And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights

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Athletics 5, Royals 4: Jonathan Broxton walked two batters and hit two batters to blow the game in the 12th inning. That, my friends, is how you blow a save. Without doubt and with authority. None of this pussyfooting around with grounders that just get past an infielder. Decisive action brings order to a world full of chaos.

Rockies 17, Giants 8: Tim Lincecum was beat up for the second straight start, and this time it wasn’t just a minor beating. The Rockies touched the Giants’ ace for six runs in two and a third innings — his shortest outing ever — opening the floodgates for Colorado. He got a no-decision thanks to some equally-bad Rockies pitching, but then the bullpen gave up ten runs and that was that. The Rockies rapped out 22 hits overall, eight of which were doubles and three of which were triples. Lincecum’s struggles have to be concerning in the extreme to anyone who gives a crap about the Giants.

Brewers 2, Cubs 1: Castro kicked off the scoring with a sac fly in the first, but no one else on the Cubs wanted to associate themselves with Castro in this highly-charged environment, so he was the only Cub with an RBI. Yovani Gallardo induced approximately 126 ground balls and didn’t break much of a sweat in this one.

Rays 4, Tigers 2: Justin Verlander had a one-hitter going and had thrown a mere 81 pitches when the ninth inning began. He threw 23 more in the game without escaping it. A couple of singles and a walk chased him when it was tied 2-2 and Daniel Schlereth was called on for some reason. He walked another guy and Jose Valverde let two score on a Ben Zobrist single. Seeing Verlander go from nearly untouchable to watching singles squirt through here and there was one of the more unexpected things of the young season so far.

Phillies 7, Marlins 1: The Roy Halladay vs. Josh Johnson battle everyone was anticipating was decidedly one-sided. Doc threw seven innings of one-run ball and Johnson couldn’t get out of the fourth after allowing six runs on 11 hits. Every position player got a hit for Philadelphia, five of them got two or more.

Padres 2, Diamondbacks 1: Aww, Arizona finally loses a game. They were the last undefeated team in baseball before last night. So, per tradition, the survivors from the last undefeated baseball team will all now crack open their celebratory bottles of champagne, toasting the endurance of their lasting achievement.

Twins 6, Angels 5: Yes, the Twins won, but let us all take a moment and acknowledge that Peter Bourjous is one fast s.o.b. Check out his inside the park homer. Wait for the replay that sticks on him as he’s running the bases. He doesn’t even really start running hard until he’s in between first and second base. And there still was no play at the plate. What happens if he’s running hard out of the box?  Two times around the bases? Mercy.

Nationals 4, Mets 0: I guess it was getaway day for home plate umpire Larry Vanover too, because the pitching staffs combined for 25 strikeouts. Terry Collins was ejected when he’d seen all he could stand of a zone that had dudes being punched out on balls thrown over the opposite batter’s box. Johan Santana was effective but not efficient. Stephen Strasburg was both, and he got the win.

Yankees 6, Orioles 4: The second extra innings game in a row for these two. Nick Swisher’s two-run shot in the 10th ended up winning it.

Blue Jays 3, Red Sox 1: Rickey Romero shut the Red Sox down. Boston didn’t even have a hit after the third inning. And now they go back to Boston with a 1-5 record. Which is one win better than they were through six games last year, but don’t anyone mention it because that screws up the whole panic thing.

Reds 4, Caridnals 3: Joey Votto had four hits and scored the winning run when Chris Heisey singled him home in walkoff fashion. Aroldis Chapman struck out five dudes in two innings of relief work to get the win. Can someone tell me why he’s not starting?

White Sox 10, Indians 5: A.J. Pierzynski hit a three-run homer and drove in four as the White Sox pulled away with a five-spot in the sixth inning. The Indians bullpen and offense have been a big problem in the early going, but Manny Acta is not worried:

“Five games is not going to make me panic about my bullpen, my offense, defense or anything like that,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “We have to give it a little more time.”

Then he can panic.

Braves 6, Astros 3: Jason Heyward had a night, as he goes 3 for 4 with two RBI and a homer. The big guy has started the year off hot, which is exactly what the Braves need if they have a shot at contention.

Mariners 4, Rangers 3: The M’s rallied after finding themselves down 3-0 entering the eighth inning, scoring one that inning and capping it off with three runs off Joe Nathan in the ninth. In other news, Kevin Millwood has had a fork stuck in his back several times over the past decade, but he always seems to find a way to remove it. After missing most of last season, he begins 2012 by giving up a mere one run on six hits to one of the best offenses in the game. He didn’t get the win — thanks Steve Delabar! — but he was solid.

Dodgers 4, Pirates 1: The Dodgers are now 5-1, thanks in part to Matt Kemp and Juan Rivera, each of whom had three hits. Chad Billingsley was strong again too, allowing only one run over six.

“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.