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Old-timers continue to point fingers, complain about baseball

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Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller has a lengthy column up in which he discusses the way the game of baseball has changed and continues to change. He quotes a number of old-timers, including Goose Gossage, Pete Rose, and Jim Leyland, who bemoan the direction in which the game has gone. They hate that starters rarely pitch deep into games, that coaches adhere to pitch counts, the rise of analytics, the lack of arguments between umpires and managers, among other things.

Miller provides his own support for the game changing for the worse. Sadly, the column reads more like Abe Simpson in the 2002 episode of The Simpsons titled “The Old Man and the Key.” Grandpa Simpson was featured in a newspaper article with the headline, “Old Man Yells at Cloud,” which has gone on to become an Internet meme. Most people, for various reasons including cognitive biases, think things back in the prime of their lives was better, regardless of whether or not that is actually true.

For example, Miller writes, “Strikeouts, power pitchers and defensive shifts have conspired to keep batting averages low and diffuse old-fashioned rallies.” However, despite the implementation of the shift to various degrees by all 30 times, BABIP hasn’t really changed. Starting with 2010 and going through 2018, the MLB average BABIP has been: .297, .295, .297, .297, .299, .299, .300, .300, .296. What we — Russell Carleton of Baseball Prospectus, more specifically — have found is that pitchers give up noticeably more walks when the shift is on than when it is not, presumably because it makes them uncomfortable.

On another subject, Gossage lamented the now-endangered manager-umpire argument spectacle. He said, “Used to be, umpires made a call and managers ran out of the dugout and threw bases and kicked dirt and brought everybody out of their seats whether you were for that team or against it. It was exciting. It had character. They’re taking every bit of character there was in the game out of it.”

That’s truly one of the most hilarious quotes of all time because two years ago, Gossage ripped José Bautista for his bat flip — an expression of character and emotion — during the 2015 ALCS. Gossage called Bautista “a f-ing disgrace to the game.” He added, “[Bautista is] embarrassing to all the Latin players, whoever played before him. Throwing his bat and acting like a fool, like all those guys in Toronto. Yoenis Céspedes, same thing.” If Gossage truly cared about baseball players and coaches having the freedom to express themselves, he wouldn’t have said what he said two years ago. He’s just latching on to something to complain about simply because it’s different from when he played.

Gossage, two years ago, also went on a rant against nerds and analytics. He did exactly that in Miller’s column. The more things change, the more they stay the same, right?

Leyland said, “My problem with it really is that that’s the way we’re grooming [starting pitchers] in the minor leagues. They throw 75 f–king pitches in the minor leagues. They say if they throw 75 they’re OK, but if they throw 76 they’re going to get hurt. Who the heck ever came up with that? It’s ridiculous. They don’t pitch innings.”

That’s just a willing misunderstanding of pitch counts. No one thinks that 76 — or 100, or 101 — pitches is extremely more dangerous than the pitch that preceded it. But each pitch is, on a scale, slightly more likely to result in injury than the one that preceded it. If one is to draw a line, one must do so arbitrarily, so we’ve chosen convenient numbers of demarcation like 100 and 75.

Miller, for some reason, also sought the opinion of disgraced former major leaguer Pete Rose. Rose is quoted as saying, “I’d have probably gotten kicked out of every game in the third or fourth inning [today]. Fans every once in a while like a fight at the ballpark. Instead of helping someone up, kick dirt on him.” Yes, what baseball really needs is a return to psychopathic behavior. Thanks for the quote, Scott.

Miller’s whole column is just a handful of 60- and 70-year-olds yelling at clouds because the game has passed them by. As with the recent Joe Simpson debacles, the game needs to hear from people who are younger, from more diverse backgrounds, and enthusiastic about the game. Maybe part of the reason people aren’t gravitating towards baseball is we put the microphone in front of the Negative Nancies and not the Positive Pauls. Let’s hear from Jessica Mendoza, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Gómez, just to name a few. They might entice a few people to give baseball a shot instead of run in the opposite direction anytime Rose, Leyland, or Gossage speak.

Mark Lerner says Nationals can’t afford both Anthony Rendon and Stephen Strasburg

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The defending champion Washington Nationals may have to replace two star players in third baseman Anthony Rendon and starter Stephen Strasburg as both are free agents. Both are represented by agent Scott Boras and both are expected to command lucrative contracts. As a result, Nationals managing principal owner Mark Lerner said the club can’t afford to bring back both players, Todd Dybas of NBC Sports Washington reports.

Lerner told Donald Dell in an interview, “We really can only afford to have one of those two guys. They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with.”

As Dybas notes, there are myriad reasons why Lerner would say this publicly. If Lerner had instead said, “Yeah, we’re filthy stinking rich, especially coming off of a World Series win. We could afford to get every free agent if we wanted to,” then the Nationals would have no leverage in negotiations. Creating artificial scarcity increases the Nationals’ leverage when negotiating with Boras and his clients. And as Dybas also points out, Lerner’s statement also prepares fans for an unsatisfactory outcome not unlike when the club took itself out of the running to bring back outfielder Bryce Harper earlier this year. This not to say Lerner’s statement is justified; it’s just how things work in the current system.

Lerner also defended the Nationals’ approach to free agency. He said, “They think you’re really back there printing money and it’s whoever goes to the highest bidder. It’s not that way at all. You give these fellas — there’s a negotiation that goes on, but…We’ve been pretty successful in free agency over time. You’re not going to get everybody. Certain players may want to go home, closer to where their home is. You never know the reason why people move on. But, we’ve been very successful. Probably one of the most successful teams in free agency the last 10 years. We’re very proud of our record. But, again, I think people have to realize, it’s not all up to us.”

It is true that the Nationals have been one of the most active teams in free agency in recent years. In a league that has otherwise done the opposite, they deserve some credit for that. But the Nationals are also keenly aware of the competitive balance tax threshold, which teams use as a de facto salary cap. They don’t have to, but they choose to because it’s a convenient structure that allows them to limit expenditures.

At the end of the day, it’s baseball’s financial structure that is rotten. It forces constant misinformation out of everyone’s mouths so as to protect their financial interests and leverage, and incentivizes teams to value profits above all. In a perfect world, MLB team owners wouldn’t need to cry poor every offseason, but we don’t live in such a world.