CSS Button No Image Css3Menu.com

Baseball Prospectus home
  
  
Click here to log in Click here for forgotten password Click here to subscribe

<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Digging a... (10/18)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keep... (10/17)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Pala... (10/19)
Next Article >>
The Week in Quotes: Oc... (10/19)

October 18, 2009

Prospectus Today

Absent Without Leave

by Joe Sheehan

the archives are now free.

All Baseball Prospectus Premium and Fantasy articles more than a year old are now free as a thank you to the entire Internet for making our work possible.

Not a subscriber? Get exclusive content like this delivered hot to your inbox every weekday. Click here for more information on Baseball Prospectus subscriptions or use the buttons to the right to subscribe and get instant access to the best baseball content on the web.

Subscribe for $4.95 per month
Recurring subscription - cancel anytime.


a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Purchase a $39.95 gift subscription
a 33% savings over the monthly price!

Already a subscriber? Click here and use the blue login bar to log in.

I get accused of bias quite often, so I'm going to cop to one here. When I wrote :

For the sake of everyone involved-by which I mean 50,000-odd baseball fans currently chugging Theraflu prophylatically-let's hope MLB makes a call on this game early. … If it's going to rain all night-and it's going to rain all night-call it at 4 p.m. and show that you give a darn about the fans.

…it wasn't entirely a neutral position. I've been pretty sick since Thursday, and because of that and the brutal forecast, I gave up a ticket to last night's game. It just seemed like a bad decision, during the busiest month of my year, to spend four hours with a whole bunch of strangers in the rain and cold when I'm already fighting off something that's affecting my ability to work. It was the mature, professional thing to do.

Maybe I should have resigned, because not only did it not rain for most of the night, but as you all know, Game Two of the ALCS was a classic contest that will be remembered for years. In what has become one of those Octobers, one of those months that leaves you breathless until Thanksgiving, last night's game may be the signature game. We got five hours and ten minutes of baseball that, fittingly, wasn't always clean, wasn't always well-umpired, wasn't always played in the best of conditions, but nonetheless left us even more in love with the game than ever before.

It ended, appropriately, with a series of mistakes. With first and second and one out in the 13th, Maicer Izturis ranged to his left to play a ground ball by Melky Cabrera. Instead of taking the out at first base, a sure play, he tried to wheel and get the runner at second. His poor throw was what allowed Jerry Hairston Jr. to round third and score the winning run, but it was the decision that was the real problem. There was no chance at all at a double play, given how far Izturis had to range and that Cabrera started from the left-hand batter's box. The value of the runner going to second was zero; the only runner who mattered was Hairston, who was going to third in all cases. Even nominally "keeping the force alive" wasn't in play, as Cabrera would have likely taken an unoccupied second base via defensive indifference on the next pitch. Izturis chased a play with no chance of success and a high risk of catastrophic failure-the spin throw to second is a tough play under the best of circumstances-for absolutely no benefit.

The decision was the first mistake, the throw the second. Perhaps lost in the chaos is that if Chone Figgins takes his time and makes a clean play on the errant throw, he would have had a great shot at gunning down Hairston at home plate; I would go so far as to say Hairston was a dead duck. Perhaps understandably, Figgins wasn't able to get a handle on the ball, and his bobble was the final mistake that ended the game. Physical errors happen, but the mental error, losing sight of the importance, or lack thereof, of a baserunner, was the real cause of the game-winning run.

Maybe it was inevitable that the Yankees would win once they got into the Angels' bullpen. Like the Phillies' pen in the NL playoffs prior to Friday, the Angel bullpen had avoided losing games thus far, but loomed as the Achilles' heel of the roster. Last night, that pen allowed seven hits and one unintentional walk in 5 1/3 innings, including the game-tying home run in the 11th and the leadoff single in the 13th that would lead to the game-winning run. And while it was that single by Hairston off of Ervin Santana that triggered the game-ending rally, the biggest blow came two innings prior.

