Today’s decision punishes A-Rod, but it also gives Bud Selig new power

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I think the most interesting thing about Alex Rodriguez’s suspension is that curious number of games: 162. It’s such a great number. It matches up so perfectly with a major league baseball season! I thought Ryan Braun’s suspension was interesting too: 65 games. When, as a matter of pure coincidence, I’m sure, the Milwaukee Brewers had 65 games left on their schedule. How neat that is!

It’s almost as if we now have a new matrix for drug suspensions:

  • First offense: 50 games
  • Second offense: 100 games
  • Third offense: lifetime ban
  • Offense by a guy who REALLY makes us look bad and we want to hammer: Until the end of the year, how ever many games that may be.

Which, however satisfying that may be — who doesn’t want A-Rod to just be gone for a season at this point? — is a departure from what Major League Baseball has done with suspensions in the past. Until Braun and now A-Rod, suspensions were for a set number of games, agreed-to beforehand in the Joint Drug Agreement. It was automatic, not a matter of personal judgment by Bud Selig or an arbitrator. We’re in new territory here.

The explanation I’ve seen from some on this — particularly Tom Verducci, but others have said it as well — is that the odd, convenient number of games is because the enforcement action was not based on testing, it was based on non-analytic information (Tony Bosch and the Biogenesis documents) and that when we’re in non-analytic land, the Commissioner has discretion.

Except that is not at all clear from either the terms of the CBA or the JDA. It’s apparently what Bud Selig asserted and, presumably, it’s a position the arbitrator validated in the A-Rod arbitration. But we don’t know, because his decision is sealed. I wonder if, given how much time A-Rod’s lawyers seemed to spend on claiming the existence of a vast conspiracy against their client, they bothered to spend much time arguing that point of the Commissioner’s authority. If they didn’t, that’s pretty awful lawyering.

In any event, that’s basically the effect of this ruling: a big grant of power to Bud Selig to exceed the penalties set forth in the JDA in cases that don’t involve a positive test. A power that, for whatever reason, he decided not to use for Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and all of the other Biogenesis players, but I suppose that’s convenient too. And, perversely, a power he would not have if the drug testing system he has put in place would have caught these players before we heard about it in the Miami New-Times. Indeed, the failure of the drug testing system worked to Selig’s benefit, which is kind of crazy itself if you think about.

But that’s neither here nor there. The real takeaway here is that Selig now has power in the drug enforcement world he didn’t have before and which he did not obtain via negotiation with the union. He obtained it by simply asserting it and seeing if he could make it stick.  He made it stick.

It’l be interesting to see if the union, under new leader Tony Clark, is going to make this an issue when the new CBA is negotiated or if they’re going to let Selig’s grab for power– his quite successful grab — stand.

The Mets are a mess

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The Mets lost again on Thursday afternoon, suffering a 7-5 defeat at the hands of the Braves. It’s their sixth consecutive loss and the club is now in last place in the NL East. Not exactly the start the Mets envisioned.

Matt Harvey got the start, but lasted only 4 1/3 innings. He gave up six runs on five hits and five walks with only one strikeout. After the game, Harvey said he was tight and that he threw yesterday expecting to start on Friday instead, per Matt Ehalt of The Record. Sounds like no one communicated to Harvey that he’d be starting this afternoon until it was too late for him to properly prepare.

Harvey started because Noah Syndergaard was scratched due to a “tired arm.” Syndergaard blew reporters off after the game, according to Mike Puma of the New York Post. Puma then added that Syndergaard ripped Mets P.R. guy Jay Horwitz for letting reporters approach him.

By the way, the Mets also lost outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a hamstring injury. Not much else can go wrong in Queens.

Joey Votto isn’t on board with the latest fly ball trend among hitters

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If you haven’t heard, fly balls — not ground balls or line drives — are all the rage among hitters these days. Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez summed it up perfectly last month when he said, “I’m not trying to hit a [freaking] line drive or a freaking ground ball.” The goal is to maximize damage. Last year, for example, fly balls became hits about 17 percent less often than ground balls (7.4% versus 24.6%), but hitters had a slugging percentage more than twice as much as on ground balls (.539 versus .267). This refocusing has helped hitters like Martinez as well as Ryan Zimmerman reinvigorate their careers.

Reds first baseman Joey Votto, who is as much a student of new age analytics as anyone in the game, doesn’t feel that this approach is necessarily a good one, as Zach Buchanan of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports. Votto said:

Where I get concerned is the guys that make this attempt and burn out too much of their time and don’t get a chance to be their best selves, and either don’t make it to the big leagues or don’t perform their best in the big leagues because they’re always attempting this new style of hitting. I see it with a lot of guys. Everyone tells the good stories, but there’s a lot of s—ty stories of guys who are wasting their time trying things.

Votto added that while the fly ball approach is working right now, pitchers will soon adapt and the fly ball approach won’t be so good anymore. And he’s right. Baseball has always been a game of adjustments. For example, as teams have gotten comfortable with shifting their infield, hitters like the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber have both dropped bunts down the third base line for easy hits. Knowing that hitters are aiming to hit fly balls now, pitchers may stay higher in the strike zone more often as one possible solution.

Votto is just trying to stay as well-rounded as possible. He says that he wants to become “unpitchable.” Votto wants to be like Angels outfielder Mike Trout, whom he describes as a guy “who can do absolutely anything he wants” and “at all times [has] all options.”

So far, Votto is having another productive season despite a relatively pedestrian batting average and on-base percentage. He’s hitting .238/.330/.563 with seven home runs and 16 RBI in 94 plate appearances. Coincidentally, he’s been hitting way more fly balls than usual as he’s currently carrying a 42.3 percent rate compared to his 33.1 career average, according to FanGraphs. His line drives are way down to 16.9 percent compared to his 25.4 percent career average.