And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

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Braves 10, Diamondbacks 1: Justin Upton went 4 for 5 with a homer and 2 RBI. Chris Johnson went 3 for 4 with a homer and 3 RBI. Martin Prado had a couple of hits and I suppose he was gritty. Gonna say that the first visit to Arizona for the Braves post-trade falls to their advantage.

Twins 10, White Sox 3: Aaron Hicks hit two home runs and robbed one from Adam Dunn in center. If I remember by college accounting course, that’s a +3 in the home run column.

Indians 1, Yankees 0; Yankees 7, Indians 0: An old-timey doubleheader with no multi-hour break in the middle and one ticket buying access to both games. Don’t see that happen much anymore. Takes a couple of rainouts to make it happen I guess. Justin Masterson was outstanding in the first, shutting out the Yankees and striking out nine. Vidal Nuno, I’m guessing a hair stylist/cosmetics mogul, pitched five innings of shutout ball himself in the second game, backed by a couple of RBI each from Vernon Wells and Lyle Overbay. Those three names, if I had told you were important parts of a Yankees game before the season started, would have likely had you thinking the team was in last place. They’re, instead, a game up in the AL East, tied for the best record in the American League.

Cardinals 6, Mets 3: Rick Ankiel’s Mets debut: 0 or 3 with two strikeouts. And he made a diving stab at a catch in the seventh inning, but just missed it, which led to the Cardinals scoring three runs. He said after the game if he had his own glove — which was still back in Houston — that he would have caught it. Instead he had to use a pitcher’s glove. I’m actually inclined to believe him here. Outfielder gloves are gigantic.

Brewers 5, Pirates 1: Milwaukee stole six bases off Pirates backup catcher Michael McKenry. I haven’t seen a defender so abused since Jerry Rice embarrassed Charles Dimry back in 1990. Maybe Jerry Glanville thought McKenry could handle throwing out Brewers base runners like he thought Dimry could cover Rice in man-to-man.

Cubs 9, Rockies 1: Travis Wood joins the increasingly long list of pitchers making the Rockies look lost at the plate lately, tossing seven shutout innings. The AP gamer said “He’s the first Cubs pitcher since Hippo Vaughn in 1919 to start with eight quality starts.” I’m guessing that Hippo Vaughn had no idea what a quality start was. And even if he did, it wouldn’t fit the same definition of “quality start” we know today. In 1919 it probably included cigarettes, Spanish Flu masks and trips to a brothel.

Tigers 7, Astros 2: A grand slam for Andy Dirks and, ouch, a dislocated jaw for Jose Altuve. These losses are getting increasingly painful for the Astros.

Nationals 6, Dodgers 2: Bryce Harper needed 11 stitches on his chin and he jammed his shoulder hitting the outfield wall. This is the quintessential “guy who plays really freakin’ hard” kind of injury, I suppose. He actually hit a chain link fence which sits in front of a scoreboard. Don Mattingly said after the game “That fencing we have is a little dangerous,” he said. “If you hit that, you’re going to feel it, especially face first.” You know THAT’s gonna be thrown back in Mattingly’s face during his deposition. Man.

Royals 11, Angels 4: Five hits and five RBI for Billy Butler, breaking a horrendous slump for Country Breakfast. Speaking of nicknames, Ned Yost called pitcher Luis Mendoza “Mendy” after the game, extending his streak of awful, unimaginative nicknames for his players to, like, 15. He and Eric Wedge probably have a little cheat sheet with every player’s name on his team with a little “y” next to it in case they need to use a nickname in a postgame interview.

Athletics 5, Rangers 1: Eight Ks for A.J. Griffin. Back to back homers for Yoenis Cespedes and Brandon Moss. The A’s needed this one after dropping six of their last seven.

“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.