Zach Duke throwing

Pirates designate Zach Duke, Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche for assignment

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MLB teams had until the end of the day Friday to set their 40-man rosters before the Rule 5 Draft, so the Pirates did a little bit of housecleaning. Zach Duke, Delwyn Young and Andy LaRoche were all designated for assignment, according to Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. All three were arbitration-eligible this fall, so these roster moves essentially serve as early non-tenders.

Duke posted a 5.72 ERA over 29 starts this past season, the highest ERA among NL starters with at least 150 innings pitched. The 27-year-old left-hander is 37-68 with a 4.80 ERA since he went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA over his first 14 major league starts in 2005. It doesn’t help that he’s been on such an awful team, but no pitcher has lost more games since the start of the 2006 season.

Duke doesn’t strike out many batters (4.7 K/9), but he does induce a fair amount of groundballs (48.9 percent) and throws strikes (2.45 BB/9). With a better defense behind him, there’s no reason why he can’t be a decent No. 4 or 5 starter in the big leagues. Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told Langosch that he tried to negotiate a contract with Duke before cutting him loose, so it’s clear the Pirates still believe he has some value, just not at the near $5 million he would have made in arbitration.

LaRoche, who came over in the Jason Bay/Manny Ramirez deal in July of 2008, batted just .226/.296/.341 with 19 homers, 92 RBI and a 637 OPS over 1,044 plate appearances as a member of the Pirates. The former top prospect hit .258 with 12 homers, 68 RBI and a 731 OPS as the team’s full-time third baseman last season and moved into a utility role after Pedro Alvarez was called up to the major leagues this past June. Still, with a good glove and decent plate discipline, the 27-year-old shouldn’t have a problem finding another opportunity in the big leagues.

Young, 28, batted .236/.286/.414 with seven home runs, 28 RBI and a 700 OPS in 207 plate appearances this season, primarily off the bench. He led the Pirates with 16 pinch-hits, but batted just .232 (16-for-69) in pinch-hit situations. His ability to play second base, third base and the outfield will help him land another gig, but he is generally regarded as a poor defensive player.

Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts

Miami Marlins manager Don Mattingly sits in the dugout prior to a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Los Angeles, Monday, April 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo)
AP Photo/Kelvin Kuo
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Marlins manager Don Mattingly has one potential solution to the pace of play issue: change the way people value strikeouts, the Associated Press reports.

Strikeouts have been rising steadily since 2005. Then, a typical game averaged 6.30 strikeouts. In 2016, there were 8.03 strikeouts per game. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. For one, teams are searching specifically for young pitchers who can throw hard — like triple-digits hard. They figure they can teach them the other pertinent skills in the minors. Second, Sabermetrics has shown that a strikeout is only marginally worse than an out made on a ball put in play. Sometimes, the strikeout is preferable, especially if there’s a runner on first base with less than two outs and a weak hitter at the plate. Sabermetrics has also shown home runs to be the best and most efficient way to contribute on offense. Furthermore, younger players tend to focus more on power in order to get noticed by scouts. Unless it’s paired with other elite skills, a scout isn’t going to remember a player who hit the ball into the hole on the right side, but he will remember the kid who blasted a 450-foot homer.

Here’s what Mattingly had to say:

Analytically, a few years back nobody cared about the strikeout, so it’s OK to strike out 150, 160, 170 times, and that guy’s still valued in a big way. Well, as soon as we start causing that to be a bad value — the strikeouts — guys will put the ball in play more. So once we say strikeouts are bad and it’s going to cost you money the more you strike out, then the strikeouts will go away. Guys will start making adjustments and putting the ball in play more.

[…]

If our game values [say that] strikeouts don’t matter, they are going to keep striking out, hitting homers, trying to hit home runs and striking out.

Simply believing strikeouts are bad won’t magically change its value. However, creating social pressure regarding striking out can change it. Theoretically, anyway. Creating that social pressure is easier said than done.

There is a dichotomy here as well. Home runs are exciting. Strikeouts and walks are not. Often, though, the three go hand-in-hand-in-hand. A player actively trying to cut down on his strikeouts by putting the ball in play will also likely cut down on his strikeout and walk rates. There doesn’t seem to be an elegant solution here. Wishing for fewer strikeouts, walks, and homers doesn’t really seem to give way to a more exciting game.

Sean Doolittle: “Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans.”

ANAHEIM, CA - JUNE 25:  Sean Doolittle #62 of the Oakland Athletics pitches during the ninth inning of a baseball game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 25, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
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In the past, we’ve commented on Athletics reliever Sean Doolittle and his girlfriend Eireann Dolan’s community service. In 2015, the pair hosted Syrian refugee families for Thanksgiving and their other charitable efforts have included LGBTQ outreach and help for veterans.

Athletes and their significant others have typically avoided stepping into political waters, but Doolittle and Dolan have shown that it’s clearly no concern to them. In the time since, the Syrian refugee issue has become even more of a hot-button issue and Doolittle recently discussed it with Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.

I think America is the best country in the world because we’ve been able to attract the best and brightest people from all over the world. We have the smartest doctors and scientists, the most creative and innovative thinkers. A travel ban like this puts that in serious jeopardy.

I’ve always thought that all boats rise with the tide. Refugees aren’t stealing a slice of the pie from Americans. But if we include them, we can make the pie that much bigger, thus ensuring more opportunities for everyone.

Doolittle, of course, is referring to Executive Order 13769 signed by President Trump which sought to limit incoming travel to the United States from seven countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. A temporary restraining order on the executive order was placed on February 3, a result of State of Washington v. Trump.

Doolittle spoke more about the plight refugees face:

These are people fleeing civil wars, violence and oppression that we can’t even begin to relate to. I think people think refugees just kind of decide to come over. They might not realize it takes 18-24 months while they wait in a refugee camp. They go through more than 20 background checks and meetings with immigration officers. They are being vetted.

They come here, and they want to contribute to society. They’re so grateful to be out of a war zone or whatever they were running from in their country that they get jobs, their kids go to our schools, they’re paying taxes, and in a lot of cases, they join our military.

Around this time last year, Craig wrote about Doolittle and Dolan not sticking to baseball. They’re still not, nor should they be. Hopefully, the duo’s outspokenness inspires other players and their loved ones to speak up for what’s right.

[Hat tip: Deadspin’s Hannah Keyser]