Eye on the prize

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So much and so little has changed.

It was 10 years and three weeks ago that I discovered Rotoworld.com,
clicked on the contact button and suggested to anyone who was listening
that I was the perfect candidate to write some columns for the site.
Not that this college dropout had any sort of resume. Besides my
willingness to write cheap, I went with the only other thing working in
my favor: I was leading an ESPN baseball contest played by about 50,000
people.

It took nearly four weeks to get a reply, but when it finally did
come, I was welcomed aboard with open arms and I kicked off my
sportswriting career making $25 a week for writing the Strike Zone and
the Prospects Report.

Obviously, things got better from there, or I probably wouldn’t have
made it the 10 years. In January 2000, Rotoworld essentially became my
life, as I took over the baseball, football and basketball news, and
with plenty of hard work and some luck along the way, the site got big.
I gradually received the chance to scale back my workload as we could
hire new people, and I’ve been able to strictly focus on baseball,
always my love, for five years now. We even eventually went corporate,
as the original site owners chose to sell to NBC in 2006. This year, we
started up this blog on NBCSports.com and I’ve been allowed to focus as
much on actual baseball as fantasy baseball for the first time.

I think that’s part of the reason why, 10 years later, I’m again leading that baseball contest, ESPN’s Baseball Challenge.
If I were smarter, I would have switched focuses long ago to a pay game
or two and tried to make myself some real money. But BBC gets more
attention from me than anything else I’ve ever played. When it first
started up in 1997, I got a little obsessed with it, or at least the
chat room attached to it. Among the people I met there was Troy Beech,
who later joined me at Rotoworld and who became very important in
helping the site grow in the early part of the decade.

As for the game itself, I’ve always loved the way it saps luck from
the equation. 10 different players, every single day. No worries about
injuries or players simply falling off a cliff. It comes down to
knowledge and dedication when you have to make 900 picks to win.

And I was really good at it, of course. BBC has always been two
contests per year: one pre-All-Star break, one post. In 1997, I
finished second in the first half and first for the whole year, though
that didn’t count for anything. In 1999, I went on to win the first
half, earning myself a big-screen TV. Ever since, I’ve been on the
leaderboard more often than not, though I’ve never really been in a
position to win coming down the stretch, at least until this year. I
think it’s partially because I’m less burned out on fantasy stuff than
usual, but I’ve been sitting in first place since the third week of the season.

The lead has fluctuated. It was almost 150 points at one time, but it
got down as low as 15 points last week and could have disappeared
entirely if not for a poor outing from Chad Billingsley (unlike most, I
went with Josh Outman and the A’s staff on Friday, only to cringe when
he was forced from the game in the second inning due to a sore elbow).
While the nine hitters account for the majority of the team’s points,
it’s still the pitcher that makes or breaks most days.622

We’re down to the final three weeks now. There are no more flukes high
on the leaderboard, and several of the names below me have won or
challenged for the title before. I’m not going to mind losing if that’s
how it works out; I play the game because it’s a tradition and it’s
still fun for me, even if there are days that I don’t feel like picking
my team. Plus, there’s the added bonus now that it keeps me on my toes
and gives me a good reason to check over every box score even on those
days that my job no longer requires it.

That was convincing, right?

OK, so I want to win. I want to pummel everyone by 200 points. I
want to tease Matthew Berry about it afterwards. I want ESPN to not be
able to interview their two-time champ because, in doing so, they’d be
promoting Rotoworld and NBCSports.com

And I like that the old standby hasn’t changed. The rest of the
daily routine is different, the house is new and the job is nothing
like what I originally signed on for. But six months of the year, I
still spend 20 minutes or so every night writing down the matchups,
checking tomorrow’s weather and then picking my BBC team.

Now that I’ve gone public, I’ll provide weekly updates through the end of the first half.

Major League Baseball limits mound visits, puts off pitch clock until 2019

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Major League Baseball just announced its much awaited pace-of-play initiative for 2018. The big news: no pitch clock, with Rob Manfred deciding, in the words of the league’s press release “to defer the implementation of a pitch timer and a between-batter timer in 2018 in order to provide players with an opportunity to speed up the game without the use of those timers.”

But that doesn’t mean there won’t be changes. In rules changes which were reached with the cooperation of the Players’ Union, teams will now be limited to six non-pitching change mound visits per team per game, and one extra visit if the game goes into extra innings. Also, a new rule is being introduced that is designed to reduce the time required for inning breaks and pitching changes.

The mound visit rule is NOT limited to coach or manager mound visits. It also includes position players, including catchers, visiting the mound to confer about signals and the like. It will not count the normal conversations which take place between plays, such as when a pitcher says something to a fielder as they throw the ball around the horn. It likewise does not include things like a first baseman coming to the mound to clean his spikes off with the pitcher’s gear on the back of the mound. Mound visits to check on injuries will not count either.

While six visits may seem like a lot, it really isn’t once you realize that a pitching coach may go out two or three times in a close game and that a catcher, especially in close games, may come out to talk about signs and things seemingly countless times. Heck, they could re-name this the Jorge Posada or Gary Sanchez rule.

There will be one big exception to the rule, which relates to catchers and pitchers truly being crossed up on signals after they have exhausted mound visits. It reads thusly:

3) Cross-Up in Signs. In the event a team has exhausted its allotment of mound visits in a game (or extra inning) and the home plate umpire determines that the catcher and pitcher did not have a shared understanding of the location or type of pitch that had been signaled by the catcher (otherwise referred to as a “cross-up”), the home plate umpire may, upon request of the catcher, allow the catcher to make a brief mound visit. Any mound visit resulting from a cross-up prior to a team exhausting its allotted number of visits shall count against a team’s total number of allotted mound visits.

This makes sense as a matter of safety, if nothing else, as you don’t want a catcher truly not knowing where a pitch is going. It’s also notable as one of the few rules changes in recent years that actually adds in an umpire’s judgment rather than takes a judgment call away from an umpire. It’ll be worth watching, however, to see how easy a touch umpires are about this. Again: if we have a tense September game between Boston and New York and everyone has used up their mound visits, I wonder if the umps will truly enforce the rule.

The big problem here is that there is nothing in the new rule which talks about the penalty for trying to make a seventh mound visit. To that end:

This is gonna lead, at some point, to a pretty big argument. Should be amazing.

As for innings breaks, There will be a timer that counts down from 2:05 for breaks in locally televised regular season games, from 2:25 for breaks in nationally televised regular season games, and from 2:55 for postseason games. The timer shall start on the last out of an inning for an inning break. 

There are set things the players must be doing at certain points on the clock. To wit:

  • When there are 25 seconds left, the umpire will signal to the pitcher to complete his last warm-up pitch;
  • When there are 20 seconds left, the batter will be announced and must leave on-deck circle, his walk-up music shall begin, and the pitcher shall complete last warm-up pitch;
  • When the clock gets to zero, the pitcher must begin his motion for his first pitch of the inning.

There will be “special circumstance” exceptions, such as when other random things are happening on the field that prevents this, such as in-between inning events going too long or something, and an umpire can determine that a pitcher or batter needs more time for safety purposes.

Enforcement of the clock will be handled by umpires directing players to comply. Players who consistently or flagrantly violate the time limits will be subject to progressive discipline by the league. Put differently, no one is issuing automatic balls or strikes here. It’ll be handled by fines.