And That Happened: Division Series Edition

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Giants 1, Braves 0: Congratulations, Major League Baseball: a playoff game was decided by a blown call. Sure, Tim Lincecum struck out 14 dudes — and I don’t want to detract from what was a clearly dominant performance on his part — but he would have been in the dugout with his very nice no-decision watching the bullpens battle in the 10th inning had the umpires made the correct call on Buster Posey’s stolen base in the fourth inning.  Posey admitted it after the game, going so far as to say “I guess it’s a good thing we don’t have instant replay right now.” That’s pretty much on the nose, is it not? Certainly we can’t change the outcome of baseball games that are in the books, but how Selig and the rest of the powers that be can continue to say everything is just dandy with umpiring and the state of replay is beyond me.

Setting that aside for now — and believe me, I’ll be saying more about it later — the Braves didn’t do themselves any favors whatsoever. Yes, Lincecum was good, but if the Braves had at any point in the game said “Hey, you know what? Maybe we should stop swinging at balls six inches out of the zone” it may have been a different game.  If Bobby Cox had not inexplicably intentionally walked Pablo Sandoval before the Cody Ross single that scored Posey, it may have been a different game.  But they didn’t and it wasn’t.

Ultimately, this was Tim Lincecum’s night. It was a fantastic performance by the guy, doing what he had to do to win a game in which his own offense wasn’t doing him any favors themselves. He went the distance, saving his pen for tonight’s game and putting the Giants in an excellent position to go up 2-0 before heading to Atlanta.

Yankees 5, Twins 2: More bad umpiring here, though this was balls-and-strikes bad, not calls-in-the-field bad. Maybe in a just world we have replay for disputed calls right now, but I don’t think any set of circumstances would have us living in a world with automated ball-and-strike umping at present. But jeez, look at Hunter Wendlestedt’s zone. Ick.  It all culminated, of course, in what should have been strike three to Lance Berkman
in the seventh. Instead, Wendlestedt called it a ball and Berkman
hit what ended up being the game-winning double on the next
pitch. He ended up scoring too, making it 4-2 ,and that was basically all she wrote.

But like with the Braves’ awful at-bats against Tim Lincecum, the Twins have a bigger issue to deal with here. Namely the fact that tattooed on the rear end of each and every Minnesota Twins player are the words “Property of the New York Yankees Baseball Club.”

Rangers 6, Rays 0: And for our third bad call of the day, we go to Tampa, where Michael Young’s three-run homer came one pitch after he stayed alive on a disputed — an ultimately incorrectly-called — check-swing.  Unlike the other two games, though, this wasn’t the deciding factor. James Shields was terrible, the Rays’ bats listless and Texas was never challenged.  Leave it to Mitch Williams of all people to correctly analyze the problem here: “there are three other guys who should have started that game over James Shields.” OK, maybe that overstates it a little — and I still don’t know that I’d want Shields starting in Texas — but Joe Maddon’s decision to go with him in Game 2 doesn’t look too spiffy at the moment. Not that he really had control over things . . .

The Yankees are paying $86 million for a one-inning reliever

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OXON HILL, MD — The Yankees signing of Aroldis Chapman late Wednesday night came as something of a surprise. And the money — $86 million — was something of a shock. Yes, we knew that Chapman was going to break the bank and likely set a record as the highest paid relief pitcher in history, but seeing it in black and white like that is still rather jarring.

In the coming days, many people who attempt to analyze and contextualize this signing will do so by pointing to the 2016 playoffs and the unconventional use of relievers by Terry Francona and the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs. They’ll talk about how the paradigm of bullpen use has shifted and how relief pitchers have taken on a new importance in today’s game. Chapman’s astronomical salary, therefore, will be described as somehow more reasonable and somewhat less shocking than it first seems.

Don’t buy that jive for a second.

Yes, Andrew Miller and, to some extent, Chapman himself were used unconventionally in the 2016 playoffs, but not long into the 2017 season we will see that as an exception, not the rule. And not just because Chapman showed himself unable to hold up to that level of use in the playoffs. It will be the exception because the Yankees have shown no inclination whatsoever to deviate from traditional bullpen usage in the past and there is no reason to expect that they will do so with Chapman in the future.

As you no doubt remember, the Yankees had Chapman, Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller for the first half of 2016. Such an imposing back end of a bullpen has rarely been seen in recent history. All of them, however, were used, more or less, as one-inning-a-piece guys and no real effort was ever made to break any bullpen usage paradigms or to shorten games the way many applauded Terry Francona for doing in the playoffs.

Miller pitched 44 games for the Yankees, totaling 45.1 innings. He pitched more than a single inning on only three occasions. Chapman pitched 31 games for the Yankees, amassing 31.1 innings. He was used for more than one inning only twice. Betances worked in 73 games, totaling 73 innings. On 11 occasions he pitched more than one inning.  It was unconventional for a team to have three relievers that good, but they were not, in any way, used unconventionally. Nor is there any reason to expect Chapman to be used unconventionally in 2017, especially given that Miller is not around and Chapman has shown no real ability to be stretched for multiple innings for a sustained period.

None of which is to say that having Chapman around is a bad thing or that he is any less of a closer than his reputation suggests. It’s merely to say that the Yankees paying Chapman unprecedented money for a closer should not be justified by the alleged new importance of relief pitchers or that changing role for them we heard so much about in the playoffs. Indeed, I suspect that that changing role applies only to pitcher use in the playoffs. And I do not suspect that this transaction alone pushes the Yankees into serious playoff contention, making that temporary unconventionality something of a moot point in New York for the foreseeable future.

It is almost certain that the Yankees are paying $86 million for the same one-inning closer Aroldis Chapman has been for his entire seven-year career. His contract may or may not prove to be a good one for New York based on how he performs, but don’t let anyone tell you now, in Decemeber 2016, that it’s better than you think because Chapman will somehow transform into a 1970s-style relief ace or something.

Report: Yankees sign Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million deal

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Update (12:02 AM EST): Rosenthal adds that Chapman’s contract includes an opt-out clause after three seasons, a full no-trade clause for the first three years of the contract, and a limited no-trade clause for the final two years.

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Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports that the Yankees have signed closer Aroldis Chapman to a five-year, $86 million contract. Mark Melancon recently set the record for a contract earned by a reliever at $62 million over four years. Chapman blew that out of the water and many are surprised he didn’t fetch more.

Chapman, 28, began the 2016 season with the Yankees but he was traded to the Cubs near the end of July in exchange for four prospects. The Cubs, of course, would go on to win the World Series in large part due to Chapman. The lefty finished the regular season with a 1.55 ERA, 36 saves, and a 90/18 K/BB ratio in 58 innings between the two teams.

Chapman was the best reliever on the free agent market and, because he was traded midseason, he didn’t have draft pick compensation attached to him.

The Yankees don’t seem to be deterred by Chapman’s domestic violence issue from last offseason, resulting in a 30-game suspension to begin the 2016 regular season.