Tilde Talk: The Empty Ureña Suspension

Atlanta Braves rookie outfielder Ronald Acuña, Jr. has been on a tear. Entering last night’s game against the floundering Fish, he had just become the youngest player (since at least 1920) to homer in four straight games, joining Miguel Cabrera as the only two twenty-year-olds to accomplish the feat. He leads all rookies in slugging percentage. He’s amazing, and he’s a big part of the reason why the Braves have reclaimed first place in the NL East.

The Miami Marlins stink. Their new ownership group, led by Derek Jeter, has spent its inaugural year at the helm casting off virtually every remotely valuable member of the team, which has a .390 winning percentage in 2018 and is unlikely to compete in any respect for years to come. I didn’t call the Marlins franchise a tax shelter, but somebody else might.

The Marlins pitching staff isn’t really getting anybody out, as a -180 run differential somewhat suggests. Only the Orioles and Blue Jays have been worse in that regard, and they spend a lot of time in the AL East getting beaten up by the Red Sox and Yankees juggernauts. If you care about ERA, the Marlins have the worst such mark (4.85) in the National League.

Acuña has enjoyed an extreme degree of success, even by his standards, against Miami: .339/.433/.714 (201 wRC+). They just can’t get him out, at least as the rules of baseball define that term, especially lately. In the first three games of the four-game series with the Marlins that ended last night, Acuña reached base ten times in fifteen plate appearances, which included four home runs and a double.

The Braves’ half of the first inning last night began like this:

I’ve watched Jose Ureña’s first pitch from last night, which came in at about ninety-seven miles per hour, as well as his subsequent reaction to his pitched ball hitting Acuña on the arm, about a dozen times. There is no doubt in my mind that Ureña took the mound last night with the intent to hit Acuña with his first pitch and did what he intended to do. The umpiring crew apparently agreed and ejected Ureña after that first pitch.

For those unfamiliar with Ureña, a collection of humans that, prior to roughly twenty-four hours ago included very nearly the entirety of the human species, he is a twenty-three-year-old pitcher who has spent all four years of his major-league career with the Marlins, mostly as a starter. Among regular starters, Ureña has been one of the harder throwers in 2018, but there’s little else remarkable about him. The current season has been the best of his career so far (1.7 WARP to date), and there’s a not-unreasonable argument that he ought to be done for the season.

This evening, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred decided to suspend Ureña for six games and fine him an undisclosed amount of money. Suspensions for this sort of thing often are of the five-game variety. For starting pitchers, five-game suspensions really are one-game suspensions, because most starting pitchers only pitch once every five games. It’s a bit of a charade by the Commissioner’s office.

Manfred has not released an explanation of his somewhat unusual decision to push Ureña’s suspension to six games, but it’s reasonable to assume that he wanted to appear tougher to avoid the usual critiques of the standard five-game suspension. It’s readily obvious, of course, that, for starting pitchers, a six-game suspension suffers from almost precisely the same practical defect that attends a five-game suspension. Indeed, as reporters immediately noted, it’s a very real possibility that Ureña won’t even miss his next start.

This isn’t the first time Manfred has acted in a way he knows is purely symbolic and entirely without practical consequence. It’s becoming a bad habit of his, made all the more frustrating by the ready availability of effective alternatives. Here, if Manfred really wanted to communicate a message to players that he will not tolerate intentional, unsportsmanlike behavior like that Ureña exhibited last night, he could have done any of the following:   Continue reading

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The 2018 All-Star Game was one for the age

Image result for joe jimenez all star

The American League continued its All-Star-Game winning streak last night, claiming an 8-6 victory in ten innings at Nationals Park in Washington, D.C. The game included a record ten home runs, far more than the previous ASG record of six, which had been matched three times (1951, 1954, and 1971).

What’s both more remarkable and unsurprisingly typical is the fact that all but one of the fourteen runs scored last night came by way of the home run, the sole exception being Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly that scored Jean Segura to extend the AL lead to 8-5 in the top of the tenth:

asg hr log

While absurd in its extremity, this homer-laden affair merely serves to illustrate that, across the sport, a larger share of all runs scored come by the home run than ever before.

guillen no 88-18 (asb)

Blame (or credit!) launch angles, player fitness, chicks, or the ball itself, but last night was a snapshot of the modern game’s offensive environment, as much as a single, top-tier exhibition game ever could be.