The idea that Alex Rodriguez had some character flaw that prevented him from succeeding in the postseason was always ridiculous. I don't know yet how the last few weeks will eventually be spun, but what we're seeing isn't some change in a person, some growth in his character, something that makes it easy to differentiate his performance in October 2009 from his performances in October 2005 and 2006. We're just seeing a great player across five games of his career, doing the things great players do, the things Rodriguez has been doing since he first reached down, picked a baseball off the ground and felt the power that baseballs have over young boys. Rodriguez had nine bad games, 38 bad plate appearances, a week and a half in which he didn't hit, split by a year, and millions of people reached a dumbass conclusions over those nine games.

He'll never get an apology. That's not how it works, of course. Whether you base your evaluations on careful analysis of performance or on pop psychology, you never have to apologize. But if anyone deserves an apology for how he was treated by fans, the media, and even his manager, it's Alex Rodriguez. One of the dozen best players in baseball history was demoted to the eighth spot because his own manager couldn't see past a week's worth of failure. That will always be the low point of Joe Torre's tenure in New York.

Rodriguez's game-tying homer in the rain last night was helped along by Brian Fuentes, who followed up two pitches right on the edges of the zone with an 0-2 fastball that got way too much of the plate. If you're going to make mistakes in this ballpark, you can't make them up and away to right-handed batters, it's just too easy for them to poke the ball out. Given how the rest of the inning laid out-Brett Gardner, Freddy Guzman (probably Hairston), Robinson Cano, Melky Cabrera-Fuentes just had to keep Rodriguez in the park. He failed because he made a bad pitch to a great player.

It's 2-0, but does anyone think this series is over? The Angels have held the Yankees to eight runs in 21 innings, and at that have given up maybe half of those with their defense. They'll have the better starting pitcher in Game Three and Game Five, and might even get a second hit out of Chone Figgins and Bobby Abreu at some point (the two are 1-for-16 with four walks and a hit-by-pitch).

I am feeling a little bit better this morning. I guess that's something.

---

  • When a game goes 13 innings, the starting pitchers tend to get a bit lost in the shuffle. Joe Saunders threw seven solid innings in much the same way that Pedro Martinez did on Friday, throwing first-pitch strikes to just 10 of 26 batters, and starting nine straight hitters 1-0 at one point in the game. He got double plays in the fifth, sixth, and seventh to keep the game tied, justifying the decision to start him, one that I had questioned.

    One play I want to go back to is the double play Saunders started in the fifth. With the Angels having tied the game in the top of the inning, he certainly wanted to get off the mound without giving the lead back to the Yankees. So allowing singles to the eighth- and ninth-place hitters wasn't part of the plan. On a 1-1 pitch, Saunders got Derek Jeter to rap a ball back to the mound. Now, if you've seen this play enough times, you've seen pitchers, overeager to turn the double play, spin and fire to second without aiming and turn two outs into first-and-third with a run home and nobody out. Saunders turned, located his middle infielders, paused and fired a clean strike to first that made the double play possible. (Jeter was apparently safe, per replay, but was called out.) It was a critical pause, not even a second, just a beat, but on a play that so frequently turns into a mess, in a moment so important to the Angels, Saunders came up calm.

  • The half-inning prior to that play marked the only time all game A.J. Burnett struggled. He got ahead of 13 of the first 15 hitters in four innings. In the fifth, he started every batter who took a pitch with a ball (Mike Napoli flew out on the first pitch he saw). He lost command of his breaking ball, bouncing one off Figgins' back foot, throwing one wild pitch, and being saved from another when ball four to Torii Hunter bounced off of Jose Molina's shinguard all the way into the stands, preventing Erick Aybar from scoring. He threw 15 balls in the first four innings, then 15 in the fifth alone. It carried into the sixth inning; he kept falling behind, but he got away with it.

  • It wouldn't be October 2009 without a controversial call. In the bottom of the 10th, Jerry Layne called Melky Cabrera safe at second when Erick Aybar failed to touch second base on a double-play pivot. The call was correct-Aybar never tapped the bag-and completely wrong. I'm not a huge fan of the neighborhood play-the practice of calling the runner out when the second baseman doesn't quite touch the bag while holding the ball during a pivot-but it's become part of the way the game is called. Middle infielders have been trained, through the de facto rules enforced by umpires, to keep themselves safe on pivots.

    Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, maybe 995 out of a thousand, Cabrera is called out. Last night, Jerry Layne, at random, called him safe. He suspended the de facto rules in favor of the de jure ones in extra innings of a playoff game. It's good for baseball that the Yankees didn't score in the inning, leaving the call as an afterthought.

    You cannot run the game a certain way 99 percent of the time, then randomly decide to make a by-the-book call in a high-leverage moment. It turns the game into a farce. We see this now and again, an umpire calling a runner safe, or denying a batter first base for not making an effort to get out of the way of a pitch, and it becomes a nightmare every time. If the umpires want to have a set of rules separate from the ones in the book, fine, but they can't go back and forth between the two at will. If they're going to do so, I'll say it again: bring on the cameras, because the sheer number of plays that are called wrong because of these rules, be it the neighborhood play or obstruction at home plate or my favorite, the ball-beats-the-runner-so-the-tag-doesn't-matter, is ridiculous. Baseball got lucky last night, but soon enough, one of these calls is going to turn a series, and my generation is going to have its Don Denkinger.

  • I loved Joe Girardi's use of Mariano Rivera. Phil Hughes has been outstanding and was pitching well, but with two switch-hitters and a left-handed batter up and a runner in scoring position, you want Rivera on the mound. (Scioscia might have considered using Howie Kendrick to hit for Aybar-managers have to start coming around on Rivera now that he's been in the league for 15 years, right?) Then, as Rivera was pitching well and with an offday looming, Girardi let him go for seven outs. It was a good job of managing a key asset.

  • Johnny Damon has to be taken out of games sooner. His play on Figgins' RBI single in the 11th was just this side of embarrassing, as he approached the ball tentatively-no doubt because of the wet grass-and then unleashed an impossibly weak throw that never came close to pegging Gary Matthews Jr. He was playing shallow against Figgins and still couldn't make the play. If you can't throw out the runner on that ball playing that close to the infield, your arm defies description. But for Rodriguez, he would have cost the Yankees the game.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Joe's other articles. You can contact Joe by clicking here

71 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

sprechs

Great analysis, as always. Regarding Damon--because Girardi had pinch run Gardner for Swisher in the 7th, he didn't have anyone other than Hairston to put in LF. It would've helped had they had Hinske on the roster, but they felt the need for three catchers...Girardi's overmanaging made that run possible.

Oct 18, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: 1
 
RayDiPerna

"Saunders turned, located his middle infielders, paused and fired a clean strike to first that made the double play possible."

Right. And, yet, I think he got criticized by the announcers anyway, for pausing.

Oct 18, 2009 11:50 AM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

I thought the double-clutch came when he thought about getting the lead runner at 3rd before deciding to go for 2

Oct 18, 2009 19:49 PM
rating: 0
 
RayDiPerna

"He'll never get an apology. That's not how it works, of course. Whether you base your evaluations on careful analysis of performance or on pop psychology, you never have to apologize."

Part of this is because the people who said ARod couldn't hit in the postseason are too stupid even to understand that they were wrong. They think that what we're seeing now is that he "grew."

Oct 18, 2009 11:53 AM
rating: 2
 
kradec
(175)

Sorry, Joe, I can't agree on the neighborhood play. First of all, it's a stupid habit the umpires have gotten into. Secondly, the FOX truck guys checked -- on every other DP in the game, Aybar actually touched the bag. On that one, he didn't even come close, he straddled it.

There's been plenty of bad umpiring this postseason -- hell, Diaz's strike zone seemed a bit fluid the whole night, plus there was Jeter being called out when he was safe. But when the umpires actually follow the rulebook, that's cause for celebration, not criticism.

Oct 18, 2009 11:54 AM
rating: 4
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'd never heard of a "neighborhood play". Sure the strike zone can get a bit amorphous, but if there is no point in the fielder actually touching the bag or tagging the runner, then why should I, as a fan, get excited about close plays?

Your previous arguments for cameras were based on the strike zone or fair/foul calls. I may be wrong, but I don't think, that I've seen you discuss neighborhood plays or your other pet peeves. If the neighborhood plays are the standard these days, then I'm in favor of replacing the umpires with cameras (especially with how antagonistic some umpires have gotten). I still don't think the technology is quite there yet for a camera system to call balls/strikes, but umpires are losing any redeeming value they have if they can't even call out/safe correctly because of some funky "gentleman's agreement".

