Dave Dombrowski, Justin Verlander

Extensions are the new on-base percentage

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Years after Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball and teams started taking a smarter approach to building baseball teams, writers would often proclaim something as “the new on-base percentage”. Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics rose to prominence in one small part due to their ability to find cheap players with good on-base skills. A quick Google search of the phrase “is the new OBP” showed such proclamations about Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), health (injury prevention), and software in general. Surely scores more await with more dedicated digging.

I bring this up because two big pieces of news were announced today: the Tigers and Justin Verlander agreed to a contract extension, as did the Giants and Buster Posey. A smaller but related piece of news included the Diamondbacks and Paul Goldschmidt agreeing to a contract extension as well. The Mariners extended Felix Hernandez earlier in the off-season, and now the Dodgers are thinking about doing the same with Clayton Kershaw.

This isn’t just a coincidence. More and more team executives seem to agree that buying out their star players’ arbitration years and delaying their foray into free agency is a great way to maximize player value. As an example of something that commonly happens, look what happened with the Indians and Cliff Lee: they got two good seasons out of him, then had to trade him at the deadline in 2009 because they had fallen out of contention. Since then, the Phillies have had two and a half stellar seasons out of him, while the Mariners and Rangers also got a half-season each. Meanwhile, the prospects that the Indians got in return for Lee (Jason Donald, Lou Marson, Carlos Carrasco, and Jason Knapp) have turned out to be duds.

Several years ago, Matt Swartz showed that teams that re-sign their own players, rather than signing free agents who came from other teams, got more value out of the contracts. With surging advancements in data collection and technology, teams are better able to make accurate, long-term projections about players they have grown and cultivated over many years. Though you are still prone to the land mines that are injuries — see: Johan Santana — teams will only get better and better at identifying and predicting them as time goes on.

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: