And That Happened: Wednesday's scores and recaps

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Pirates 3, Braves 2:
Right after I graduated law school I traded in my 1990 Chevy Cavalier
for a new Honda. The Cavy still looked good — clean, no rust, no dings
— but it ran like hacking death. It would just stall the hell out for
no reason, but not before convulsing in a violent, noisy rattle. It was
so unpredictable, though. It would run fine for days and then — whammo
— it just died. If you let it sit for ten minutes it would start right
back up and run fine again. Totally bizarre. Anyway, as I turned over
the keys to the thing at the Honda dealer, I was worried that someone
from the used car department would start the thing up and and have it
seize on them before I could sign on the dotted line for my new car,
but no one bothered to try. I can’t tell you how happy I was that, if
the Cavy did eventually die on them, I would be nowhere near
the place when it did. The Braves were unable to avoid this kind of
embarrassment when their trade-in — Charlie Morton — had to leave the
game in the second inning with a bum hamstring. Caveat emptor, Pirate dudes.

Royals 9, Indians 0:
Just when Carlo Pavano was starting to get the kudos for a career
revival, the Royals of all teams lay an eleven-hit, nine-run smackdown
on him. Alberto Callaspo was the offensive hero for Kansas City, going
4 for 4, including a grand slam. Worth noting that Kyle Farnsworth — a
man who made the first couple weeks of the season so awful for Royals
fans — hasn’t allowed a run over seventeen appearances since April
19th, and he’s only walked two dudes in that same span. Greinke will
fill the bill this season, but the Royals have had way worse players
than Farnsworth represent them at the All-Star game in recent years.

Mariners 4, Orioles 1: Two home runs from Jose Lopez and the eighth straight game in which the Mariners have allowed three runs or fewer = win.

Astros 2, Cubs 1: Nice pitchers duel between Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Zambrano, even if neither of them figured into the decision.

Tigers 2, White Sox 1:
Another spiffy pitchers duel, this one Verlander vs. Danks, with the
former (CG, 6 H, 1 ER, 9K) dueling just a bit more skillfully than the
latter. From the game story, it’s noted that the Tigers selected NCAA
killer Andy Oliver in the draft. Given his mastery of Ohio courts, he
should consider making his home in Toledo even after he makes the big
club despite the long commute to Tiger Stadium. Dude could be
bulletproof here.

Cardinals 13, Marlins 4: I’m less
interested in the fact that Marlins’ pitchers gave up 13 runs than I am
that they didn’t strike out a single Cardinal in the game.

Phillies 5, Mets 4: Yesterday I noted
that the Phillies’ bullpen is doubling as the cast of a reality show.
Given that six members of that pen were pressed into actual pitching
duty to get last night’s win, there probably wasn’t a lot of
opportunity for confession cams and the kind of manufactured drama you
usually see in these shows. The producers must have been furious.

Red Sox 6, Yankees 5:
Chien-Ming Wang still can’t find it so Phil Hughes had to come in. If
I’m Joe Girardi, I just switch places with these two next Tuesday and
see what happens. And while I didn’t watch most of this game, I did
hear the bit where Sutcliffe was talking about some deal Terry Francona
has with J.D. Drew where Francona pays Drew a couple hundred bucks each
time he hits a ball off the Monster. At least I think that’s how it
went. If so, is that even allowed?

Rays 8, Angels 5: John
Lackey gets shelled. Jeff Niemann was no great shakes himself, but his
bullpen bailed him out with one-hit, shutout relief over the final five
and a third innings.

Rockies 4, Brewers 2: Brad Hawpe (2-4, 2B, HR 2 RBI) did the damage, as he has all year.

Reds 4, Nationals 2:
Worst-timed rainstorm ever. The Reds get to the bottom of the ninth
with a 2-0 lead, only then to have to sit for a two hour and ten minute
rain delay, after which the Nats scored two sending it to extras.
According to the game story there were only about 100 fans left after
the delay. I’m shocked that there were that many.

Padres 3, Dodgers 1:
Kevin Correia (6 IP, 3 H, 1 ER) pitched well on three days’ rest.
Clayton Kershaw threw 83 pitches in less than three innings, which made
it a long night for the bullpen.

