This is fun. The Houston chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America votes on the Astros MVP every year. And then, later this winter, there’s a banquet held in his honor which also serves as a fundraiser for team charities and as an unofficial kickoff to the 2012 season. And the winner of the MVP award: Hunter Pence, who was traded from the team in July.
Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle has a major problem with this, and I can’t see a single word in his column with which I disagree.
Pence was not as valuable to the team overall as Carlos Lee and maybe some other guys who were actually on the team all year instead of half of it. More to the point, Justice sees the vote as the local writers’ way to embarrass the Astros and team management for their awful year.
But the stuff with which I agree the most is the righteous noise Justice brings regarding the role of the BBWAA in this modern age, it’s increasing irrelevance now that teams have increasingly usurped the news dissemination business — and it is a business — and given that in many instances the best writers covering each team (i.e. the MLB.com beat writers) aren’t even allowed in the BBWAA. It’s a story of institutional rot, and Justice freakin’ nails it. And it means way more coming from him on the inside than it means coming from any of us who have said some similar things about it on the outside over the years.
The actual workaday members of the BBWAA — the men and women who cover the teams on a daily basis and vote on the league-wide postseason awards– are, for the most part, a sharp bunch who do their job well and honor the institution to which they belong. But the greater membership, which contains hundreds of people who haven’t covered the game for years yet still retain Hall of Fame voting rights and play gatekeeper for the overall organization, is a mess. And it leads to stuff like this.
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.