And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Tigers 4, Indians 0: If often seems like the game Justin Verlander is playing is unfairly easy when the game everyone else is playing is so damned hard. A no-hitter into the eighth, a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts overall.

Rays 4, Red Sox 0: James Shields with a five-hit shutout. Carl Crawford’s return to Tampa Bay was probably a lot like seeing your ex at a party: your joy at seeing her is inversely related to the figure she cuts as she walks into the room. If she looks like a million dollars and has a suave and swarthy young man on her arm, you don’t want to see her. If she’s not at her best and is attached to a frumpy and disheveled older gentleman, well then, let’s go say our hellos.  Carl Crawford was 0 for 3 with a strikeout in his return to Tampa Bay, so I assume that because of that the Rays crowd greeted him more and more warmly as the night went on, even going to far as to engage the older gentleman accompanying him in conversation, offering him a subtle reminder that his date once had it much, much better.

Angels 4, Mariners 0: Five hit shutouts must have been contagious last night, because Jered Weaver had one too.

Mets 4, Braves 3: Jose Reyes continues to be ridiculously good, going 3 for 5, stealing two bases and scoring twice, and Jair Jurrjens has his worst outing of the year (5.1 IP, 8 H, 4 ER, 5 BB). But really, with all of those Mets on base, it should have been way worse for Atlanta.

Nationals 8, Cardinals 6: St. Louis had a 6-1 lead after five innings and blew it, primarily on the power of Miguel Bautista imploding for five runs in two-thirds of the six-run seventh inning. Only one of the Nats’ runs came on an extra base hit. The rest were singles, fielder’s choices, wild pitches, and other small stuff.

Pirates 1, Astros 0: Just your standard six-pitcher shutout, with Jeff Karstens leading the way (6.2 IP, 3 H, 0 ER). Let’s be charitable to the Astros too and give new pitching coach Doug Brocail credit for the nice showing by Bud Norris and the pen. No I don’t believe he had anything to with that, but if we as a group are going to believe that midseason coaching changes matter, let’s go all the way with the charade.

Phillies 9, Marlins 1: Chris Volstad fooled no one (5.2 IP, 10 H, 8 ER). Cole Hamels fooled many (7 IP, 3 H, 1 ER).  For Philly, it was mostly a homer-fest, with four guys in red pinstripes going yard, Domonic Brown doing so twice.

Yankees 12, Rangers 4: Curtis Granderson hit a two-run homer and a two-run single. Pretty much everyone else for the home team hit too. I suppose that they were inspired emotionally by Derek Jeter’s tragic death.  Wait, what? You mean he didn’t die?  He just went on the disabled list? Hmm. I guess I need to actually read the news stories instead of merely gleaning their emotional tone when trying to determine what happened.

Blue Jays 6, Orioles 5: Adam Lind walks off with an 11th inning homer. He also led off the Jays’ scoring with an RBI double in the first.

Reds 3, Dodgers 2: The Reds have gotten great starting pitching over the last week and a half or so, and Johnny Cueto’s outing last night continued it, as he allowed only a single unearned run in seven innings.

Giants 6, Diamondbacks 5: San Francisco jumped out to a 5-0 lead but the snakes clawed back. Wait: snakes don’t have claws. That makes no sense. Anyway, the comeback came a bit short.

Rockies 6, Padres 3: According to the game story, Jim Tracy held a closed-door meeting before the game, the Rockies won and all is right with the world.  I always wondered what would happen if baseball teams were run like British Parliament. If, say, after the closed-door meeting the team came out and performed lackadaisically, would that be akin to a no-confidence vote and would the general manager have to dissolve the team, the manager resign and elections be held?  And what the hell is a Chancellor of the Exchequer anyway?

Cubs 5, Brewers 4: Starlin Castro had three hits, including a walkoff hit in the 10th inning, capping the Cubs’ comeback from a 4-1 deficit in the eighth. Aramis Ramirez had a two-run bomb in the eighth to tie it up at 4.

Royals 7, Athletics 4: From the AP game story:

Kansas City pitcher Danny Duffy didn’t see much need to celebrate his first victory in the major leagues. His teammates thought otherwise and gave the Royals rookie a milk shower.

I hope that wasn’t a euphemism.

White Sox vs. Twins: POSTPONED:  The rain cooled about half-past three to a damp mist, through which occasional thin drops swam like dew. Gatsby looked with vacant eyes through a copy of Clay’s ECONOMICS, starting at the Finnish tread that shook the kitchen floor, and peering toward the bleared windows from time to time as if a series of invisible but alarming happenings were taking place outside. Finally he got up and informed me, in an uncertain voice, that he was going home.

“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.