Giants 6, Diamondbacks 4
: Feels like San Francisco has
been on the road forever, but at least they’re ending it well. Barry
Zito struggled, but his offense (and the Dbacks’ poor defense) picked
him up.

Twins 6, Athletics 3: Bullpen failure. Someone
should write a book someday compiling all of the subtly sarcastic or
passive-aggressive things starting pitchers say when betrayed by their
pen. This, from starter Dallas Braden, who was sick before the game, is
one of the better ones: “I think I probably could have put the upset
stomach and tired arm aside for one more inning, so I’ll wear this one
for sure.” Translation: dudes, I’m sick, and I just gutted out seven
strong innings. You gotta do better than that. Man.”

Blue Jays vs. Rangers:
Postponed: Mt. Waialeale in Kauai, Hawaii, has up to 350 rainy days
every year. This why they do not play baseball on Mt. Waialeale.

Astros exemplify the player-unfriendly bent of analytics

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Even as recently as a decade ago, Sabermetrics was a niche interest among baseball fans. As various concepts began to gain acceptance in the mainstream, players slowly began to accept them as well. Players like Brian Bannister and Zack Greinke were hailed as examples of a new breed of player — one who marries his athleticism with the utilization of analytics. This year, much was made of certain players’ data-driven adjustments, including Daniel Murphy and J.D. Martinez. Both had great seasons as a result of focusing more on hitting more fly balls instead of ground balls and line drives.

Statistics can clearly benefit players. They can also be used against them, and not just by opposing players. The Astros, who are in the World Series for the first time since 2005, are a great example of this. The Astros spent a few years rebuilding after a complete overhaul of the front office, which included bringing in analytically-fluent Jeff Luhnow as GM after the 2011 season. That overhaul instilled so much confidence that, in 2014, Sports Illustrated writer Ben Reiter predicted that the Astros would win the 2017 World Series. He’s only four Astros wins away from being proven correct.

The Astros’ front office, though, took advantage of its players at various times throughout the process. Their success is owed, in part, to exploiting its players. On Twitter, user @chicken__puppet chained a few tweets together exemplifying this:

At its core, analytics is about optimization: getting the most bang for your buck. If you read Moneyball, you know this. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) quickly became synonymous with the field and $/WAR was a natural next step. Sabermetrics defaulted to ownership’s perspective, so highly-paid players who performed poorly were scorned. Cheap players who performed well were lauded.

It is no mere coincidence that once most front offices installed analytics departments, teams stopped handing out so many outrageous contracts to free agent first baseman/DH types. Instead, teams focused on signing their young players to long-term contract extensions to buy out their arbitration years ahead of time, ostensibly saving ownership and the team boatloads of money. Teams began to pay close attention to service time as well. Service time determines when a player becomes eligible for arbitration and free agency, so teams that are able to finagle their players’ service time can potentially delay that player’s free agency by a year. The Cubs tried to do this with third baseman Kris Bryant in 2015, as Craig wrote about.

There is a very real ethical component to covering and being a fan of Major League Baseball, despite the common plea to separate sports from politics. The Astros and Cubs aren’t the only ones exploiting their players; the Angels, for example, made some odd personnel choices earlier this season that happened to allow them to avoid paying some players incentive bonuses. Every front office, in one way or another, games the system because the system is set up to benefit ownership first and players second. And if the likes of Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa can be taken advantage of so freely and openly, what hope does anyone else have?

Fans have been conditioned to group players and owners together as one group of rich people. In reality, the player earning $30 million has more in common with the office worker making $35,000 a year than with team owners. When fans hear about Correa making $507,500 instead of $550,000, or about free agent who wants a nine-figure contract, they wonder why he had the nerve to ask for so much money in the first place. We praise players, like Cliff Lee, who “leave money on the table.” Both the player and that fan, by virtue of existing and participating in this system, are locked in an eternal battle with those who cut their paychecks. Regardless of salary differences, the player deserves to benefit from the fruits of his labor as much as the office worker. Part of being a baseball fan should also include rooting for the players’ financial success and not just the owners’.

Praising the Astros for being smart and savvy will only create more incentive for other front offices to mimic these unethical behaviors. The whole theme of the World Series shouldn’t be about smart, analytically-inclined teams reaching the summit; it should in part be about teams getting ahead with a multitude of exploitative practices against their players.