John Feinstein knows a hell of a lot about college basketball and golf, but his take on the finances of major league team sports is a bit shaky. How could it be anything but based on the argument he makes today: baseball should have a salary cap so it can be successful and competitive like football, basketball and hockey.
I’ll leave hockey to others because I just don’t know enough about it, but it never ceases to amaze me that the NFL and NBA are trotted out as superior models to baseball’s. The same NFL that is about to embark on an ugly as all hell labor battle. The same NBA that just bore witness to the 127th (estimated) Celtics-Lakers Finals and just watched a team get its heart ripped out by a departing free agent in more callous a manner than any baseball player’s departure has ever hurt a team. If the point of a salary cap is a league’s financial health, competitiveness and some sense of fan friendliness, football and basketball are doing it wrong.
But I think the kicker to this is that what sets off Feinstein’s rant today is that the Yankees picked up Austin Kearns. Really, he ends his column by suggesting that baseball’s salary cap be called “The Kearns Rule” because apparently New York’s acquisition of a journeyman outfielder making $750,000 is a bridge too far. No one likes the Yankees’ largess, but it sure as hell wasn’t on display at the trade deadline.
But as I always do when someone writes one of these “baseball needs a salary cap” things, I’ll note that every team in Major League Baseball has made the playoffs at least once. Twenty-three of 30 have made it in the past ten years, and 28 of 30 have made it since 1992. I’ll also note that, as I type this, there are two very sophisticated groups of businessmen literally bidding against one another in an auction for the right to buy a Major League Baseball team. And a bankrupt one to boot.
If that’s evidence of a problem, it’s a problem unlike that which I have ever seen.
The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.
Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.
Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.
By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.
If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.
Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:
Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.
Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.
Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”
So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.