Tipping Pitches: April 2010

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Blogging Ethics and an Impending PED Suspension

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Monday night, @injuryexpert (Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus) tweeted the following:

Ped suspension is coming.

This morning, he clarified in Under the Knife:

I hate covering these but for over a month, I've been getting whispers that there was a PED suspension being appealed. The process can be an extensive one, involving hearings and testimony, as well as some negotiation. There's no room to "plead down" on a positive test, so the attack is usually on Christiane Ayotte and her Montreal lab. Yesterday, I learned that a high-ranking baseball executive spoke off the record about the suspension being announced. He said it was a pitcher, but I couldn't get any solid confirmation of that fact by the time I posted on Twitter. (And yes, I did feel some pressure to get this out, but I also realized that by doing so, I was pretty much guaranteeing that someone else would break the name first.) I feel very confident in my information on this, but still have no idea about the name or the substance (though it's not an amphetamine.) It's pretty amazing that in a world where the new iPhone is pictured on the net, that baseball could sneak through the entire multi-week process with no leaks. That speaks well of the process put in place by the OIC and the MLBPA. While I expect the announcement today, baseball moves at its own pace

Later, Craig Calcaterra of NBCSports Hardballtalk clarified:

UPDATE II: I have learned that the player to be suspended is a National League pitcher.

UPDATE: I have learned that the PED suspension is NOT a New York player.

If you know me at all, you know that I eat this stuff up. It's not that I relish the downfall of athletes. I simply want every PED user brought down. If they did the crime, bust them. The more players who slip through the cracks, the less likely the game will ever be cleaned up. So even when the facts aren't all yet clear, I appreciate getting the heads up that something is coming. Builds the drama, and to be honest it's good journalism if what you want is to drive traffic to your site.

Of course, not all agree with this sentiment. Both Calcaterra and Carroll were widely panned for releasing "rumors" before all the facts were known in an effort to be "first." The argument: Until you know the player and the transgression, keep your trap shut.

Eh, I disagree. I believe both writers were responsible in the way this was handled. Neither began speculating on the name of the player being suspended. Both simply released the information known to be true. If there is indeed a player suspended this week, then we know they were reporting the facts. And if you have a reliable inside source, it's not a "rumor" in the first place.

Whether all of the facts are available yet or not, this is big news. The only big names to get a MLB imposed PED suspension are Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez. All reports are that the player will be a "semi big name" so this isn't small news.

If a plane goes down but you don't know who was on board, you report it. If a local 7-11 is robbed and you don't know the name of the perpetrator, you report it. You're responsible for making sure the information you release is accurate, but you report it. You release the additional facts as they come in, but you report what you know.

In particular, this is the type of reporting we should expect in our new, real-time media. Facts will trickle in. Information will be leaked. And as that information is available, we want to know. Those who claim we don't do not speak for the larger population.

Now, don't get me wrong, this can lead to irresponsible reporting. Once the word leaked of an impending suspension, fake news spread like wildfire about which player was involved. It wasn't the speculation that was the problem, but the false incrimination of players on blogs as if it was confirmed fact.

I won't mention the most popular name spread here because I will attempt to be responsible. I don't want to perpetuate a rumor proved to be false to my two readers (player's name starts with a "D" and ends with a "t").

But it does also raise a question: When, if ever, is speculation acceptable? And on which media? By whom? Falsely (and intentionally) naming a player as a PED user as an official, factual report is clearly wrong. What about talking with a friend? Talking on the phone? Writing an e-mail? This type of speculation is human nature. It's ultimately freedom of speech as well.

But what about speculating with social media? I naturally have my own suspicions. Everyone does. I'd suggest that speculation on Facebook isn't typically a problem since it is essentially a conversation with your friends (if you so choose to limit your audience to your friends only). On Twitter... there may be a gray area.

I admit that I speculated on Twitter (with my TippingPitches and not personal account), though I did so with a question mark to make it clear that this was not a report. Is this crossing the line? I have a public feed, but I also only have 58 followers. Granted, word can spread quickly, but one could argue that responsibility increases with the size of the audience. Or, one could also argue, you should be careful no matter what your audience.

