World Baseball Classic - Semifinals - Puerto Rico v Japan

Quote of the Day: Undermining The Basis of the WBC Edition

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My thing on the World Baseball Classic is not that it isn’t fun and cool. It is! Having gone to a couple of games and having talked to people involved with it, there’s no denying that it’s fun. Especially this time of year when all of the other baseball being played consists of meaningless exhibitions. There has been genuine electricity and excitement at Chase Field, Marlins Park and AT&T Park over the past week and change.

But I do take issue with those — be they MLB officials or national columnists — who claim that the WBC determines something truly important or tells us something even remotely meaningful about the state of international baseball. For starters, it’s not globalizing baseball in a basic sense, because as Twitter friend @yakyunightowl noted last night:

It may put an official, MLB-led imprimatur on international baseball, complete with marketing and broadcast rights and all of that stuff, but no one involved in these finals is truly introducing baseball to their homelands. It was already there.

But marketing and broadcast rights are part and parcel of the 21st century, so that’s fine. If they want to claim that stuff is significant they won’t get too strong an argument from me. I lost that fight years ago.

That said, anyone who claims that these games tell us something meaningful about the relative baseball power of the countries involved in the tournament will get a strong argument from me. Because as the hero of last night’s game, Alex Rios, noted himself, the best players in the thing are not exactly playing at full strength:

“For us, this is like Spring Training,” Rios said. “We’re still in a preparation phase. We have to understand that we’re not at our maximum. We have to work on our approach and the game and do our job as well as we can. We can’t just be worried about mechanics. It’s just the approach. Thanks to our results, which were favorable tonight, we have done well.”

Good for him and other major leaguers for fighting through all that rust and bad mechanics to play competitive baseball, but please note the rust and bad mechanics. They’re simply not at full speed and skill, and to suggest that we’re seeing the pinacle of baseball right now is like watching Led Zeppelin play Live Aid in 1985 or listened to the Beatles sing “Free as a Bird” and saying you saw the pinnacle of rock and roll.

It’s fun. It’s cool. It’s baseball. It’s just not telling us anything particularly meaningful.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.

Report: MLB approves new rule allowing a dugout signal for an intentional walk

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 29:  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred laughs during a ceremony naming the 2016 winners of the Mariano Rivera American League Reliever of the Year Award and the Trevor Hoffman National League Reliever of the Year Award before Game Four of the 2016 World Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 29, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images
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ESPN’s Howard Bryant is reporting that Major League Baseball has approved a rule allowing for a dugout signal for an intentional walk. In other words, baseball is allowing automatic intentional walks. Bryant adds that this rule will be effective for the 2017 season.

MLB has been trying, particularly this month, to improve the pace of play. Getting rid of the formality of throwing four pitches wide of the strike zone will save a minute or two for each intentional walk. There were 932 of them across 2,428 games last season, an average of one intentional walk every 2.6 games. It’s not the biggest improvement, but it’s something at least.

Earlier, Commissioner Rob Manfred was upset with the players’ union’s “lack of cooperation.” Perhaps his public criticism was the catalyst for getting this rule passed.

Unfortunately, getting rid of the intentional walk formality will eradicate the chance of seeing any more moments like this: