No, Melky Cabrera’s batting title will not be the result of a “loophole”

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There are a lot of people who (a) don’t want to see Melky Cabrera win the batting title; but (b) find it unseemly for baseball to change its rules on the fly in order to thwart Cabrera.  That’s totally understandable.

The problem comes when those folks try to get around all of that like Gwen Knapp of Sports on Earth does today, arguing that Major League Baseball should close what she calls a “loophole” that allows Cabrera to win the title despite not having 502 plate appearances:

However, an MLB loophole known as Rule 10.22(a) adjusts the stats of any player who falls short, adding the missing plate appearances but no hits to his final totals. If the player’s batting average still leads a league, then he gets the crown.

Cabrera’s single missing plate appearance invites Selig to close the loophole. In fact, it begs him to make the change.

The thing about this, however, is that Rule 10.22(a) is not a “loophole.”  It’s a RULE. It does not give discretion. It says that a player who falls short of the batting title “SHALL” be given additional hitless plate appearances to his stats in order to qualify him for the batting title. It could not be more clear in this regard.

Knapp argues that the rule is newer, and that for this reason ignoring it is somehow OK.  But we don’t treat rules that way. Once they are part of baseball’s rule book they are rules until they are repealed.  Ignoring this one — calling it a “loophole” — would be effectively no different than ignoring the rule which defines a base hit and saying that 25 of Cabrera’s didn’t count because they went to right field or something.

I have no doubt that baseball will change the rules this offseason to disqualify suspended players from batting titles in some way.  But make no mistake: doing it now, on the fly, would not be “closing a loophole.” It would be tossing aside one of the established rules of baseball because we don’t like how it works in a specific case.  Baseball should simply not be in that business. If it were, it would render the record book even more meaningless and subjective than those who decry the scourge of steroids claim it is quickly becoming.

Cardinals encourage players not to hide injuries

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In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.

Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”

Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.

I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.