Modern Baseball Orthodoxy

I mentioned to a friend who reads these rants that I had tuned into the Yankees/Red Sox game on Sunday night and that it was a typically fast-paced game between those two teams that ended close to midnite. I wondered how long it might be until ESPN realized that the Red Sox are toast this year and that the Yankees have clawed their way to a 58-53 record which might be described as “modestly above mediocre”. I asked – rhetorically – if the ESPN folks realized how well teams like the A’s, the Brewers, the Nationals and the Tigers are playing.

My friend pointed out that I have written about baseball’s need to increase the “pace of play” to keep the product entertaining and that the Sox/Yankees game – he too had watched – demonstrated part of the problem that cannot be “legislated away”. He said that modern baseball groupthink is to take a lot of pitches and build the pitch count on the starter so that a team can “get to the opponent’s bullpen”. Following that strategy makes each at-bat last longer than it did 20-30 years ago and nothing short of changing a fundamental part of the game – three balls and/or two strikes ends the at-bat – would change the style of play. He has a point.

However, there is another point here and it challenges the orthodoxy to some degree. When teams have relief specialists ready to pitch the 8th inning only and then the 9th inning only, is it really advantageous to get the starter out of the game only to face those specialists? The Yankees on Sunday night went to Delin Betances in the 8th inning; in 49 games, his ERA is 1.49 and he has recorded 98 strikeouts in 66 innings. Then they brought in David Robertson in the 9th inning; all he has done this year is to convert 30 out of 32 save opportunities.

I wonder if the current orthodoxy of baseball offense has not been overtaken by the use of bullpen specialists…?

Along those lines, imagine you are facing the Cubbies and they are starting Edwin Jackson for the game. Why would you want to get him out of the game quickly; his ERA for this season is 5.66 as of this morning; he has given up more earned runs than any pitcher in the National League. Why would I want to “wear him down” so that he only threw 5 innings instead of 7 against me?

    Aside: I know that Theo Epstein’s focus in Chicago has been to build up the farm system and by all reports, he is doing a good job at that. Nonetheless, he also signed Jackson to a 4-year contract worth $52M and it still has 2 years to run. Last year Jackson was 8-18 with an ERA of 4.98; this year he is 6-11 with an ERA of 5.66. Ouch!!

The Atlanta Braves are still in the race for a wild-card slot in the NL playoffs despite a stunning lack of production at the top of their lineup. Usually, successful teams have a leadoff hitter who gets on base a lot and maybe steals some bases to create scoring opportunities. The Braves bat BJ Upton in the leadoff slot and here is his production for the year:

    .211/.279/.604 (That batting average and OBP are terrible.)
    139 strikeouts (That leads the National League.)
    18 stolen bases/caught stealing 7 times. (Less than wonderful…)

Actually, this season represents an improvement for Upton. Last year he hit .184 with an OBP of .268. The Braves have him signed for three more years after this one where he will earn about $46.3M. I am not so sure that is good news for Braves’ fans. In fact, I am surprised that Braves’ fans – noting how few hits Upton has – have not taken to calling him a “Baha Man” in reference to him being a one-hit wonder.

Only the Elias Sports Bureau could come up with this:

“Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all survived last week’s trade deadline long enough to reach a significant milestone. Sunday’s loss to the Nationals was the 886th regular-season game that they’ve started together in the field for the Phillies at first base, second base and shortstop, respectively. They’ve tied the Dodgers’ trio of Steve Garvey, Davey Lopes and Bill Russell for the major-league record for most games started together in the field by three teammates at those positions.”

Mark that down as number 5,027,268 in the file “Facts Not Worth Remembering”…

Next week – on 13 August – the world will celebrate International Lefthanders Day. I wonder if the folks who organize this kind of thing ever tried to “partner” with MLB to do something like honor left handed hitters or pitchers on this day. That sounds a lot more interesting than the description of the day from Wikipedia:

“As the name suggests, it is meant to promote awareness of the inconveniences facing left-handers in a predominantly right-handed world… Thousands of left-handed people are discriminated in today’s society, are forced to use right handed tools, drive on the right side of the road and even get harassed. International Lefthanders Day is made to end this discrimination.”

Switching gears here, I have noticed that several European soccer teams are in the US playing each other in exhibition games or playing MLS teams in exhibitions. A game held in “the Big House” in Ann Arbor drew 109,000 fans; that is good news for the folks involved in growing soccer here in the US. Obviously, fan interest was given a boost by the World Cup and capitalizing on that momentum would be a good thing for “soccer in the US of A.” Here is an idea to do that; I have no way to know if this would even be feasible:

    Take a page from the NFL’s playbook. The NFL has ramped up its efforts to introduce its brand of football to Europe. They had a “minor league there”. They played exhibition games there. Then they played an annual regular-season game there; now they will play several regular season games there.

    Can the soccer folks here in the US convince the folks in the English Premier League or La Liga or Serie A or Bundesliga to stage a real game – not an exhibition game or a “friendly” – here in the US? If so, then MLS ought to find ways to pair a game or two on its schedule with the “foreign game” that is brought here.

That advice to the US soccer folks is free so you know immediately what it is worth.

Finally, Dwight Perry had this “World Cup” item in the Seattle Times:

“Willi and Irene Isaak celebrated their country’s World Cup title by setting off skyrockets in their backyard in Espelkamp, Germany, igniting a roof fire that charred their home to the tune of $400,000.

“Well, that’s a soccer first — an own-coal.”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………

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  • TENACIOUSP  On August 5, 2014 at 10:08 am

    Great article. Own-coal, oh my.

    Yes,Oakland A’s are winning at a clip that defies description. Detroit Tigers have been in first-place in their division since since October, 2012–but let’s showcase the defending World Champions who are currently thirteen games under .500. Why? Because that is where the spectator market is. We are ESPN, and we will tell you what is relevant.

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On August 5, 2014 at 11:08 am


      Yes, the spectator market for MLB is slanted toward the northeast section of the country. Nevertheless, at some point I would expect some of the suits at ESPN to realize that there are lots of fans that want to see contending teams play each other and not one wild-card aspirant play a last place team.

  • gary  On August 5, 2014 at 10:35 am

    Mudgie…your blog today spurred many thoughts so, if I may, two brief comments…

    First, in regard to International Lefthanders Day, does one believe that us right-handers are the subject of discrimination in the British Isles? And, there is a reason that in French, adroit is right and gauche is left…Think about it.

    Second, the NFL is salivating at the opportunity to put a team or put teams in Europe – not for the competitive aspects, but solely for the marketing. Don’t see that happening with the British with the Premiership or the Italians with Serie A and with the nationalistic mania of Deutschland??? NEVER!

    • The Sports Curmudgeon  On August 5, 2014 at 11:12 am


      In Latin, left is “sinister”…

      I recognize that there is little self-interest for European leagues to play a real game here in the US. Maybe the potential to play in front of a crowd of 109,000 could spur a little interest, but I agree it would take some top-notch salesmanship on the part of US soccer promoters to get that to happen. However, nothing ventured; nothing gained or lost…

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