As Drew wrote over the weekend and as everyone has been talking about since, Major League Baseball is considering realignment. There are a couple of flavors to it: either just having the Astros moving to the AL or having that happen plus the elimination of divisions. As has frequently been noted in these reports, that this will happen is no sure bet. It’s just something on the table.
My initial reaction to it all is cautious optimism. I agree with Drew’s take about it being unfair that some teams are in a four team division and others in a six team division. I don’t have a visceral problem with an interleague series taking place at all times because, by this point, interleague has been around long enough to where it isn’t remarkable. Maybe if there is more overall interleague play it will allow the unfairness of teams in the same division playing interleague slates of varying difficulty to be fixed a bit.
As I’ve written a few times recently, I also like the notion of divisions being eliminated and the top four or five (if they insist on an expanded playoffs) teams making the playoffs. This would help some AL East teams or others who, in the future, may have to deal with a would-be divisional foe with a massive spending advantage. And would help reduce the possibility of a truly wretched team from making the playoffs. If it did happen you’d almost have to balance the schedules, it seems, and I’m not sure that baseball is willing to take Red Sox-Yankees games off the schedule.
My biggest area of concern is less of a competitive concern than it is of a business concern, and it may very well be the reason this doesn’t happen: as of now we have multiple playoff races, even if they’re diminished somewhat due to the wild card and playoff expansion. If you go to a “take the top five teams” scenario, would it not make it likely that, in several years, you’d really only have one playoff race, and that’s for the fifth best record in each league? Not exactly riveting, and it could have a negative impact at the gate.
But like I said, I haven’t wrapped my brain around it yet and, unless and until there is a concrete proposal out there with some non-trivial chance at passing, I’m not sure I want to invest more brain time in it.
But I do want to know what you think, so let’s do this totally unscientifically with a quickie internet poll. More importantly, let’s talk about it in the comments.
Don Mattingly thinks pace of play can be improved by changing views on strikeouts
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.
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.