Whether you find this new reality fun and exciting or an inflationary bore, the trend seems likely to continue absent external intervention. Of all of the sport’s (seemingly) natural evolutionary developments, this is the only one for which I currently would consider the introduction of reforms with the goal of shifting gameplay away from consumption by the three true outcomes and toward a greater ball-in-play experience. It isn’t clear to me how to accomplish this, as most of the obvious changes likely wouldn’t work or raise other serious consequences, but I think this– not game time or designated hitters— is where the Commissioner should focus his energy with respect to on-field matters.

Designated Sitter, or, Manfred Ado About Nothing

manfred dp

For people who write about baseball, the All-Star break offers at least two things: (1) an intraseasonal oasis in which one can examine and address baseball topics over the span of a day or two without worrying that the otherwise constant barrage of new baseball events occurring that might, for example, mess up the performance numbers on which a writer had founded his or her baseball writing and (2) a probably countervailing force in the form of significant public interviews with the sport’s leaders addressing the sport’s Big Topics Of The Day.

Regarding the latter, Commissioner Rob Manfred kicked things off this morning with an appearance on Dan Patrick’s radio show. Here are my notes of the highlights:

manfred dp notes

People love to talk about the designated hitter and whether the National League will adopt it, and Manfred’s mention of the subject this morning predictably reignited the “conversation”:

I suspect that those on the fence or without a considered opinion on the subject may have found prodding from recent articles like this one Ben Lindbergh published last month illustrating the historically poor offensive numbers from current pitchers. What many of these conversants don’t do is think about this conversation from the DH side, however. There really is no doubt that a designated hitter is going to bat better than a pitcher, but the nature of the DH position is changing, both in terms of the players who are filling that role and their performance levels.

Regarding the union’s particular partiality to the DH, are David Ortiz-types really the players finding extra PAs as designated hitters? Take a look. Continue reading

2018 MLB rule changes less drastic than anticipated

baseball time

With the MLB and MLBPA finding it difficult to engage in substantive, productive conversations with each other, Commissioner Rob Manfred was poised to enact rule changes unilaterally in an effort to advance his ill-defined pace-of-play goals.

In his three years in office, Manfred already has made changes in this area, including a reduction in the time of the between-inning breaks and an informal request for hitters to remain in the batter’s box between pitches. More fundamentally, one year ago, he made what I still believe to be “the most significant change to the sport since 1879” when he eliminated the four-pitch intentional walk, an alleged pace-of-play reform he later conceded was merely “symbolic.”

Rumored to be chief among those new, unilateral rule changes for 2018 was the institution of a pitch clock, which the upper levels of the minor leagues have been using since 2015. While a less-fundamental change to the game than the intentional-walk rule, in my estimation, a pitch clock in the majors likely would have drawn a louder critical outcry from fans.

Thankfully, we’ve learned today, a pitch clock will not be a part of the game in 2018. Instead, Manfred has made what I think are very good choices, as first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser:

In case those tweets are hard to read or disappear, that’s a cap on mound visits per nine innings at six (with limited exceptions for extra innings and other defined situations in the umpire’s discretion) and a reduction in inning breaks during the regular season to 2:05 (with scaled expansions for postseason games).

By further (although it’s unclear by how much) reducing the between-inning commercial breaks and limiting mound visits, Manfred tracked two important reform guidelines: a) avoid changes in the on-field game and b) keep the focus on the players. There’s plenty of time in a baseball game for pitcher coaching and coordinating, and I have no problem putting more pressure on pitchers (who, collectively, now are enjoying probably their greatest advantage relative to hitters in the game’s history) to work out struggles on their own.

More than anything, though, I’m glad that baseball, at least at the top level, remains an area of life not dictated by a clock, a space where anything is possible so long as you’re alive.

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Related
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

Dr. Doolittle knows the cure for baseball’s current ills, to the extent baseball currently is possessed of or by ills

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While MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred continues his increasingly tone-deaf and ineffective campaign to draw more fans to baseball by changing the game rather than changing the way people can follow the game, the real solution is becoming more and more obvious to everyone else. I’m not writing this post because new Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle is the latest player to publicly agree with me; I’m writing it because he’s right:

We were talking about pace of game changes this spring — a similar effort in terms of changing rules to improve fan interaction with the game — but Nationals closer Sean Doolittle thought we were veering off course. “We’re talking about pretty drastic changes to shave five minutes from a game. Are you seeing a bunch of 20-year-olds lining up for season tickets?”

