There are a lot of reasons why the NL has been getting its butt handed to it by the AL in recent years. Money is one, the DH is another. Matt Klaassan of FanGraphs has another theory: better GMs in the AL than in the NL.
He doesn’t rank them, really. He simply creates two pools: one with the five best general managers, generally speaking, and one with the five worst. By his estimation four of the five best are in the AL and four of the five worst are in the NL. We can quibble with his pool — even with the financial advantage I don’t think Beane is necessarily a better general manager than Brian Cashman, for example — but no matter how you shuffle the names around, I’m not sure you can break the 4-1 advantage the AL has over the NL. Maybe you could still substitute John Mozeliak for Beane, but at this point I’m stretching.
I’m the sort of person who is highly skeptical of silver bullet explanations. Most things in life are a function of many complicated factors interacting. When we add in stuff like the GM gap to the money thing and the DH I think we get closer to the truth than simply blaming the Yankees-Red Sox arms race, for example.
The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.
In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.
The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.
Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”
It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.
It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.