Kill the win? Nah, let’s just reduce its importance


So I’m reading the latest Jon Heyman column and I’m finding myself agreeing with him more than I am with people coming at the issue he’s discussing from a sabermetric point of view. And I wasn’t even hit on the head this morning or anything.

The topic: the Kill The Win campaign Brian Kenny has been waging at MLB Network and on his NBC Sports Radio show. You’ve probably seen or heard some of it. Basically Kenny is crusading to kill pitcher wins as a stat. Now, I’m not sure that he really wants to eliminate the pitcher win. I suspect this is more about conscious rhetorical overstatement in order to shock people into looking at the issue more thoughtfully. Like, Kenny is at 11 in order to get people up to a 5. It makes sense, as do Kenny’s underlying arguments about why the win stat is misleading and way less useful than people tend to think. We’ve been talking about that for years here, of course.

But to the extent this is actually about killing the win — or to the extent people take the baton from Kenny and make extreme arguments about wins being utterly meaningless — I’m more on Heyman’s side of things. Heyman, you may not realize, is actually pretty sensible about pitcher wins. He voted for Felix Hernandez for the Cy Young a few years ago despite the low win totals. He understands that strikeouts and baserunners and stuff matter more than wins. This thinking somehow disappears when he starts talking about Jack Morris and the Hall of Fame but he’s no Hawk Harrellson or Harold Reynolds about these things.

I don’t value wins too much in pitcher analysis, but I don’t think they’re utterly meaningless. For me they’re attention-getters more than anything. When I’m looking through stats from past decades and I see pitchers with big win totals I tend to want to look more deeply at their stat lines to see what kind of season they really had. If I see pitchers who I know (or heard) were good, I notice low win totals and look at their teammates and strikeouts and unearned run totals and things.  I use wins as a signpost, and I’m glad they’re there for those purposes. Growing up in the 70s and 80s wins were much talked about and no matter how much my thinking has advanced, I still key on them some. Having them around is like having the common phrases page in the back of your guidebook while traveling in a foreign country.

Also: wins are fun to talk about outside of analysis. As are bunts and batting average. I like having them around for that kind of fun and I like talking about them as long as people don’t mistake the fun talk for meaningful analytical talk. It’d be a real bummer if those stats disappeared simply because we don’t use them the way we used to.

Ultimately all of this may turn on how you feel about revolutions in general. I’m kind of a cautious guy with small-c conservative tendencies. I’m pro-change and advancement and think science and math and change and the future are wonderful things that we should embrace and not fear.  But I am wary of rhetorical extremes and ideas which posit that the past is crap and must be abandoned if we are to advance.

Kill the win? Nah. Just reduce it’s significance. And keep it around like we keep around record players and manual typewriters and stuff. They’re neat.

Spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws

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Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports that, according to three congressional officials familiar with current talks, an upcoming spending bill could exempt minor leaguers from federal labor laws. This is an issue we have spent some time covering here. A bill proposed in 2016, H.R. 5580, would have amended language in Section 13 of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 which would have made it so minor leaguers wouldn’t be protected under a law that protects hourly workers. There is also an ongoing class action lawsuit over unfair labor prospects.

As DeBonis notes, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is among the representatives backing the measure. The provision specifically concerning minor leaguers didn’t appear in any of the draft spending bills, but DeBonis spoke to officials familiar with the negotiations under the condition of anonymity who said it was under serious consideration by top party leaders.

DeBonis got a comment from Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner. He said, “We’re not saying that [minor league pay] shouldn’t go up. We’re just saying that the formula of minimum wage and overtime is so incalculable. I would hate to think that a prospect is told, ‘You got to go home because you’re out of hours, you can’t have any extra batting practice.’ It’s those kinds of things. It’s not like factory work. It’s not like work where you can punch a time clock and management can project how many hours they’re going to have to pay for.”

O’Conner said as much in an interview back in December. It’s an extremely disingenuous deflection. O’Conner also said, “I don’t think that minor league baseball is a career choice for a player.” This is all about creating legislation that allows Minor League Baseball to keep money at the top, which is great if you’re a team owner or shareholder. If they could get away with it, every owner of every business would pay its employees as little as possible, which is why it’s important to have unions and people keeping an eye on legislation like this that attempts to strip laborers of their rights in the dead of night.

Minor league players need to unionize. Or, better yet, the MLBPA should open their doors to include minor leaguers and fight for them just as they would a player who has reached the majors. Minor leaguers should be paid a salary with which they do not have to worry about things like rent, electricity, food, and transportation. They should be provided healthcare and a retirement fund. And if anyone tries to tell you it’s not affordable, MLB eclipsed $10 billion in revenues last year. There’s plenty to go around.

The owners are banking on this legislation passing and labor still coming in excess due to young men holding onto the dream of making the major leagues. According to CNN, “far less than 10 percent of minor league players ever get the chance to make it to the major leagues.” Some of these players have forgone college to work in baseball. They arrive at the park in the morning and leave late at night, putting in far more than your standard eight-hour work day. Since their bodies are their vehicle for success, they have to exercise regularly and vigorously off the field while maintaining a healthy diet. (And teams are still reluctant to invest even the smallest amount of money to ensure their young players eat well.) Minor leaguers make tremendous sacrifices to pursue their dream and now Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars lobbying Congress to legalize taking further advantage of them.