Sherrill, Ibanez, and the unpredictable playoffs

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Count me among those who think that the playoffs involve a lot more luck and random chance than most people would like to believe. An example of the unpredictable, anything-can-happen nature of the postseason was on display last night when George Sherrill came out of the Dodgers’ bullpen to pitch the eighth inning of a 5-4 game.
Sherrill is among the best left-handed relievers in baseball and was absolutely fantastic after joining the Dodgers in a midseason trade, posting a 0.65 ERA in 27.2 innings while holding opponents to a .192 batting average. Overall this season left-handed batters managed to hit a measly .128 with zero homers against Sherrill and he also held lefties to a .190 batting average last year.
So what happened? Well, first Sherrill walked Ryan Howard, a left-handed batter who hit just .207 with a putrid .653 OPS against southpaws this season. And then he walked Jayson Werth, which as ESPN.com’s Jayson Stark pointed out was the first time in Sherrill’s entire career that he’d walked back-to-back hitters leading off an inning that he’d started. But wait, there’s more.
With two men on base Raul Ibanez stepped to the plate, at which point Sherrill served up his first home run to a left-handed hitter since June 14, 2008. Now, to Ibanez’s credit he’s typically done well against left-handed pitching, so his hitting the homer isn’t so shocking. But the entire sequence had to come as a shock to Joe Torre, who’s spent the last few months watching Sherrill give up a grand total of one run in 30 appearances while being basically unhittable against lefties.
So naturally Sherrill walks the first two batters he sees, including a left-handed hitter who struggles mightily against pitchers like him, and then serves up his first homer to a lefty in 17 months. These are the types of things that determine who wins and loses in the playoffs, and there’s just no way to predict them in an environment where losing three or four games to a good team ends your season. It’s an awful lot of fun to watch, though.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?