Nationals and Pirates swap Milledge for Morgan

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Chico Harlan of the Washington Post reports
that the Nationals and Pirates have agreed to a four-player trade that
sends Lastings Milledge and Joel Hanrahan to Pittsburgh with Nyjer
Morgan and Sean Burnett heading to Washington.

Washington has soured on Milledge
since acquiring him two years ago, in large part because of his
struggles defensively in center field, and Morgan should be a massive
upgrade there. However, the trade still strikes me as a good move for
Pittsburgh, who had been playing Morgan in left field because Andrew
McCutchen’s presence means that they won’t need a center fielder for
the next decade or so.

Morgan’s defense makes him an asset wherever he’s playing, but he’s
28 years old and his career .286/.351/.376 line doesn’t look all that
great from a corner spot. For all the talk of Milledge being a huge
disappointment he’s hit .261/.326/.400 to basically match Morgan’s
production offensively, and at 24 years old has plenty of room to
improve at the plate after posting stronger numbers in the minors.

Plus, the Pirates also pick up a decent reliever in Hanrahan, who
has been yanked back and forth from the Nationals’ closer role amid
talk of him not being able to handle ninth-inning duties mentally.
Whether or not that’s true is unclear and certainly his 7.71 ERA this
season is ugly, but with a 35/14 K/BB ratio and just three homers
allowed in 32.2 innings he hasn’t pitched nearly that poorly and can be
a capable setup man.

Burnett was once thought of as a top prospect, but arm injuries and
poor strikeout rates have the 26-year-old southpaw looking like a
mediocre middle reliever or long man at this point. Pittsburgh did well
to sell high on him while his ERA is in the 3.00s, and cashing in
Morgan with his value at an all-time high makes sense too. On the flip
side, Washington is selling both Milledge and Hanrahan for pennies on
the dollar.

Morgan is a nice all-around player, but will be on the wrong side of
30 by the time the Nationals are ready to contend and in the meantime
they’ve sold low on a 24-year-old who for all his issues still has lots
of upside. Hanrahan and Burnett changing sides swings the deal a little
further in Pittsburgh’s favor, but ultimately the trade hinges on
Milledge’s ability to get his career on track and live up to at least
some of the hype.

_

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]