Jeff Passan has a great piece up about how teams are looking for “winners.” Or at least players perceived to be “winners.” Players like the ones who propelled the San Francisco Giants to two World Series titles in the past three seasons and who, as a result, are now in demand regardless of whether or not there is any empirical basis for calling them that.
Passan’s case study is the Kansas City Royals. His example on the Royals: Jeff Francouer. “Jeff Francouer is a winner,” Dayton Moore tells Passan. And then Passan demonstrates just how not a winner Jeff Francoeur is by any reasonable definition of the term. Read it: it’s genius. You’ll think my slamming Francouer over the past several years is tame by comparison. Yet Passan says nothing that is not demonstrably true.
Chemistry. Juju. Mojo. Leadership. Call it whatever you want, but as Passan observes in this wonderful piece, it seems to be what teams are looking for these days.
And even if you don’t care about any of that stuff, you gotta read it for the lede about Ned Yost at Starbucks, which is absolutely priceless.
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.