to talk about the beauty and hope that my favorite sport exemplifies, as well as the frustration and cynicism that its current state reflects.
“National Pastime” may be the recognized – and now anachronistic – description for our beloved game, but “heart of the heartland” could be a new, and more meaningful, slogan. Sadly, today we are focused more on the anguish and despair than on the beauty and hope in the baseball world, just as we are in the political world.
As political as I will get on this site is the debate about labor/management relations in our country, and then only in the context of baseball. I referenced this in my March 2 note posted below, and cited my commentary from New Year’s Eve, 2018. My post from December 2, 2021, continued that practice, and also cited a piece from December 13, 2012, which long-time Society members may recall. https://babesbaseball.wordpress.com/2012/12/13/love-your-enemies-part-2-marvin-miller-and-bud-selig/. There I confessed to being a product of a mixed marriage – my father was management and my mother was labor – and expressed my respect for both Marvin Miller (labor) and Bud Selig (management). The distinction between my parents’ vocations caused some strife in my family, to be sure, but perhaps taught me the key principle in any negotiation (implemented brilliantly in my opinion by Marvin Miller, even as he took very tough negotiating positions): “Come now, let us reason together.” Is. 1:18.
This morning I awoke to two different news reports on these topics: (1) peace talks between Ukraine and Russia are focused solely on permitting civilian evacuations rather than on formally ending military hostilities, and (2) the MLB players association is expected to respond in writing to the MLB owners’ latest proposal. I am thankful that some Ukranians in the heartland may escape the fighting, and I am encouraged that the MLBPA will at least continue the dialogue with the owners. Indeed, I am hopeful that these startling world events just might soften the owners’ and players’ positions in recognition that there are larger, more important issues at play.
It seems foolish for the owners to continue to pursue significant economic concessions from largely at-risk athletes, most of whose careers will last fewer than five years, while denying the fans everywhere the first opportunity to enjoy the game unfettered since October, 2019. It would be equally foolish for the players’ representatives not to see that a tolerable agreement is within reach. This is particularly true now that the negotiations appear finally to have defined the essential battle lines (military metaphor intentionally used to underscore the improper emphasis each side has put on “winning” these negotiations).
I have criticized the MLBPA for not truly bargaining for the majority of its members – the over 65% of players who earn under $1 million, 33% of whom are at the minimum – currently $507.5k. That is still a lot of money by the standards of most Americans, but when you consider the earning power for most players is limited to under five years, the sums do not produce much long-term financial security. Now it appears that the players union is truly focused on obtaining a higher minimum salary, fewer restrictions on those who are approaching free agency, and an overall salary floor for teams. Each of these provisions should increase the compensation for all 1200+ members of the MLBPA (everyone on the clubs’ 40-man rosters). Obviously, that should be the goal for the leaders of any union.
I have written before how I believe the MLBPA needs to find a way for its negotiating committee to reflect its union membership – meaning that there should be representatives from the lower class of salaried players. The union needs to look like the membership economically just as the U.S. Supreme Court should “look like America” racially. https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/introducing-historic-pick-biden-promises-supreme-court-america/story?id=83113915. Max Scherzer may have the fight of a junk yard dog, but he also possesses the highest annual contract compensation in MLB history. Seven of the eight player representatives made over $12 million in 2021 alone, and three have long-term contracts in excess of $300 million. https://apnews.com/article/mlb-nfl-nhl-sports-business-f2fc6f4cb25853a4aafddd5371a52d1a.
If the focus of negotiations is to truly be on the younger, less compensated players, then at least one or two of those should be on the committee. The “rank and file” are, if you will, the “heart of the heartland” of a union, and the ones who need to be protected against forces greater than they are. I am certain that some can be found who will speak up for themselves. Of course, they are also the ones most harmed by the lock-out and loss of games and pay, and the owners should be as concerned about this long-term harmful impact on individuals as they are about their long-term profits. Wouldn’t it be amazing to hear both sides announce an agreement that has been reached expeditiously precisely because of the greater forces at play in the world and the need to focus on “the least of these”, even when the “least” are among the most highly compensated in the world. (Matthew 24:40).