Yet, maybe if umpires actually called the rulebook and if broadcasters actually held them accountable instead of winking to these unwritten rules, the umpires would become more diligent in out/safe calls and other aspects of the game like the strike zone.

Oct 18, 2009 12:24 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I set this up as a reply intended for Joe when I use the words "You". I agree with kradec and applaud umpires for following the rulebook.

Oct 18, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: -1
 
thenamestsam

I agree that following the rulebook is ideal, but consistency is more important than correctness, and regardless of what happened on the other double plays in that game, that's just not a call that umpires make. The most important thing is that the players know what rules they're playing by, not what the actual rule is, and that principle was violated.

Oct 18, 2009 13:38 PM
rating: 1
 
buddaley

I want to reiterate what I say below. The umpire was being consistent. When there is no imminent collision, umpires routinely call runners safe if the pivot man does not make a stab at the base. Aybar made a bad play, or at least an awkward one, and the penalty was perfectly consistent with how calls are made.

Oct 18, 2009 15:20 PM
rating: 1
 
Dr. Dave

In other words, Aybar misread the unwritten rule, and was penalized for it? That seems to reinforce the idea that it's most important that the players know what rules are going to be enforced. It's not intuitively obvious, even to someone who's been watching MLB for a long time, that the rule is "you have to make a sham attempt".

Oct 18, 2009 20:44 PM
rating: 3
 
Vince Galloro

I disagree with your last sentence. The first thing that I thought when I watched the replay was that Aybar didn't drag his foot or make any other attempt to even get in the neighborhood of the bag, so to speak.

Not that I disagree that there is a problem with the neighborhood play -- it introduces more umpire discretion and subjectivity, and that cannot be a good thing.

Oct 19, 2009 08:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

How can you get more consistent than "Was his foot on the bag when he had the ball?" Anything less than that, no matter _how_ you slice it, is a judgment call and inconsistent.

And those same players who play by their own rules steal signs, throw beanballs, and shoot up steroids... in effect, breaking their own rules. So why follow their principles? Or, if you don't care about the so-called integrity of the game, let them all shoot up, throw beanballs, make phantom tags and neighborhood plays and turn the game into a WWE wrestling match.

I mean, come on... if there are no set rules, then it's not a contest but purely entertainment and for show. It's open for manipulation and fixing. All the statistics go out the window because you can't tell what's a legitimate strikeout or out anymore.

Oct 18, 2009 21:00 PM
rating: -6
 
Dr. Dave

You're conflating 2 separate issues:
1. What rules should the umpires enforce?
2. What rules should the players expect the umpires to enforce?

In an ideal world, the answer to both questions is "the rules in the rulebook". This isn't that world, and MLB clearly has no intention of trying to make it that world. Given that the umpires are allowed to have their own rulebook, the best we can hope for is that they (a) apply it consistently, and (b) make it known to the players so that they can act accordingly. The egregious problems come when either the book rule is selectively enforced (making it a tool for bias), or the de facto rule is sufficiently obscure or inconsistent that players can't know what they're supposed to do. That's the current state of the strike zone, and it sure looked last night like Erick Aybar hadn't gotten the memo about which categories of phantom double play are acceptable and which are not.

Oct 19, 2009 09:31 AM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Then I'm now firmly in the "replace umpires with computers" camp. If umpires are lacking consistent judgment on what rules are enforced when, can't properly call a fair or foul ball, and at their most egregious, hold grudges or preferences for certain players, then they lost the integrity that should be mandatory for their job. I mean, this goes way beyond a veteran pitcher who "earned" the outside corner. This is to the point where an umpire affects the course of the game when, if an umpire is doing his job correctly, shouldn't even be noticed. Should something like a baseball game, especially a playoff game, be affected by something like umpire bias?

I'll take my chances with the computers who might be inaccurate, but at least will be consistent and unbiased.