The lefty thought we should consider how the game is packaged and how people could better interact with the game. “Marketing? We’re not that good at it. Let’s see if we can use some of our personalities to drive traffic and energize the game. Blackout rules. Millennials don’t pay for cable. Allow more gifs and videos on social media. Statcast could help if you use it right — showcasing how athletic some of these guys are.”

He’s speaking to the point I (and others, of course) have been making about baseball for as long as I can remember, and I have a very short memory. From April, when I thought MLBAM cut me off from my MLB.tv subscription:

Baseball is a fine game, and to the extent people will like it, they probably will do so for what it is. I’m not opposed to all measures designed, for example, to reduce the time between pitches (or the time spent on commercial breaks). Rather than changing the game he wants people to watch, though, Manfred ought to change the way people can watch the game, obviously by making it easier for them to do so. That approach would allow him to demonstrate more confidence in the quality of the sport he oversees. Instead, his approach has made the national conversation around baseball into one about how boring it currently is. Probably not the best notion for the league’s commissioner to be pushing, especially because no amount of reform is going to be able to radically remake baseball into some sort of rapid, flowing game like hockey or basketball and still have it be recognizable as “baseball.” He’s painted himself into a public-relations corner, and the sooner he switches from emphasizing perceived negatives to emphasizing positives, such as (hypothetical) proposals to make the game even easier to watch and interact with, the better.

From March, when Manfred made the most significant change to the sport in nearly 140 years:

It’s difficult to know whether fans should be insulted or merely disappointed with Manfred. It also is unclear who should be pleased by [his elimination of the four-pitch intentional walk]. What is clear is that Manfred will not shy away from making fundamental changes to the game in pursuit of a poorly defined goal. That means that we should expect that his past proposals, including a pitch clock and a ban on defensive shifts, absolutely are on the table going forward. As for changes that actually might help draw a younger audience to the sport, like removing local broadcast blackouts on streaming devices or decreasing the cost of attending games? Don’t hold your breath.

This should be an easy one, Commissioner. If you won’t listen to me, at least listen to your players.

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Previously
Pace of Play Isn’t Going Away
Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour
MLB in retrograde

MLB in retrograde

mlbtv

I’m not always the quickest to notice changes in my surrounding environment, including the baseball component thereof, and I’ve had a lot (of really good things) going on that have necessarily kept me from fully jumping into the still-young MLB season thus far. Last night, I had a little window, though, so I dialed up the Tigers and Rays on MLB.tv, only to be met with a video-streaming brick wall. After a couple hours with tech support, I discovered that MLB Advanced Media (“MLBAM,” which produces MLB.tv) had discontinued service to the device model– a Lenovo tablet running Android– I’d purchased last year for the sole purpose of running MLB.tv. I have cancelled my subscription and demanded a refund.   Continue reading

Rob Manfred’s Use Your Illusion Tour

rob manfred

Rob Manfred has served as the Commissioner of Major League Baseball for the past two years. A series of aggressive rule proposals, followed by few actual changes, has characterized his tenure thus far. His primary focus has been on increasing the pace of gameplay (or, alternatively, reducing the temporal length of games, although, as many recognize, those aren’t exactly the same thing). To this point, reforms in that regard have been advisory– asking batters to keep at least one foot in the batters’ box between pitches– or nearly invisible– limiting the time between half innings– even as threats of more substantial changes– a pitch clock, for example, which has been installed in lower leagues– loom.

Last month, Manfred finally stepped out with his first substantial rule change at the major-league level, and it wasn’t one– a pitch clock, starting a runner on second base in extra innings, or strike-zone modification– most expected (or, in the case of the former two, feared). Instead, he made an even deeper change to the game’s infrastructure by eliminating the four-pitch intentional walk, to be replaced with a simple signal from the dugout.

Baseball is not a game of summary proceedings, and there’s a reasonable argument to be made that Manfred’s rule change is the most significant change to the sport since 1879, when the rule requiring teams to play the bottom of the ninth inning even when the home team was leading after the top of the night was removed. That change was an obvious one; this one, less so.

Though the opportunities were rare, both offensive (e.g., Miguel Cabrera, Justin Upton) and defensive (e.g., Dennis Martinez and John Hudek, both being caught by Tony Pena) players could take advantage of atypically executed intentional walks. Small things, sure, but undoubtedly exciting things.

