Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves

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.

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: