And That Happened: Monday's Scores and Highlights

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Damon homers.jpgTigers 5, Yankees 4: Johnny Damon hit a homer and Austin Jackson drove in a run on a groundout. That’s cool and all, but otherwise they combined to go 1 for 7 with three strikeouts. Despite that, how much you wanna bet that the New York papers make a huge “oh, if we only had those guys!” fuss this morning?

Reds 2, Pirates 1: How to tell if a team is for real? It wins the games it’s supposed to win. A lot of teams have had a problem doing that when the Pirates are involved this year, but Cincy took care of it last night.

Dodgers 7, Diamondbacks 3: Andre Ethier went 3 for 5 with two doubles and two RBI. He’s probably happy that Ronnie Belliard had that contact clause requiring him to lose weight seeing as though he’s carrying this team on his back and everything.

Phillies 9, Rockies 5: Carlos Ruiz and Ross Gload (?!) did most of the damage here, as the Phillies came from behind twice and capped the night off with a four-run ninth inning. In other news, Huston Street threw a bullpen session yesterday. He has been missed.

Braves 8, Brewers 2: Tommy Hanson threw eight scoreless with 8Ks and Martin Prado hit a grand slam. I love the quotes from the Braves in the game story about how it feels like they’re turning it around and everything. One-game winning streak, dudes. For Milwaukee, Ryan Braun left the game in the seventh after getting plunked.

Marlins 4, Cubs 2: Ted Lilly took a no-hitter into the sixth but, in clear violation of baseball’s unwritten rules, the Marlins broke it up and won the game. Wait, correction: it was only a violation of Ted Lilly’s unwritten rules. Still, gotta have respect for (Ted Lilly’s) game, Marlins. Totally bush league if you ask me.  In other news, Cody Ross stole home on a double steal, and that’s always fun (video here).

Angels 5, Rays 4: The Rays’ bats were suffering a perfect game hangover for a long time in this one, but finally woke up late to come from behind and tie it at 4 in the ninth. The winning run came in the 11th, with the sequence going like this: a single, a sacrifice bunt, a wild pitch and a sacrifice fly. Note: no animals or baseballs were harmed in the manufacturing of this run.

Nationals 3, Mets 2: Adam Kennedy and Ryan Zimmerman hit back-to-back jacks and Luis Atilano and five relievers, who did not include closer Matt Capps or winning machine Tyler Clippard, kept the Mets’ bats quiet. A couple of baserunning mistakes hurt the Mets. First, David Wright got doubled off first base on a popup. It had been so long since he had been standing on first perhaps he forgot what to do over there. Second, Jeff Francoeur got caught in a rundown between third and home after breaking for it on a chopper back to the mound.  He’s Jeffy, though, and for him those things just happen sometimes.

Red Sox 7, Blue Jays 6: Brandon Morrow walked five dudes in the second inning. In fact, the Red Sox’ four runs that inning came by virtue of a single hit. The Jays’ 2-5 hitters combined to go 0 for 16.

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.