I’ve had a little bit of fun at the expense of our friends in the Japanese media over the past couple of days, but it’s time to be a little more fair. Don’t worry, I’ll skip back to snarky and flip soon enough.
There’s a reason why that guy I keep talking about keeps asking about Hideki Matsui. It’s not because he’s dense. It’s not because he doesn’t understand Hideki Matsui’s market. It’s because he has no choice, nor do most of the other Japanese writers. They are sent here by Japanese media companies for the express purpose of covering Japanese players. Often because the media company has a business imperative to sell the hell out of Matsui and need his face on the cover, constantly. And Ichiro’s face. And Matsuzaka’s.
A lot of these guys don’t want to focus so much on the Japanese players. I spoke briefly with one of the Japanese reporters today — not the Matsui guy, sadly — and he said that many of his colleagues want to talk about U.S. baseball more generally and to educate the Japanese
audience about other players. But the companies that
employ them demand wall-to-wall Matsui coverage. It’s what sells there. Understandable, really.
It does lead to silliness, the kind of which we’ve seen the past few days. But it also has its miseries. Indeed, according to an American beat writer I spoke with, there is no more miserable a job in baseball than being assigned to cover a Japanese starting pitcher. The press following him still has to file every day even though he only pitches every fifth. What do you write when it’s mid-August and it’s not his turn and you’ve used up every single human interest angle in existence? What’s worse, what do you write when the guy you’re covering is on the DL like Matsuzaka last year?
So, yes, I laugh a bit because it is kind of funny to hear Bobby Cox asked about whether he’d like Hideki Matsui on his club. But it’s a benign laugh, one with empathy, not scorn, because the guy asking the question has a way harder job than I do, and he does it way farther away from his home than I do too.
Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:
Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.
The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?
Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.
The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.
I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.
ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.
MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.
Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.
Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: