So who's the Hall of Fame 'roider Tom Boswell mentioned last night?

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Note to Ken Burns and PBS: I’d be much more willing to watch “The Tenth Inning” if it wasn’t airing on a night when multiple games with playoff implications were going down. Thanks.

Second note to Ken Burns and PBS: if what my friends are saying is true and “The Tenth Inning” spends a bunch of time on the Jim Leyritz game of the 1996 World Series, I’m probably going to delete it from my DVR before I have a chance to watch it this weekend. Because, really, I never want to see that again. If a highlight that even looks like Jim Leyritz vs. Mark Wohlers comes on my TV I get nauseous as it is, so the last thing I want to do is watch George Will and Doris Kearns Goodwin and God knows who else waxing eloquently about it over some evocative mandolin music. Thanks again.

But some people are watching “The Tenth Inning,” including our friend lar from Wezen-Ball.  And he notes this morning that the most interesting thing from last night’s episode was when Washington Post columnist Tom Boswell said that he once saw a player — who is now in the Hall of Fame — drink something in the clubhouse which the player called “a Jose Canseco milkshake.” Which could have been Slim Fast and B vitamins for all we know, but since Boswell was talking about it during a segment about steroids, he clearly took it to mean that the thing was chock full of PED-ly goodness.

Based on the clues Boswell gave to the player’s identity — a guy who (a) is already in the Hall of Fame; and (b) who hit more home runs after Jose Canseco
arrived in the league than he ever had before — lar tries to figure out who it was.  I won’t give it away but his number one suspect is a guy about whom people have whispered in the past and whom would certainly have benefited from proximity to Jose Canseco.

But back to Boswell.  I recently spouted off about making evidence-free accusations of PED-use, and I stand by such spouting. But in this case, Boswell has apparently been sitting on evidence of a Hall of Famer using what Boswell believed to be PEDs for over 20 years.

I know that Boswell reported as early as 1988 that Jose Canseco used steroids — and his reports were basically ignored by all but a handful of booing fans that fall — but why haven’t we heard anything about this Hall of Fame player before now? Given all that has transpired in the past decade, wouldn’t information about a Hall of Famer’s PED use have been extremely relevant to the national discussion? I’m not saying Boswell just tell the mikshake story and leave it at that, but why not interview the player about it? Why not do some more reporting on it? Why wasn’t this out there before last night?

I won’t accept “what happens in the clubhouse stays in the clubhouse” as an answer here. Because if what everyone who goes on about steroids says is true, they damn nigh destroyed the national pastime. In such an instance a reporter seems more than justified — indeed, he seems obligated — to followup on what he saw in the clubhouse and get the story out there. If not in 1988, then certainly by 2002 when the steroid story broke big.

But that didn’t happen. What has happened, if what Boswell says is true, is that a PED user was elected to the Hall of Fame by baseball writers who currently believe that the world will end if a PED user is elected to the Hall of Fame. Mr. Milkshake has a plaque in Cooperstown, but because of the perceived need to keep the Hall of Fame pure, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mark McGwire won’t get one anytime soon.

I don’t have a problem with PED users in the Hall of Fame and I wish Mr. Milkshake all the best. But I do have a problem with double standards. If what Boswell says is true, a steroid user is in the Hall. If it were widely known that a steroid user were in the Hall — and the world didn’t end because of it — it would necessarily change the way that other steroid users such as Bonds and company were treated when they came up for a vote. Or, at the very least, it would lay the hypocrisy of the electorate bare should it continue to bar the door to the Hall for those guys.

I don’t think we should out guys simply for the sake of outing them, but this seems important to me. People should know which member of the Hall of Fame was a PED user if, indeed, one is. Boswell should follow up on this or, maybe better, someone should follow up on this in his stead using Boswell as a source.  It’s not just a matter of journalism at this point. It’s a matter of history.

“Bullpenning” creates a serious labor issue

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Last year, we devoted some space here to talking about “bullpenning.” I believe the term was coined by MLB Network’s Brian Kenny, who has been a very outspoken proponent of the strategy. Aside from the occasional “bullpen day,” we haven’t really seen teams give “bullpenning” a shot, so we don’t have much data to work with to say whether or not it’s a viable strategy.

The Rays made some headlines early this season, suggesting the club might use a four-man rotation all year. The Rays also made headlines over the weekend, choosing to start reliever Sergio Romo on back-to-back days against the Angels. That rankled Angels third baseman Zack Cozart, who said the Rays’ strategy is “bad for baseball.” The Rays’ thinking on Saturday was that the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup was threatening for lefty starter Ryan Yarbrough, so having Romo start the first inning before handing the ball off to Yarbrough would prevent him from facing those right-handed hitters three times in a normal-length start.

Despite Cozart’s displeasure with the strategy, Romo is a fan of it:

In discussing the issue last night, I tried to imagine how Cozart’s claim holds up and came up empty. The strategy makes sense in a vacuum and, as SB Nation’s DRaysBay points out on Twitter, the strategy hasn’t led to overuse.

However, one problem that has often been overlooked when discussing “bullpenning” is the inevitable labor issue. Right now, starting pitchers make significantly more money than relief pitchers. In December 2016, Aroldis Chapman eviscerated the previous record contract for a reliever when he signed a five-year, $86 million deal with the Yankees. That doesn’t even crack the top-85 on the list of the most lucrative contracts in baseball history, per Cot’s Contracts. The largest contract by a starting pitcher was the seven-year, $217 million contract David Price signed with the Red Sox in December 2015. If you’re a pitcher and you want to make money, you should try to become a starter.

Teams will use whatever information they can to avoid having to pay a player more money. We see this when major league-ready players are held down in the minors longer than necessary, we see it when players go to arbitration, and we see it when free agents try to land contracts. On every stat-tracking site, there’s a column for pitchers labeled “GS” for games started. Right now, Yarbrough’s column has a three in it. He has appeared in 11 total games. He was effectively a starter on Saturday despite Romo getting credit for the start since he went 6 1/3 innings against the Angels, but he didn’t get the additional bump in the GS column, which has the potential to depress his salary throughout his career. Yarbrough has effectively “started,” lasting at least four innings in eight of those 11 games. But Andrew Kittredge got credit for the start several times, going two innings ahead of Yarbrough in a few of those games.

Yarbrough, a rookie, will have his contract automatically renewed by the Rays until he becomes eligible for salary arbitration. Until he reaches arbitration eligibility, the Rays will get to set his salary at whatever figure they want as long as it meets the major league minimum ($555,000 next year). Sometimes players perform well enough that the teams willingly choose to pay them more as a good will gesture, but usually teams hover at or just slightly above the minimum. Then Yarbrough will move into potential salary arbitration with the Rays in a few years. Should the two sides not reach an agreement in any of those three years, they will go before an independent arbitrator, who will hear arguments from Yarbrough’s agent and representatives for the Rays. The Rays will use statistics to argue that Yarbrough isn’t worth what he’s asking for. They will likely use the smaller number in the “GS” column, among other numbers, to do so. This would be the case for any player, particularly a younger player, who gets used in the “bullpenning” strategy.

Each previous salary becomes a jumping-off point for the next salary. Let’s say that Yarbrough filed for $6 million, the Rays countered at $3 million, and the arbitrator sided with the Rays. (Historically, arbitrators have tended to side with teams.) The next year that Yarbrough goes to arbitration, he’s arguing for a raise off of $3 million instead of $6 million. If Yarbrough had earned $6 million the previous year, it would be reasonable that he might request $10 million the next year. But if he requests $10 million after earning just $3 million, it seems less reasonable. These numbers are intentionally disparate, by the way. Usually the difference in figures filed is only in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Take Marcus Stroman as an example. He won his arbitration case with the Blue Jays going into the 2017 season, filing for $3.4 million against the Jays’ $3.1 million. He had a career year in 2017, finishing with a 3.09 ERA  in 33 starts. Stroman still lost his salary arbitration case heading into this season, filing for $6.9 million against the Jays’ $6.5 million.

If there’s any doubt that the Rays would fight tooth-and-nail to save a few hundred thousand bucks, consider that the Rays receive money both from revenue sharing and from BAMTech, a 33 percent share of which was sold to Disney in 2016 for $1 billion. Disney then bought a controlling share in BAMTech last August for $1.58 billion. As Craig mentioned at the time, that netted every owner about $68 million. And baseball’s 30 owners will continue to make more money off of BAMTech from their minority share. Yet the Rays’ Opening Day payroll has never topped $77 million. The club is often characterized as small-market and it’s relatively true, but it could have been out trying to sign big name free agents in recent years. Principal owner Stuart Sternberg has just chosen not to in an effort to maximize profits.

The solution to this labor issue shouldn’t be to prevent teams from utilizing strategies like “bullpenning.” We should seek to change the way we value players both systemically and statistically. If teams are artificially depressing important statistics for players — “games started” isn’t the only one; teams have also prevented their players from meeting performance bonuses (often based on appearances and/or innings pitched) in their contracts — then we need to amend the rules so that players don’t get the short end of the stick. This can’t be addressed until negotiations for the next collective bargaining agreement. The current CBA expires on December 1, 2021. Hypothetically, the change made could be wholesale, but realistically, the change would need to be incremental, perhaps saying that a player’s playing time, amount of starts made, and other similar statistics can’t be held against him in arbitration since that’s almost entirely up to the team based on its personnel and other incentives. As for affecting change in how we value players statistically, that’s both a structural issue involving front offices and a social issue involving members of the media and fans. Batting average versus on-base percentage is a great example of this type of change, both structurally and socially.

We shouldn’t want to prevent teams from optimizing strategy since, in a vacuum, that’s healthy for the game. Having a stale “metagame” means the game is boring and figured out. Teams utilizing new strategies keeps the game fresh and interesting. Unfortunately, “bullpenning” represents an intersection of labor and strategy. It’s a serious issue the Major League Baseball Players Association should be keeping an eye on and working to solve.