Oct 19, 2009 09:50 AM
rating: -1
 
WaldoInSC

Why did the ball caroming off Molina and into the stands save the Yankees? Can someone explain that rule, if in fact it exists? It seems to me that, like an errant throw that goes into the stands, the wild pitch allows each runner to advance one base. Since the runners achieved first, second and third by dint of the walk, why didn't the run score on the wild pitch?

Oct 18, 2009 12:12 PM
rating: 0
 
Joe D.

Explanation and rule reference located here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=7066521&topic_id=7221820&c_id=mlb

Oct 18, 2009 15:12 PM
rating: 1
 
WaldoInSC

Thanks Joe. My interpretation of that rule is that the runners get one base, which would bring Aybar home and set up second and third. At the moment that the ball went into the stands, Aybar had already earned third, Figgins second and Hunter first. I think the umps blew it and cost the Angels a run -- and the game.

Oct 18, 2009 17:21 PM
rating: 0
 
ScottyB

Runner gets one base from where they are when the ball leaves the field of play. The ump *could* have given Aybar home plate if he felt he had already gotten to 3rd (which may have been the case). Umps can also give the baserunner on 1st 3 bases on a ground-rule double, too, but you never see it called.

Oct 18, 2009 19:53 PM
rating: 0
 
WaldoInSC

Where Aybar was physically located was irrelevant. He could have fallen on his face at second base and never gotten up; he was still awarded third the moment Hunter earned the walk. The umps -- and Fox -- blew it. I'm surprised that no one else is picking up on it since it was determinative.

Oct 19, 2009 10:08 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

The pitch occurs before the umpire's call, is how I would look at it. Aybar didn't advance to third on the walk, and then get a base on the WP. He advanced on the WP, and then wasn't forced on the subsequent walk.

I see the other argument. I'm saying that the rules in place effectively apply as above, and I think they make sense. If the batter swings at the pitch, the WP still happens, it's still one base from the mound. The WP happens, chronologically, before the umpire's call.

Oct 19, 2009 10:19 AM
 
Dan

Joe, I'm surprised you didn't mention Girardi's usage of Joba. I thought he pulled him from the game unnecessarily after only 1/3 of an inning, in a 2-2 game, and the only reason I could think of that he'd do it is that "Phil Hughes has to work the 8th" and "Rivera has to work the 9th."

Joba was dealing and could've easily pitched the 8th, if not the 8th and 9th.

It was a move that he got away with, but he was forced to rely on something like his 5th, 6th, and 7th best relievers to pitch the 11th, 12th, and 13th innings of a tie playoff game.

Oct 18, 2009 13:13 PM
rating: 0
 
Kampfer

Joba was not pitching well. Sliders were all over the place. I think that's why Girardi pulled him

Oct 18, 2009 13:34 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I agree, and will add that I'm not sure they wanted Joba getting up and down. Hughes is better than he is by a fair amount, and that's the guy you want pitching the eighth in a tied game.

That they got a combined three outs from the two of them was a matter of circumstance. Each individual pitching change made sense.

Oct 18, 2009 13:38 PM
 
Flynnbot

So, in a game that it was easy to see going extras (perhaps many extras), using your two best setup men for a total of 21 pitches (not to mention Marte for one batter) makes sense?

Oct 18, 2009 14:11 PM
rating: 1
 
Joe D.

Absolutely. Playing several innings ahead is a great way to potentially lose now, and thus never get to "later".

Joe Torre and Jeff Weaver can attest to this.

It was quite the Merry-Go-Round, but I was proud of Girardi's bullpen usage in this one.



Oct 18, 2009 15:16 PM
rating: -1
 
Flynnbot

How is throwing in Hughes for Joba---hyped all week as a possible 8th inning option---after 10 pitches "playing several innings ahead"? If not, then why was Hughes not brought in the 7th to take over for Burnett? Because he's an 8th inning guy? That's a little rigid, no?

Weaver was at best the third-best option available to Torre that game, certainly far worse than Mariano. Joba right there was the best option, for the current inning or several innings ahead.

If not for a throwing error, Robertson was already overstretched and the plan would've been Gaudin until he faltered...that's a good idea? What would've happened if Gaudin got tired? Cervelli? This was the height of the short-sighted micromanaging that has become Girardi's hallmark. Not to mention not carrying Hinske because he needs to throw a new pitcher out there every 5 pitches.