Most media outlets report that the structure of a new deal has come into focus. The fight now is just about the $$$ that will fit into each category. Therefore, both sides in the negotiations, the billionaire owners and the multi-millionaire players on the negotiating committee, need to adopt a sense of urgency today. They need to feel a sense of urgency to protect the less fortunate among their ranks, not to mention the fans who in a very real sense pay all of their salaries and generate all of their profits. In short, they need to be fixated on protecting the heart of the heartland.
Each side should move toward the other, splitting the differences where possible, to end the lock-out. To come and reason together today and to reach an agreement in the very near future on a new collective bargaining agreement would be their small but very symbolic contribution to a more peaceful and happier world.
March 2, 2022
Wishing I was not so prescient….
I am very unhappy to say that I think I got it right, again. On December 31, 2018, I wrote:
“Which brings me to the biggest change in MLB in recent years, in my opinion, which has occurred during Manfred’s tenure as Commissioner – the state of the owner/player collective bargaining relationship. In short, it has declined even more than fan attendance. After an unprecedented period of collective bargaining peace – there has been no work stoppage since 1995 – the winds of conflict are increasing and a storm appears to be approaching with the expiration of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2021, just three years from now.”
The storm is no longer “approaching”; it has arrived. The owners’ lock-out continues, and the player/owner stand-off intensifies. The regular season has now been officially delayed until April 7. We have now all lost games, and the players have lost pay. (Major leaguers get paid 1/162 of the contracted amount for each game). Therefore, in an already intractable bargaining process, the sides now have another fundamental issue to argue over – recouping that pay – before the rest of the issues can even be addressed further. This is going badly, and looks to be getting worse.
I have resisted posting any commentary on the process to date, as I understand that most agreements are reached at the 11th hour, and both sides can modify their positions significantly at that time. However, no bargaining positions have been modified significantly (Rob Manfred’s protests, notwithstanding), and we are now past midnight, from a negotiating standpoint. Who knows how long MLB’s “dark night of the soul” will continue before even a glimmer of light appears, let alone a metaphoric sunrise.
Looking on the bright side, you now have at least another week to prepare your predictions for 2022. Not a very bright side, but I’m desperately looking for any basis for optimism.
If you are not inclined to work on your picks during this delay (especially since we don’t even know which players will be playing for which teams, assuming anyone plays!), you might enjoy reading this new book by my fellow IBWAA member, John Rosengren. I will post a full review later, but I will say now that reading it is much better time spent than reading updates on the labor negotiations.
January 26, 2022
Sometimes I get it right the first time….
Yesterday’s vote by the BBWAA for the Hall of Fame Class of 2022 once again caused a cacophony in the chorus of baseball pundits. There is still wide disagreement on whether the allegations of the use of steroids should keep players such as Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Hall. I listened to MLB Network and ESPN, and read much of the commentary online. There were the now-familiar points of disagreement, with most taking the “high road” and saying “no” to admission due to the moral taint of suspected cheating. HOF Broadcaster Bob Costas, however, appearing on MLB Network, had the audacity to disagree as to Bonds and Clemens. His arguments sounded familiar. So, I went into the B.A.B.E.S. archives and found what I was looking for – my own views expressed ten ballots ago, in January, 2013. I think I had it right then, just as Costas had it right yesterday. Did he read my column? Probably not, but a decade of debate has not changed my opinion.
January 12, 2022
“Jarndyce and Jarndyce drones on. This scarecrow of a suit has, in course of time, become so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. The parties to it understand it least, but it has been observed that no two Chancery lawyers can talk about it for five minutes without coming to a total disagreement as to all the premises.” Bleak House, Charles Dickens
January 1, 2022
Happy New Year!
(Night game on the National Mall)
December 4, 2021
Trophies – new and old. We all know Miles could play… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z9Yeq9svqO8.
© JSR 2022
Member, Society for American Baseball Research