Verlander vs. The Yankees: it hardly seems fair

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The Tigers are up 2-0 in the ALCS. They are back home in Detroit. The Yankees offense is sending scribes to the thesaurus to find new words to describe their anemic offense ( feeble, infirm, pallid, sickly, wan, impotent, debilitated, decrepit, enervated, faint, flaccid, forceless, frail, impuissant).  And, oh yeah, Justin Verlander is on the mound for the Tigers.

Should we even bother playing this game?

OK, I oversell the point, but you do hear what I’m saying, yes?  Things look bleak for the Yankees and they could not be set up any more favorably for the Tigers who, after Verlander pitches, get two more games at home, with the next one started by Max Scherzer. Not that it much matters who the Tigers put out on the mound because, with the exception of mostly-demoted closer Jose Valverde, no Detroit pitcher has allowed an earned run since Game 3 of the division series against Oakland.

The Yankees situation, on the other hand, is dire. Derek Jeter is out for the year after breaking an ankle in Game 1. Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher are a combined 12 for 107 in seven postseason games, and the world is facing a shortage of the letter K thanks to so many of them being used to fill out Yankees scorecards.

Is there any hope for New York?

Sure there is. This is baseball, and if we have learned anything so far this postseason, we’ve learned that there is no such thing as momentum. If there was, Robinson Cano would still be hitting like he did at the end of the regular season and New York would have won Game 1 of this series after mounting that four-run comeback in the ninth inning against Jose Valverde on Saturday.  So where is the hope? How about here:

  • The Yankees aren’t afraid of Verlander: The Yankees faced Justin Verlander three times in 2012 and they won two of those games, notching 25 hits in 20 and a third innings. Granted, the Yankees had help from the Tigers defense in a couple of those outings — of the 12 runs Verlander surrendered to New York, five were unearned — but simply being able to make that kind of contact off Verlander shows that the Yankees are not going to simply lie down for the Tigers ace;
  • The Tigers bullpen is still a hot mess. We saw Jose Valverde melt down in Game 1, which has likely forced him out of closing situations, but Jim Leyland says he’ll still use Papa Grande at some point and that’s good news for the Yankees.  The Tigers used Phil Coke for a two inning save in Game 2, and other late inning options include Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel and Al Alburquerque. Any of those guys are capable of blowing a lead at any moment.
  • The Yankees bats can’t stay cold forever. Slumps happen, but they eventually end. Maybe the Yankees’ bats won’t wake up until they get to Tampa next February, but with the hitting talent New York possesses, it is not hard to envision them simply snapping out of their current funk and putting up ten runs at some point. This isn’t some scared, overmatched first time playoff team here. This is the New York Freakin’ Yankees.

Of course, hope is an uncertain thing. Justin Verlander in a big game is far less uncertain.  The smart money — if you’re dumb enough to bet on baseball anyway — has to be on Detroit tonight.  With their ace behind the wheel and the Yankees hitters looking like roadkill lately, the Tigers appear to be on the road to the World Series.

MLB Network airs segment listing “good” and “bad” $100 million-plus contracts

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On Wednesday evening, Charlie Marlow of KTVI FOX 2 News St. Louis posted a couple of screencaps from a segment MLB Network aired about $100 million-plus contracts that have been signed. The list of “bad” contracts, unsurprisingly, is lengthier than the list of “good” contracts.

As Mike Gianella of Baseball Prospectus pointed out, it is problematic for a network owned by Major League Baseball to air a segment criticizing its employees for making too much seemingly unearned money. There’s a very clear conflict of interest, so one is certainly not getting a fair view of the situation. MLB, of course, can do what it wants with its network, but it can also be criticized. MLB Network would never air a similar segment in which it listed baseball’s “good” and “bad” owners and how much money they’ve undeservedly taken. Nor would MLB Network ever run a segment naming the hundreds of players who are not yet eligible for arbitration whose salaries are decided for them by their teams, often making the major league minimum ($545,000) or just above it. Similarly, MLB Network would also never think of airing a segment in which the pay of minor league players, many of whom make under $10,000 annually, is highlighted.

We’re now past the halfway point in January and many free agents still remain unsigned. It’s unprecedented. A few weeks ago, I looked just at the last handful of years and found that, typically, six or seven of the top 10 free agents signed by the new year. We’re still at two of 10 — same as a few weeks ago — and that’s only if you consider Carlos Santana a top-10 free agent, which is debatable. It’s a complex issue, but part of it certainly is the ubiquity of analytics in front offices, creating homogeneity in thinking. A consequence of that is everyone now being aware that big free agent contracts haven’t panned out well; it’s a topic of conversation that everyone can have and understand now. Back in 2010, I upset a lot of people by suggesting that Ryan Howard’s five-year, $125 million contract with the Phillies wouldn’t pan out well. Those people mostly cited home runs and RBI and got mad when I cited WAR and wOBA and defensive metrics. Now, many of those same people are wary of signing free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer and they now cite WAR, wOBA, and the various defensive metrics.

The public’s hyper-sensitivity to the viability of long-term free agent contracts — thanks in part to segments like the aforementioned — is a really bad trend if you’re a player, agent, or just care about labor in general. The tables have become very much tilted in favor of ownership over labor over the last decade and a half. Nathaniel Grow of FanGraphs pointed out in March 2015 that the players’ share of total league revenues peaked in 2002 at 56 percent, but declined all the way to 38 percent in 2014. The current trend of teams signing their talented players to long-term contract extensions before or during their years of arbitration eligibility — before they have real leverage — as well as teams abstaining from signing free agents will only serve to send that percentage further down.

Craig has written at great length about the rather serious problem the MLBPA has on its hands. Solving this problem won’t be easy and may require the threat of a strike, or actually striking. As Craig mentioned, that would mean getting the players all on the same page on this issue, which would require some work. MLB hasn’t dealt with a strike since 1994 and it’s believed that it caused a serious decline in interest among fans, so it’s certainly something that would get the owners’ attention. The MLBPA may also need to consider replacing union head Tony Clark with someone with a serious labor background. Among the issues the union could focus on during negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement: abolishing the draft and getting rid of the arbitration system. One thing is for sure: the players are not in a good spot now, especially when the league has its own network on which it propagandizes against them.