So maybe that was a lame move on my part. But what if you don't have a blog? What if you're just talking sports because you're a fan? Do these people have a responsibility not to publicly speculate?

What do you think?

Friday, April 16, 2010

Trying to be a Reasonably Emotional Brewers Fan

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I am a Brewers fan. By definition, I have endured years of torment. Things were pretty good in the early years of my fandom, followed by more years of bottom dwelling than any one fan should ever endure.

I'm generally a pretty passionate dude. I wear my emotions on my sleeve. I root hard for my teams, and I take it way too personally when things don't go well.

But I'm also getting older, more reflective, and more realistic. Now that the Brewers come into each season with some sense of optimism, I still don't demand a World Series or even the playoffs. I hope for it, but I realize much needs to go their way.

But the passionate side of me wants to break something about now. After 10 games, the Brewers have won four games and lost six. It's not even that they've lost six games that bothers me. This is nothing. It's how they lost them.

Two of the losses came to the Cardinals when the game was in the Brewers' back pocket. A lead in the ninth, Trevor Hoffman just has to shut the door. Once a one run lead with two outs, the other a three run lead. Both times, losses. Painfully.

Two more losses came when the Brewers had leads in the eighth. The previously reliable LaTroy Hawkins, each time, melted down to allow multiple runs and cough up the game. Each time, he was singled to death. One time against the hated Cubs.

Before today's heart-breaking loss, I had a talk with my eight year-old son that there's nothing to worry about. Anything can happen. They could start out 10-0 or 0-10, but that doesn't mean anything.

It's true, but I don't know how a fan can continue to endure losses on this painful scale so close together. You can be reasonable for just so long before worry sets in.

My biggest concern with this team isn't even the bullpen. It's not the offense, the one positive in an otherwise rough start.

It would be easy to say it's the bullpen, but that's too easy and obvious. Yes, they've coughed up leads repeatedly, but you can make a very reasonable argument that the bullpen will eventually be a strength of this team. No, there is something else here.

The offense won't always be perfect. The pitching won't always be great. But there are two constants with good teams: Solid defense and fundamentals. This team lacks both. As a result, it puts them in a position like they were in tonight where the game was close enough to blow a lead in the first place.

There should have been a large lead in the eighth. The Brewers reached base 12 times. In seven at bats with runners in scoring position, they managed a hit only once.

Carlos Gomez failed to put down a bunt four times. He also was doubled up -- stupidly -- off of second to end a rally in the eighth.

So they couldn't get the big hit and they couldn't execute fundamentally. But even then, this game could have been won. With a one run lead, Hawkins gave up an infield single on a weakly hit ball to third before hitting Josh Willingham. After a successfully executed bunt, Adam Kennedy drove in two runs on a single under the glove of Prince Fielder.

The thing is, it's called a "single" in the box score, but good first basemen make that play. He makes it, and there are two outs and still a one run lead. Granted, Will Nieves fallowed with a weak single of his own, but it's a different situation that could have ended with a different result.

And maybe the Brewers still lose that game, but it underscores the problem: This team can hit, but the lack of fundamentals and defense give the pitching little room for error. They may be fine if the pitching is average, but anywhere below average (or way below average, as they've been so far), and this team is in trouble.

I want to be clear that when I say "fundamentals" I am not suggesting the Brewers need to bunt or steal more often (many interpret such a word this way). I'm simply suggesting smart, sound baseball. It doesn't mean getting cute with unnecessary strategy. It just means not making repeated mistakes.

The offense will be up and down throughout the season, as will the pitching. But defense and fundamentals will carry you through rough times when hitting or pitching are not so strong.

I fear that these are two qualities that this team cannot improve. Which means they will rely on three things: 1) An exceptional offense, 2) an average pitching staff, and 3) luck.

Now, I'm a bit emotional after this loss, and I generally brush off a bad game or bad stretch of games while others claim the sky is falling. But I don't like that formula. The sky may not be falling, but it sure ain't sturdy.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Fixing Baseball: The Salary Cap Alternatives

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I've spent an awful lot of time and energy dissecting Major League Baseball's financial disparities and pushing for a salary cap. A conversation with my son today made me wonder: Have my priorities been poorly ordered all along?

