Winners and losers of the Alex Rodriguez arbitration decision

61 Comments

This wasn’t just about A-Rod and Bud Selig going to head to head. There are a lot of winners and losers here. Some are people. Some are documents. Some are ideas and ideals. Let’s look at the immediate fallout:

Winner: Major League Baseball: The league wanted A-Rod gone through 2014 and, in all likelihood, believe that means he will be gone for good. That’s what the 211-game suspension was all about in the first place and, with the exception of those 40-some games A-Rod played last year, they’re getting what they wanted. Barring an absolute miracle, A-Rod will not see a baseball diamond until 2015.

Loser: A-Rod: Obviously. The suspension he’ll now serve is far closer to the original 211-games he was given than whatever number he either wanted or would have accepted in some sort of deal. There have been various reports regarding whether there was ever really a chance of a deal being struck, but it’s safe to say he wouldn’t have agreed to 162. He loses the 2014 season, $27.5 million and, unless he stays in great shape and convinces someone to take a chance on him in 2015, he may have played his last game as a major league baseball player.

Winner: Bud Selig: The Commissioner has tried, for many years, to declare either an end to The Steroids Era in baseball (that was the idea behind the Mitchell Report and the adoption of drug testing) or at least to put someone’s face on baseball’s performance enhancing drug problems other than his own. With nearly a year of negative headlines about A-Rod and the other Biogenesis-implicated players and now with this suspension, Alex Rodriguez will be that face. Bud Selig can and likely will declare victory here. And, deserved or not, history will agree with him.

Loser: Baseball’s Drug Testing program: At least as it was originally intended to be and as most drug testing advocates believe a good drug testing and punishment system should function. Zero tolerance. Automatic penalties. No room for human judgment or mercy or consideration. An athlete tests positive? He’s gone. For a set time that everyone knows about beforehand.  With the A-Rod decision bringing us a suspension that was clearly engineered to meet human desires (i.e. to have A-Rod gone through the end of 2014), and was clearly based on Major League Baseball’s subjective judgment of how bad A-Rod behaved as opposed to whether this was a first, second or third offense, we are in a new world. Now that baseball has seen that it can get away with suspending players longer than 50 games a long as they claim that the player was somehow uncooperative or evasive, why wouldn’t they try to do it more often?

Winner: The New York Yankees. They may not crow about it because it would look unseemly, but you can bet your life that they are jumping for joy at the Yankees offices today. That’s $27.5 million off the books for this season and, possibly, a shot at getting their payroll under $189 million, which will help them out in the luxury tax department. Even if that doesn’t happen — signing Masahiro Tanaka, for example, could kill those hopes — it’s a lot of money saved. Also: the uncertainty surrounding whether or not A-Rod can play or not is over. This is the first season in at least two, but maybe more, that the headlines shouldn’t be dominated by Alex Rodriguez.

Loser: The MLBPA: In some ways this was out of its control, as Alex Rodriguez swept aside their defense in favor of his own legal team, but this is a defeat for the union all the same. No matter how much Bud Selig denies it, there was an effort to make an example of A-Rod here, and unions exist in part to prevent that sort of thing from happening to its members. The union was basically powerless in that regard. It’s hard to see, if MLB wants to go after someone like this again, how the union can stop them.

Winner: Alex Rodriguez’s attorneys: Sure, they lost the arbitration, but they made a lot of money in the process. And got a lot of publicity. And, if A-Rod truly intends to appeal to federal court — which I believe would be foolish — they will make even more money.  Why would he do that? Because, I’m guessing, they’ve convinced a man with more money than savvy that he has a better chance than he does. Lawyers want to win, but they also want to get paid, and A-Rod money will be covering boat payments and mortgages on vacation homes for his legal team for many, many years.

A scout thinks the Astros strike out too much. The Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
3 Comments

Great moments in scouting. MLB.com’s Richard Justice spoke to an unnamed scout about the Astros, currently holding the American League’s best record at 76-47. The scout said that the Astros strike out too much and it will catch up with them. Justice pointed out that the Astros have the lowest strikeout total in baseball. The scout responded, “I don’t believe that.”

Justice, of course, is correct. The average major league team has struck out 1,006 times entering Sunday’s action. The Astros have by far the lowest total at 827, followed by the Indians at 881 and the Pirates at 882.

This scout doesn’t represent all scouts, but this is one of the major problems that advocates of statistics were trying to highlight before Sabermetrics became popular a decade ago. It’s a pattern. Person believes thing. Person either cherry-picks evidence to defend belief or is shown evidence that belief is not factually true and ignores it. Person refuses to change belief, using one of many excuses.

The other problem this highlights is the fallacy of “the eye test,” which is shorthand for treating a scout’s observations as sacrosanct due to his or her experience and knowledge of the game. In this case, the scout ignored easily accessed information, went with his gut, and turned out to be completely wrong. Furthermore, if “the eye test” were legit, the scout would’ve known that, for example, Yulieski Gurriel and Jose Altuve hardly ever strike out (11.1 and 12.4 percent strikeout rates, respectively). In fact, no one on the Astros’ roster (min. 230 PA) has a strikeout rate above 21 percent; the league average is 21.5 percent.

This isn’t to impugn the practice of scouting as a whole. There are a lot of things scouts can tell you about a player that data cannot and that has value. But for easily-researched claims like “the Astros strike out too much,” there’s no reason to trust a scout over the stats.

Mets acquire Jacob Rhame from Dodgers

Getty Images
1 Comment

The Mets acquired right-handed reliever Jacob Rhame from the Dodgers, the team announced on Sunday. Rhame is the player to be named later in the trade that sent outfielder Curtis Granderson to Los Angeles on Friday night. He’s expected to report to the Mets’ Triple-A affiliate.

Rhame, 24, pitched through his second Triple-A campaign with the Oklahoma City Dodgers in 2017, collecting two saves in 41 appearances and logging a 4.31 ERA, 1.9 BB/9 and 10.3 SO/9 through 48 innings. While his ERA saw a sharp spike from its modest 3.29 mark in 2016 (perhaps thanks in part to a midseason DL stint due to an undisclosed injury), he’s controlling the ball better than he has in several years and has drawn some attention with a fastball that occasionally touches 98 MPH on the radar gun.

The Mets’ bullpen hasn’t been at its finest over the last few weeks, ranking 16th among its major league competitors with a collective 4.50 ERA and 2.4 fWAR, but likely isn’t looking to add an extreme fly ball pitcher to its staff just yet. Until he gets his big league break, Rhame will beef up Triple-A Vegas’ relief corps alongside fellow right-handers Yaisel Sierra, Joe Broussard and Josh Ravin.