I’m not lying.
Thankfully, the rest made reasonable picks in Joey Votto (17 votes), Buster Posey and Bryce Harper (six), Ryan Braun and Justin Upton (three), Andrew McCutchen (two), and Matt Kemp, Jason Heyward and Giancarlo Stanton (one).
Ryan Howard is 33 years old and is still visibly limping from an Achilles injury that caused him to miss half of last season. He’s been average or better by Wins Above Replacement (2 or more WAR) in one of the last four seasons, according to Baseball Reference. He plays average defense if you’re being generous with your evaluation, and he’s one of baseball’s worst base runners. He would have to put up numbers reminiscent of his 2006 for him to even come close to sniffing votes for NL MVP.
Perhaps Schilling and Cora have been swayed by his .336 average, seven home runs, and 16 RBI in spring training, but if you bank that much on spring training stats, you would have had some serious egg on your face in 2011 with Jake Fox.
Though stranger things have happened.
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.