We Made It

Whew. Big sigh of relief. I can easily recall the worry from this summer when Major League Baseball announced it was going to go with a short 60 game season. A good number of people were in a tizzy, wondering how they could do anything in the middle of a pandemic. Wasn’t everyone going to get sick and die? One has to wonder how those people manage to get out of bed in the morning…. It turned out that MLB’s protocols for a very large part worked. There were a few “outbreaks”, but those seemed to have been entirely the result of players and staff violating the protocols. And, thankfully, there were no serious cases.

The season was one big experiment with rules designed to speed up the games given the limited time available before the playoffs. Hopefully the only new rule that will be kept is the DH in the National League. It’s coming eventually; one might as well get used to it. But seven inning doubleheaders and that “runner on base in extra innings” had better be dumped into the trash bin.

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The 2020 Pennant Races

There are just about three weeks left in the baseball season, but for obvious reasons, it doesn’t feel like we’re in the heart of a pennant race. Everything this season has been weird – but at least we’re getting something. With eight teams in each league getting to the playoffs, all you need is a winning record to have a chance. Heck, it’s even possible that a team with a losing record could sneak in. The teams that miss out can grumble over the winter that sixty games wasn’t a true test of their abilities – heck, there’s going to be a ton of thought (with very good reason) that this entire season shouldn’t count….much.

The playoffs are going to be strange, to put it mildly. To reduce travel and COVID exposure, there is a great deal of talk about doing them in a “bubble”. Places where a couple of Major League stadia are within a short bus ride of each other are under consideration. That means Los Angeles – Anaheim – San Diego, Chicago – Milwaukee, New York City, and DC – Baltimore – Philadelphia. One must also take weather into account; baseball cannot afford postponements. That means Southern California, which will be great for the Dodgers and Padres….

As long as MLB treats this as a one-off format due to the exceptional circumstances and doesn’t try and make it the normal thing from now on…. Same with the seven inning doubleheaders and runners on second in extra innings.

The usual awards will be given out, but no matter how deserving the recipients might be, there’s still going to be the “short season stigma” associated with them. Hopefully, we’ll get over that. The awards will probably go to whoever produces the most in what’s left of the season. “Recency bias” does play a natural part, but there’s also the possibility for one bad outing or a brief slump to mean the difference in a close “race” (e.g. the NL Cy Young, where the difference between Yu Darvish and Jacob deGrom currently comes down to one “quality start”).

As of 9/8

Starts

W

L

ERA

IP

Hits

ER

HR

BB

K

WHIP

Yu Darvish

8

7

1

1.44

50

36

8

3

8

63

0.88

Jacob deGrom

8

3

1

1.69

48

31

9

4

11

70

0.88

The nice surprises are that the Chicago White Sox and San Diego Padres are exceeding expectations, “arriving” in contention at least a year before anyone thought they would. I’d actually LOVE to see both the Padres and A’s in the World Series, simply because having their colorful uniforms there would be awesome!

Brown and Green! Come on!

I figure we should just continue to enjoy the games as a pleasant and welcome diversion from everything else that is going on.

Lord knows we need one.

This is Going to be Insane!

We’re finally getting some baseball! Hooray!

And it’s not going to look like anything we’ve ever seen before

The divisions are being mixed up. Everyone is using the DH. Extra innings will start with a runner on second. And that’s on top of the new rules for pitching substitutions.

The biggest change can be summed up in a single number:

2.7

With the season being reduced to just sixty games, every individual game will be worth 2.7 “regular” games (of a 162 game schedule). Every game will mean more in the standings, even with the expanded playoffs. With all the new rules in place, in-game strategy is going to be vital! And with rosters being much larger than usual, expect even more pitching changes than normal.

Then there’s the effect on “counting” stats. Adjust them accordingly, and 20 home runs for a hitter or 75 strikeouts for a pitcher will be phenomenal. With pitchers getting only twelve starts, do NOT expect anyone to get double digits in wins. “Rate” stats could be even more bizarre. If a player has a hot streak, it is within the realm of possibility for someone to hit .400 or have an ERA under 1.00….

And if there happens to be a localized outbreak of COVID-19, things could get even more wacky. Even this close to the start of the season, the Blue Jays don’t have a place to call “home”….

Given the abbreviated schedule, expect there to be ties in the final standings – with the resulting chaos for the playoffs.