The underlying goal of Manfred’s pace-of-play reforms, one assumes, is to make baseball more exciting, or, at least, make it seem more exciting. It’s possible that the rule change trades these small IBB-gone-wrong moments for bigger gains in excitement elsewhere, but that seems unlikely in this case, because elimination of the traditional intentional walk won’t do much either to speed up or shorten games. Cursory research by the Wall Street Journal indicates that this change will trim, on average, 14.3 seconds off each game.

In the weeks since the rule-change announcement, an increasing number of defenses– both quantitative and qualitative— of the IBB status quo have cropped up. Even for those whose aesthetic preferences align with Manfred’s expressed desire for a faster or shorter game, it’s tough to ignore the numbers that belie the minimal impact of this new rule in those regards.

What should be frustrating for everyone who likes baseball is that Manfred is aware of these countervailing realities and made the change anyway. From an interview published yesterday:

How about doing away with the four-pitch intentional walk?

RM: That’s a symbolic change. It’s not going to alter anyone’s perception of the pace of the game overall. But you know what? If you can change it and people say, “They’re being responsive to our [desires],” that’s a good thing, even if it’s a little good thing.

In essence, “The change won’t be effective, but people will be glad we made a change.”

It’s difficult to know whether fans should be insulted or merely disappointed with Manfred. It also is unclear who should be pleased by this rule change and subsequent explanation. What is clear is that Manfred will not shy away from making fundamental changes to the game in pursuit of a poorly defined goal. That means that we should expect that his past proposals, including a pitch clock and a ban on defensive shifts, absolutely are on the table going forward. As for changes that actually might help draw a younger audience to the sport, like removing local broadcast blackouts on streaming devices or decreasing the cost of attending games? Don’t hold your breath.

(HT: Alex Hume)

Pace of Play Isn’t Going Away (via Baseball Prospectus)

[I]n other sports, the fans have compromised perfection for the sake of pace, abandoned the same idealized sport that Dryden laments. Instead, the virtue is not in perfection but in performance under duress. As games have sped up, decision-making time decreases, mistakes get made. On an episode of Effectively Wild a while back, Russell A. Carleton came to the same conclusion: that the pressures of a pitch clock could result in less prepared pitching. This in itself isn’t a problem; pitching under pressure, managing one’s mental energies toward the next pitch, would just become another trait, another way that some pitchers would excel. But the actual, visible product would be diminished, no longer an ideal.

These compromises get made all the time. Playoff structure is a good example: leagues have generally expanded playoff spots to increase drama, at the cost of victory being less representative of overall dominance. Player safety often requires some level of restriction over play. The cynicist can predict these conflicts by the resulting effect on league income, in the present or future tense; the cynicist would often be correct.

But when it comes to pace there’s something deeper at play than just speeding up a game (and why reducing ad times, beyond the obvious reason, was never on the table[).] It’s not so much that baseball is slowing down than that we are all speeding up. There are those who enjoy baseball for this very anachronistic feeling—I am among them—but we as a demographic are getting older.

Manfred’s task will not be changing baseball’s pace, which he could do with the click of a gold-plated pen. It will be to manage it, to foresee the unforeseeable consequences that accompany every rule change and evolution in sport. … Read More

(via Baseball Prospectus)

Sports Law Roundup – 2/3/2017

aslr

I used to write the sports technology roundup at TechGraphs, an internet website that died, and now I am writing the sports law roundup at ALDLAND, an internet website.

After a week off to attend a fancy law conference, we’re back with the top sports-related legal stories from the past week or so:

