Geoff Blum and the uselessness of spring stats

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Lance Berkman is questionable to be ready for Opening Day following knee surgery last week and Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros are leaning toward veteran utility man Geoff Blum as his replacement at first base.

In his absence, Geoff Blum started in the No. 5 spot in the lineup Sunday, giving protection to Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, who batted third and fourth, respectively. …



Evaluating Blum by his spring numbers, however dangerous that is to do, he has looked like a middle-of-the-order hitter. He’s hitting 9-for-20 (.450) with three doubles in six games this spring. “If he continues to swing the bat well, I think everyone could see why I’d want him in that fifth spot,” [manager Brad] Mills said.

I believe the word I’m looking for is hogwash.
Geoff Blum is 36 years old and has played 11 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .250 with a measly .310 on-base percentage and punchless .387 slugging percentage in 4,088 total plate appearances spread over 1,256 games. And yet we’re supposed to believe that his going 9-for-20 in spring training has any kind of meaning whatsoever?
Spring training stats are pretty close to meaningless. Spring training stats consisting of 20 at-bats are exactly meaningless. And spring training stats consisting of 20 at-bats for a player with over 1,200 games on his big-league resume stretch beyond “meaningless” into “misleading.” As in, Blum is a bad hitter and focusing on 20 random at-bats in exhibition games may cause someone to think otherwise.
Blum has had plenty of very good 20-at-bat stretches in 11 seasons, but at the end of the day he has a .250 batting average with a .697 OPS for his career and hasn’t hit above .262 or posted an OPS above .705 since way back in 2002. Regardless of how long Berkman is out, for the sake of their sanity Astros fans better hope that quote from first-year manager Brad Mills is little more than lip service.

Must-Click Link: Do the players even care about money anymore?

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Yesterday I wrote about how the union has come to find itself in the extraordinarily weak position it’s in. The upshot: their leadership and their membership, happily wealthy by virtue of gains realized in the 1970s-1990s, has chosen to focus on small, day-to-day, quality of life issues rather than big-picture financial issues. As a result, ownership has cleaned their clock in the past few Collective Bargaining Agreements. If the union is to ever get back the considerable amount of ground it has lost over the past 15 years, it’ll require a ton of hard work and perhaps drastic measures.

A few hours later, Yahoo’s Jeff Passan dropped an absolute must-read that expands on that topic. Through weeks of interviews with league officials, agents and players, he explains why the free agent market is as bad as it is for players right now and why so many of them and so many fans seem not to understand just how bad a spot the players are in, business wise.

Passan keys on the media’s credulousness regarding teams’ stated rationales for not spending in free agency. About how, with even a little bit of scrutiny, the “[Team] wants to get below the luxury tax” argument makes no sense. About how the claim that this is a weak free agent class, however true that may be, does not explain why so few players are being signed.  About how so few teams seem interested in actually competing and how fans, somehow, seem totally OK with it.

Passan makes a compelling argument, backed by multiple sources, that, even if there is a lot of money flowing around, the fundamental financial model of the game is broken. The young players are the most valuable but are paid pennies while players with 6-10 years service time are the least valuable yet are the ones, theoretically anyway, positioned to make the most money. The owners have figured it out. The union has dropped the ball as it has worried about, well, whatever the heck it is worried about. The killer passage on all of this is damning in this regard:

During the negotiations leading to the 2016 basic agreement that governs baseball, officials at MLB left bargaining stupefied almost on a daily basis. Something had changed at the MLBPA, and the league couldn’t help but beam at its good fortune: The core principle that for decades guided the union no longer seemed a priority.

“It was like they didn’t care about money anymore,” one league official said.

Personally, I don’t believe that they don’t care about money anymore. I think the union has simply dropped the ball on educating its membership about the business structure of the game and the stakes involved with any given rule in the CBA. I think that they either so not understand the financial implications of that to which they have agreed or are indifferent to them because they do not understand their scope and long term impact.

It’s a union’s job to educate its membership about the big issues that may escape any one member’s notice — like the long term effects of a decision about the luxury tax or amateur and international salary caps — and convince them that it’s worth fighting for. Does the MLBPA do that? Does it even try? If it hasn’t tried for the past couple of cycles and it suddenly starts to now, will there be a player civil war, with some not caring to jeopardize their short term well-being for the long term gain of the players who follow them?

If you care at all about the business and financial aspects of the game, Passan’s article is essential.