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Wishing that baseball was more like the World Baseball Classic is to fundamentally misunderstand baseball

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With the end of the World Baseball Classic comes, I hope anyway, the end of Jon Paul Morosi’s columns shaming baseball and baseball fans who aren’t as into it as he is. If it is, though, he’s saved a good one for last.

After saying that baseball is rarely as entertaining, passionate or captivating as it was in the final round of the WBC — and that this may be because the U.S. team wasn’t there — Morosi lays his cards on the table:

The Dominicans and Puerto Ricans didn’t give us a glimpse into baseball’s future. They showed us what the sport should be right now, with fervor that burned bright even on a cold, drizzly night at AT&T Park: Flags waved. Horns honked. Whistles blew … However briefly, baseball acquired the Did you see that? quality more commonly associated with football and basketball. The kids like that stuff, you know … now that the tournament is over, baseball (sadly) will revert to its default settings: Home-run stylings, excessive celebrations, grand spectacles of individual expression all verboten. The Code, as enforced by managers and players, makes it so.

In saying this — and saying that regular major league baseball should emulate the WBC in these respects — he’s ignoring the fundamental nature of the regular baseball season. He’s ignoring that the WBC lasts eight to ten games, not 162. He’s ignoring that it is utterly impossible for WBC-level intensity to last for six months. He’s ignoring that one the great joys of baseball is the slow build of intensity over time. An intensity which ratchets up once the pennant races get serious and then maintains over the course of the playoffs.

But he doesn’t need me to tell him this. One of the guys he himself quotes — Puerto Rico coach Carlos Delgado — says as much:

“It’s very hard to keep this intensity level over the course of 162 games,” acknowledged Carlos Delgado, the former All-Star who served as a coach for the Puerto Rican team. “I’m not saying players do not play with passion during the season, but it’s hard to do this, day in and day out. There’s a different set of emotions. You’re playing for your country. You’re only playing six or seven games. The fans get into it. It’s a great event, a great competition.

And it is a great competition. I’ll take issue with the relative importance of the thing and many of its technical aspects, but in and of itself it is great fun, it is of great importance to fans outside of the United States and, yes, it is quite intense. I have doubts it will turn into a World Cup level thing, but if it does good for baseball.

But it’s one thing to acknowledge and enjoy (as Morosi clearly does, much to his credit) the unique nature of the World Baseball Classic and another thing altogether to believe that (a) its unique nature should be the norm in regular season baseball; and (b) if it is not the norm, it is to regular season baseball’s detriment. That’s where Morosi is here, and that’s why I take issue with him.

Despite his approving nods to football and basketball in the column, baseball is not football and basketball. Or hockey or soccer for that matter, to which he also alludes. It is not “the national competition.” It is “the national pastime.” It is a game which can and often does fade into the background over the course of months as opposed to demanding that we drop what we are doing and Take Notice. It is the soundtrack or score to the summer for most people. The accompaniment which complements our days and nights, not the concert or main event which demands that we block out those days and nights and refrain from other obligations. It is always there, not as a loud roar, but as a steady, comforting hum that maintains no matter what else is going on in our lives, and thank God for that, because our lives can and often do carry plenty of drama and intensity of their own.

Those who disparage baseball — and there are many — frequently claim these things to be the very problem with the game. But baseball’s calm and steady nature and its, eventually anyway, slowly-building intensity are features, not bugs. To suggest that the very aspects of baseball which make it unique and enjoyable to so many people constitute its essential problem is to fundamentally misunderstand its essential nature.

That is where Morosi seems to be. In a place where he misunderstands that the WBC and regular season baseball are entirely different things, each of which would not be what it is if it attempted to approximate the other. In his efforts to pit the two against one another and, by extension, to pit the feelings and motivations of the supporters of the two events against one another, and in rush to conclude that one side is sorely lacking, is to miss the bloody point entirely.

The Marlins have made a “monster offer” for Kenley Jansen

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 18:  Kenley Jansen #74 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch against the Chicago Cubs in the eighth inning of game three of the National League Championship Series at Dodger Stadium on October 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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OXON HILL, MD — The morning after Aroldis Chapman signed for a record $86 million, the Miami Marlins are reported to have made similarly lucrative offer to the other top free agent closer, Kenley Jansen.

Jeff Passan of Yahoo says that the Marlins have made “a monster offer” of five years and more than $80 million to Jansen. This despite the fact that the club is coming off of a 79-win season and, tragically, lost their top pitcher Jose Fernandez in a fatal boating accident, which will substantially harm their competitive prospects. While it seems like a stretch to say that the Yankees will compete for a playoff spot, thereby making such an historically large investment in a closer a bit suspect, the Marlins doing so is even more questionable.

Meanwhile, the Nationals are said to be interested in Jansen as well, though Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post says the Nats are “uncomfortable” with the financial commitment signing him would require.

Jansen most recently pitched for the Dodgers and there have been no reports that they’re totally out on him, but there has been nothing to suggest that they are pushing hard for him either.

Jansen, 29, finished this past season with 47 saves, a 1.83 ERA, and a 104/11 K/BB ratio in 68.2 innings. That’s not quite Aroldis Chapman good, but he seems poised to collect something close to Aroldis Chapman money.

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.