  • Baylor sexual assault: The scope of the sexual assault scandal at Baylor University continues to expand. Last week, a former Baylor student sued the university because, she alleged, she was the victim of a group rape committed by two football players in 2013 that the school ignored. The plaintiff also alleged that football players were responsible for numerous other crimes “involving violent physical assault, armed robbery, burglary, drugs, guns, and, notably, the most widespread culture of sexual violence and abuse of women ever reported in a collegiate athletic program.” She further claims that, between 2011 and 2014, thirty-one Baylor football players committed a total of fifty-two rapes, including five gang rapes. The complaint makes out claims under Title IX and common-law negligence theories. One significant hurdle for the plaintiff is that both types of claims are subject to two-year statutes of limitations. Since her alleged rape occurred in 2013, the university is likely to seek a dismissal on that basis.
  • College football defamation: In more Baylor football news, former head coach Art Briles now has dropped the defamation lawsuit he filed just two months ago against three Baylor regents and the university’s senior vice president and CEO for their statements that Briles was aware of sex crimes reportedly committed by his players and failed to provide that information to proper authorities, among other claims. As of this writing, no one has made an official comment on Briles’ behalf explaining the dismissal, but it appears to be connected to documents some of the same defendants in the Briles case filed in a new defamation case brought this week by former Baylor football director of operations Colin Shillinglaw. Those documents supposedly demonstrate Briles’ awareness of and attempts to cover up his players’ wrongdoing. If you’re the TMZ type, you can read more about the contents of the alleged Briles communications here.
  • Wrestling ban: Iran has announced that it will not allow the American wrestling team to compete in the 2017 Freestyle World Cup, which the Iranian city of Kermanshah is hosting this month. The ban comes as a form of retaliation for President Donald Trump’s January 27 executive order temporarily blocking people from entering the United States from Iran and six other majority-Muslim countries.
  • Football head injuries: A state court judge in New York denied the NFL’s motion to dismiss a wrongful-death lawsuit brought by the son of deceased player Arthur DeCarlo Sr., who, his son alleges, died as a result of CTE he contracted from head injuries sustained while playing football. This is the only CTE case against the NFL that is outside of the federal multidistrict settlement based in a Pennsylvania federal court. Addressing a statute-of-limitations issue, the New York judge likened the case to asbestos claims by describing CTE as a latent condition, the manifestation of which is not discoverable until the completion of a posthumous autopsy. Meanwhile, on Monday, a group of former college football players filed suit against helmet manufacturer Riddell seeking class-action status and alleging that Riddell made false claims about its helmet’s ability to protect against concussions. This is the fifth active concussion-related lawsuit pending against Riddell.
  • Cheerleader wages: A former San Francisco 49ers cheerleader filed a complaint against the NFL and the twenty-six NFL teams that have cheerleaders, alleging that they conspired to suppress cheerleader wages (which are between $1,000 and $1,500 per year, according to the complaint) below market value. The unnamed plaintiff is seeking to represent a class of all NFL cheerleaders employed in the past four years.
  • Child abuse: Three former Penn State University administrators will face criminal child endangerment charges stemming from the Jerry Sandusky sexual assault scandal inside the university’s football program. PSU’s former president, senior vice president, and athletic director were successful in quashing charges of failing to report child sexual abuse, but their trials on the remaining charge will go forward next month.
  • Student-athlete rights: The general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board issued an official memorandum stating that football players at Division I FBS schools “are employees under the [National Labor Relations Act], with the rights and protections of that act.” The precise legal consequences of this memorandum are unclear, at least to this writer, but the practical consequences likely will include an increase in unionization attempts and unfair labor practice filings among student-athletes at the covered schools. The memorandum already has generated critical comments from some members of Congress who believe it would have “devastating consequences for students and academic institutions[,] puts the interests of union leaders over America’s students, and . . . has the potential to create significant confusion at college campuses across the nation.”
  • Baseball hacking: As punishment for their hacking of the Houston Astros’ database, MLB fined the St. Louis Cardinals $2 million and forced them to forfeit two 2017 draft picks (the fifty-sixth and seventy-fifth overall picks) to the Astros. In addition, the league banned the currently jailed St. Louis employee who hacked the Houston system multiple times from future MLB employment. Most commentators and team officials regard the sanction as a light one.
  • Daily Fantasy Sports: The European island nation of Malta has granted daily fantasy sports website DraftKings a license to operate in that country, and that license may allow the site to operate in other European jurisdictions that recognize the Maltese license as well.
  • Live game streaming: MSG has entered into an agreement with the NHL to broadcast the four New York and New Jersey hockey teams (Sabres, Rangers, Islanders, and Devils) on the network’s live streaming service, MSG GO, which is available for free to MSG subscribers. Meanwhile, another New-York-area network, SNY, will begin streaming Mets games on its own website and the NBC Sports app. (NBC previously reached a streaming agreement with MLB Advanced Media for in-market access to Cubs, White Sox, Phillies, Athletics, and Giants games starting this year.)

Sports court is in recess.

Baseball Notes: Current Issues Roundup

baseball notes

Rather than my own attempt at fashioning a nugget of faux-wisdom, the purpose of this Baseball Notes post is to highlight a number of articles posted elsewhere addressing current issues in the sport.   Continue reading