The best thing for a fan is to not get caught up in the standings and pennant races, but to just sit back and be glad there are some actual meaningful games being played. It’s a heck of a lot better than following the season simulation at Strat-O-Matic…..

Rookies of the Year

A while back, I noted that the Mets and Astros were both going to wind up with the Cy Young Award winners and the Rookies of the Year in their respective leagues. This led to a nice (in my opinion) essay on how often that happened in the past. While doing the research for that essay, I naturally had to go over the list of Rookies of the Year. I kept seeing all-time greats, solid players whose names made me go “oh, yeah, that guy!”, and players where I went “Huh?”

I started musing. Whatever happened to the Rookies of the Year?

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Sign Stealing

It just won’t go away. In 2017, the Houston Astros came up with a scheme to tip their batters off as to what sort of pitch was on the way. Major League Baseball found out about it, and then everything went bonkers.

The team was heavily fined, people lost their jobs, other teams are implicated in similar schemes, no one knows what or who to believe. Commissioner Manfred fumbled the PR response; so did the Astros. Fans are outraged; some even calling for the team to have its World Series win that year vacated (whether the Dodgers get to be called World Champions is not mentioned). Many players are openly expressing their anger. There’s been talk of some sort of on-field retribution against certain suspect players.

But there’s one big question that very few people are asking.

Just how much does it help you to know what type of pitch is coming?

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Unanimous

There isn’t as much blather about Mariano Rivera being the first player unanimously elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as I honestly expected. Partly because, I suppose, that it’s been expected for a few years that he’d at least be a “first ballot” nominee, and partly because, I hope, that there’s also been a growing realization that it’s not that big of a deal.

There’s always been some griping about the Hall’s voting procedures; and the Hall has tweaked them seemingly every five years or so. Not just recently, but throughout its history (the Hall’s own website covers the many changes in the voting rules for the BBWAA, and there’s a GREAT article on the various veterans committees here). In recent years, as the Hall has become more open in its election process, attention has been drawn to the fact that no one has ever been chosen unanimously in the standard ballot process. It’s been rightly believed that given all the popular pressure in the media that someone would eventually get the Magic 100%. The only question was who.

Now that it’s happened, Mariano Rivera will become the answer to another trivia question. Because it makes no difference how you get in to the Hall of Fame.

Rivera is just as much a Hall of Famer as Ralph Kiner (made it in by two votes in his last year of regular eligibility) and Ron Santo (selected by one of the Veteran’s Committees) and Roberto Clemente (special election) and Harold Baines (wtf?). There’s nothing on the plaques that indicates the player’s voting percentage; no special alcove for the “first ballot” selections. I suppose Rivera could add a little “100%” thing to the “HoF” that he now gets to put on his signature, but no one should care. It doesn’t make him any better or greater a player than any other Hall of Famer.

And we shouldn’t forget that three other players were chosen alongside him. Edgar Martinez, whose Double saved baseball in Seattle, Mike Mussina, whose excellence often went unacknowledged until we got to see the totality of his career; and Roy Halladay who threw a perfect game in 2010, and then no-hit the Reds in the NLDS that year on his way to his second Cy Young Award.

Rivera is still responsible for the Biggest Blown Save of All Time, though.

Book Review: The Year of the Pitcher

The Year of the Pitcher: Bob Gibson, Denny McLain, and the End of Baseball’s Golden Age
by Sridhar Pappu
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
(c) 2017 by the author

1.12 and 31.

The two numbers that essentially defined the 1968 baseball season.

The former is Bob Gibson’s earned run average for the season (basically, he only gave up one run for every eight innings he pitched); the latter is the number of games won by Denny McLain – the most in over thirty years. These stats epitomize the low-scoring environment of baseball in the 1960s. But rather than focus on the actual games of that season, Pappu takes a much broader look.

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Baseball by the Month

With April over, we are well into the baseball season. Things should start settling out now, as “small sample sizes” are a thing of the past. Trevor Story has got to cool off, the Phillies can’t really be as good as they’ve been, and the Astros can’t be as bad.

But it’s not just April that’s a special part of the baseball season. Every month all the way through to October has its own characteristic, its own “feel”.

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Baseball is Coming!

In just a few days, the 2016 baseball season will begin. So all the sports magazines and websites will soon be publishing their predictions (if they haven’t already) on what the final standings will look like. I cannot add anything to what they’re saying (most of what I could say will just be a rehash anyway), but I can still muse on what we might see in the upcoming months.

Can the Royals and Mets repeat?

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