As you may know, my son's third grade projects are my source of many a baseball research inspiration. It's because of a project I designed for him that I am in the process of ranking baseball's greatest players. Today, he told me of a presentation that he will be giving on baseball (of course). He will be answering 15 "questions" about the game.

11. How many rules have been added, taken away, and changed over the past 15 years?

Trying to lead him to one of these rules, I asked him why it is that teams like the Brewers are no longer able to keep their star players.

"Because of money?" he asked.

"Well, not really. Something comes before the money." Of course, I was speaking of free agency.

The Yankees are the target. The easy target. They spend the most money. They would seem to be the problem. With a salary cap, they could not spend so much money.

Well, sure, this is true. Partially. But it's only because of free agency that they're able to spend that money on any player they want. If a player wasn't a free agent in the first place, they'd have to focus their spending power on their own players.

Now, I'm not suggesting that baseball scrap free agency. But I think it's important to recognize that the initial problem isn't the Yankees or that there isn't a salary cap. The true problem is free agency -- free agency in its current form.

There are two surface issues with free agency (in addition to many more below the surface):

1) Small market teams rarely keep the star players they develop;
2) Flawed compensation structure for losing star players.

In many ways, these two are interrelated. Small market teams know they have little chance of signing a player if he goes to free agency. And if they lose said player to free agency, they will get a draft pick or two in return. The MLB Draft is an inexact science, so it's not much of a reward. So, rather than lose a player to free agency, teams choose instead to trade him while the return is still formidable. Waiting too long to trade a player will limit the return.

In other words, small market teams that develop a superstar are pressured to trade a player prior to his final year under their control, while he still has the most value. As a result, the "six years of control" would be a bit of a mirage. Sure, teams have the rights to a player for six years. But as you want to sell a stock before the value drops, teams often prefer to trade early rather than give their player away for the unknown quantity of a couple of picks.

So while teams have six years of control, it's often five. And while teams often have five years of control, those players are often at peak "star" level for only three of them.

Here are a few salary cap-free ideas that could help make free agency a better system:

1) Guarantee draft pick compensation.As the current system works, a team signing a Class A free agent will give up a first round pick (or their top available non-compensatory pick). If this team signs multiple Class A free agents, the signing of the lower rated free agent results in a loss of a second round pick. Great for the signing team, bad for the team losing the player. The solution would be to only allow the signing team access to the player if they have the corresponding pick to lose.

To make this work, I'd suggest loosening the rules on which picks are free game. Currently, compensation is limited to losing the picks they were scheduled to own before free agent compensation. However, I suggest that if a team loses a Class A free agent (thus giving them two first round picks), they would be allowed to sign two similar free agents (assuming they also have the second round picks to lose). In the case of signing two Class A free agents, highest pick would go for signing the higher rated player.

2) Improve draft pick compensation. The top available hitter and pitcher should each require the signing team's first and second round picks in addition to a sandwich pick between the first and second rounds.

Each of the first two adjustments would do two things: 1) With the compensation guaranteed, teams will not be stuck with a second round pick when they should have received a first round pick (see when the Brewers lost CC Sabathia to the Yankees, who also signed Mark Texeira the same off-season); 2) With compensation improved, the signing team has to think twice about giving up two high picks; and 3) With compensation improved, the player's former team has more motivation to hold onto their player through the entire six years.

3a) Increase team control to seven years before a player becomes a free agent. I'd love to say eight years, but I realize that seven would be a battle in itself. In addition to the increased draft pick compensation, home grown players would go from five years with the original team to seven, a noticeable improvement.

Note that such a change could also alter the amount of money he will command on the open market (though a more detailed study would need to be performed to confirm this). Assuming an average rookie age of 23, players would then go on the market at 30 -- instead of on the market at 29 or acquired via trade at 28. This may seem like a minor adjustment, but you may see shorter contracts and less money being thrown around to free agents as a result, thus getting free agent spending under control.

Now, getting that extra year may be a challenge. So, there could be a viable alternative...

2b) Team with a home grown player given the option after the sixth season to either "Franchise" that player or allow him to become a free agent. Let me explain. Using the rating system that classifies free agents, a team could put a Franchise tag on a Class A free agent, assuming it is a home grown player following their sixth year. In such a case, the player would be guaranteed a one year salary that is the average of the top 10 among hitters or pitchers (depending on the player). Additionally, Class B free agents could be given the average of the next 40, Class C the following 50. Of course, this amount could be tweaked.

