Realignment? No way. How about "unalignment"

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In reaction to the “radical realignment” proposals that floated around last month I made an off-hand suggestion to do something far more simple and far more elegant in order to address the temporary problem of the Yankees and Red Sox hegemony: break all of baseball down to two leagues, with no divisions, a fully-balanced schedule and have the top four teams in each league make the
playoffs. It’s not original or anything —  others have suggested the plan before me — but it’s so damn appealing.

Today Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan develops the notion in an excellent column. What’s more, he does something that might actually help get the ball rolling: he gives the plan a name. He calls it “unalignment,” and it makes so much sense that I wouldn’t be shocked in the least if a hundred baseball writers came out to today to dismiss it out of hand:

AL teams would play everyone in the league 11 times a year, with 19
interleague games. Those in the NL would play eight teams 10 games each
and seven teams nine games each, plus the 19 interleague contests. If a
team goes somewhere twice one year, it would host that team twice the
next season. The interleague games would rotate yearly. And if baseball
prefers 15 teams in each league, it could move Milwaukee (or another
willing participant) to the AL and use a schedule with at least one
interleague game every day instead of confining them to two blocks a
year.

Passan has an excellent response to those who think that such a plan would kill divisional rivalries: tough. While ESPN won’t like it if we cut the Yankees-Red Sox games down to 11 from the current 18, unalignment would at least give every other AL team a larger piece of the gate from New York and Boston games than they currently get. Bonus: while we may lose seven Yankees-Red Sox games, we also lose even Indians-Royals games and many others of that ilk.

The biggest thing this plan has going for it is fairness. Everyone plays more or less the same schedule (interleague is still a problem, but let us not make a perfect world in which interleague play does not exist the enemy of a good plan).  As Passan notes, it avoids the pitfalls of the NBA and NHL systems in which everyone gets into the playoffs for one in which making the playoffs is still difficult, but no longer impossible for those stuck in a tough division by virtue of accident of geography. It retains the part of their systems, however, which rewards the best records no no matter where they happen be located.

I think it’s time to get this bandwagon out of the garage and out on the road.  Unalignment, baby.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.