The team could decide that such a player was not worth that kind of money and grant him free agency. If they do tag the player, they get him for at least one more year. Of course, if a player changes teams prior to their six year window expires, this does not apply. All players who are not home grown would not be subjected to such a tag.

Again, if a Class A player then becomes a free agent, he may be less likely to sign for huge money with another team because of the increased compensation and likelihood that he would be a year or two older than he would otherwise be on the open market. This could also help teams keep their home grown players, even when they become free agents.

Obvious Roadblocks
Of course, getting any of these proposals -- or even a variation thereof -- would be a chore. But in my opinion, they are more likely than the implementation of a salary cap to happen.

I've all but given up on a salary cap. The league is too far gone. When a team like the Yankees has a payroll that is four times that of some other teams, you can't penalize them going forward for something that occurred in the past. You can't set would would seem to be a reasonable salary cap of $100 Million when one team nearly doubles that now.

But while a salary cap is as likely as snow in Mexico, I realize that my proposals would get their share of objections as well. My goal is clear: 1) Keep players on their original teams longer (if those teams choose), and 2) Deter big spenders from signing all of the best players. Additionally, if the average age of free agents increases, the length and amount of the average contract would likely drop (less committed to players who are expected to decline sooner). As a result, the Players Association would have a difficult time with it.

Still, there may be a carrot somewhere that could make it happen. But discontent is growing. The financial gap between the Yankees and everyone else is widening. While a salary cap may not be possible, there are other ways to control what has become a very flawed and unfair system.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

MLB 2010 Non-Predictions: 10 Things That Will Happen

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These aren't predictions. These are the things that we know will happen this year. Why? Because they happen every year.

10. The Yankees will make the playoffs.

9. The Red Sox will make the playoffs.

8. As a result of the Yankees and Red Sox making the playoffs, small market fans will scream for a salary cap. Red Sox and Yankees fans will laugh at them.

7. There will be no salary cap.

6. The Cubs won't win the World Series.

5. Fewer than three Major League players will get busted for steroids. As a result, Bud Selig will proudly proclaim that "testing is working."

4. Jeff Suppan will suck.

3. Some obscure player will start out on fire for the first month of the season. Mainstream media will fall over themselves, calling him "the real deal." Soon after, said player sucks again and mainstream media forgets.

2. Tim McCarver will say dumb stuff and Joe Morgan will attempt to one up him by belittling Sabermetrics. Both will keep their jobs. The world will groan.

1. Hundreds will make safe predictions before the season starts. Hundreds will make unconventional predictions before the season starts. No one will be right, but no one will care.

What did I leave out?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Rebirth of Suckball

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Several years ago -- eight maybe -- I "invented" a little something called Suckball. I use the quotes here because I realize there are no true inventions anymore. It was somewhat original, but something that I'm sure was done before. In fact, it's been done several times since then (I'll secretly take undeserved credit).

Of course, I did this while writing for Rotoworld, and our friends there loved that article so much that it no longer exists. Thanks, fellas. So there's no proof. You'll just have to believe me. Or humor me -- nod your head and smile, act like you read it.

The premise is simple: Pick the suckiest team possible. I know what you're thinking. "Just pick a bunch of tool boxes who never play!" You aren't the brightest, my friend. Of course we wouldn't do something like that. You want players who suck, but the "best" player to own would be one who sucks most often.

Think the Milwaukee Brewers' starting rotation in 2009, minus Yovani Gallardo. Suckball Kings. For offense, think Bill Hall.

In fact, I used Bill Hall as the gauge for determining when the scoring system was just right. If he was ranked anywhere outside of the top five, the scoring needed tweaking. What I finally came up with makes Bill Hall's 2009 season (334 AB, 8 HR, 120 SO, 11 GIDP, .201 AVG, .258 OBP) the second best offensive Suckball performance of the year.

The scoring system? Well, here it is for the hitters:

AB = 2
R = -2
H = -2
HR = -20
RBI = -2
SH = 2
SF = -2
SB = -6
CS = 2
BB = -2
SO = 2
GIDP = 2
Error = 2

Play Suckball!

Go here
League ID#: 626264
Password: suckball

Here are the 10 suckiest hitters last season:

1. Emilio Bonifacio
2. Bill Hall
3. Jason Kendall
4. Koyie Hill
5. Willy Taveras
6. Rob Johnson
7. Gerald Laird
8. Yuniesky Betancourt
9. Adam Everett
10. Joe Thurston

Let me be clear that the process for finding this scoring system was far from scientific. It ain't no Sabermetrics. I essentially used a lot of trial and error and the famous "smell test."

Now, I'm still tweaking the pitching points, but this is what I have so far:

Wins = -20
Losses = 10
Saves = -10
Outs = -1
Hits = 3
Earned Runs = 1
Home Runs = 10
Walks = 2
Hit Batters = 5
Strikeouts = -5
Wild Pitches = 5
Balks = 5
Holds = -10
Blown Saves = 20

As a result, here are the 10 suckiest pitchers from a year ago:

1. Jeff Suppan
2. Josh Greer
3. Jason Berken
4. Daniel Cabrera
5. Tomo Ohka
6. David Hernandez
7. Fausto Carmona
8. Logan Kensing
9. Sidney Ponson
10. Carlos Carrasco

I can get behind any Suckball rating that puts Jeff Suppan at the top.

I reserve the right to adjust these points a bit. In particular, the highest point scorer got about 300 a year ago, so I may just want to bump everything up a bit. Chicks love points.

So who wants in? Go here. If it asks for any info, here it is:

League ID#: 626264
Password: suckball

Thursday, April 1, 2010

MLB 2010: The Greatest Predictions Ever (from kids)

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If you know me, you know that I hate predictions. Sure, I wrote a 2010 Brewers preview and begrudgingly gave a haphazard wins prediction (85), but it was more or less the way I see them entering the season. Anything can happen. As they say, it's why they play the game.

I'm no fool, I know what's up. "Experts" stand up there and speak with conviction. They are supposed to be confident in their words or we won't think they are experts. But the truth is that despite the mounds of knowledge they have, they really have no idea how it will play out.

It's also why it kills me when fans freak out this time of the year, claiming their team's general manager is an idiot for doing this or not doing that. Please. Let's just wait and see how it plays out.


Luckily for everyone, I have the crystal ball. The magic wand. The Delorean, if you will. Vegas should hate me.

The source? My kids.

That's right. I'm going to give you predictions that are as good as any others that are out there. And they come from Michael, eight, and P-Dubs, who is five.

Note that I didn't provide any influence over these predictions. I wanted my boys to do this completely on their own, unaffected by the idiot adults. Think the Brewers are going to win the World Series? Fine!

Of course, they outsmarted me a bit. Michael gave P-Dubs a little talk before they collaborated on their predictions: "Now remember, this is about what is actually going to happen, not what we hope is going to happen." Wise words. Honestly, I think some experts need to live by them.

All I gave them was the 2009 results. From there, they were on their own. I stood back. Made no comments. Made no faces. This is purely from them. A third grader and a kinderg√§rtner.

[Note: I was hoping to compare their predictions to those of a major media outlet. Strangely, it seems sites like ESPN have become wise to this. They don't want the criticism. While individual experts will predict division and Wild Card winners, I couldn't find a league or World Series anywhere on ESPN or SportingNews. Luckily, my boys have the guts to make such a prediction.]

AMERICAN LEAGUE
EAST CENTRAL WEST
NY Yankees Minnesota Seattle
Boston Chicago Sox LA Angels
Tampa Bay Detroit Texas
Baltimore Cleveland Oakland
Toronto Kansas City  
 
Wild Card: Boston
AL Champ: NY Yankees
 
NATIONAL LEAGUE
EAST CENTRAL WEST
Philadelphia St. Louis LA Dodgers
NY Mets Milwaukee San Francisco
Atlanta Chicago Cubs Colorado
Florida Houston San Diego
Washington Cincinnati Arizona
  Pittsburgh  
 
Wild Card: San Francisco
NL Champ: LA Dodgers
World Series Champ: NY Yankees

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