Oct 18, 2009 19:38 PM
rating: -1
 
Joe D.

I'm arguing *against* playing several innings ahead.

Robertson wouldn't have come out for the 14th (I disagree he was overstretched already, but 33 is up against his normal limit). Gaudin would have entered in the 14th, by which time the Yankees would have had many, many chances to win the game. Gaudin would have then pitched until the game's conclusion, come hell or high water, and I am fine with that. If somehow, the game gets into the 17th or 18th and Gaudin is tiring then oh well.

Worrying about a potential but ridiculously highly unlikely 15th inning or higher in the 7th or 8th is precisely how not to manage a playoff game.




Oct 18, 2009 20:12 PM
rating: 2
 
Flynnbot

It's not worrying about the 15th inning...it's about putting your best pitchers on the mound to give your chance to win.

Would you rather have 30 pitches of Joba or Robertson? Thirty pitches of Hughes or Aceves? You ended up with 19 pitches from your top two setup men (instead of 19 pitches from one of them) because Joe was managing for the moment. It's not about the 15th inning---it's about the 10th, the 11th, the 12th, which were not ridiculously highly unlikely, in which one or the other of your two setup men (or Mariano) could've been pitching, instead of your fifth-best guy.

Though, I would suggest, using Marte as a LOOGY in a deadlocked game was pretty silly, considering at that point it was far from ridiculously highly unlikely.

Oct 18, 2009 20:55 PM
rating: -2
 
thenamestsam

It seems to me that what Girardi did was the best for keeping the Angels scoreless through 9 and through 10. He got his best pitchers in the game. It was worse for keeping them scoreless in the 11th and beyond if it came to that. How to balance those priorities requires looking at how likely the game was to get to the 11th and beyond. With the two best offenses in baseball, I'd venture to say fairly unlikely, but I don't know the exact number, it's an interesting question to take a look at.

Oct 19, 2009 12:23 PM
rating: 0
 
Flynnbot

You guys still love Girardi's bullpen management?

Oct 19, 2009 20:00 PM
rating: 0
 
buddaley

I agree with everything you say, Joe, except for one comment where I think you are dead wrong. The umpire made exactly the right call on Aybar.

I have seen numerous cases when umpires call runners safe on what is called the neighborhood play, and the reason is always one of two reasons. Either it is because the throw is egregiously bad so that the pivot man is nowhere near the bag or it is because there was no reason not to touch the bag, as happened here. The idea behind the out call is to protect fielders against injury, but when there is no danger (as in this case), the umpire expects the fielder to touch the bag.

The key is that when the play is continuous, with the pivot man making "as if" to touch the bag by dragging his foot but needing to avoid the collision, the umpire gives him the call. But when the throw arrives in plenty of time but the fielder makes no effort, in fact actually stops before throwing and makes no move to the bag, routinely the call is safe.

Oct 18, 2009 13:29 PM
rating: 4
 
strupp

Thanks... I was trying to imply this same argument last night and failed to put it in words as proper as this. I agree 100%, the basis for the neighborhood play has been to aid the middle infielder in avoiding contact and potential injury. It was not necessary in this specific instance.

Good reply, thanks.

Oct 18, 2009 13:42 PM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

So umpires make calls now to protect fielders against injury? So do catchers get automatic outs at home plate as long as they receive the ball before the runner gets there? Does that also mean that a runner attempting to break up a double play is against the spirit of the game too? Yes it's a slippery slope argument, but it shouldn't be an argument in the first place. These guys make millions of dollars because they are the top athletes in the country, if not the world, in baseball.

Do it right and touch the bag, or turn the sport into an entertainment show or a vaudeville act or whatever, maybe a bit of magician's hocus pocus, but if I pay $50 for a ticket, I want to see these athletes do the job I'm paying them for.

Oct 18, 2009 21:07 PM
rating: -6
 
PaulieNeu

If you paid $50 to see that, considering it was at Yankee Stadium...you were sitting outside my friend.

Oct 19, 2009 08:22 AM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

Nah Coors Field. Once incident in particular from this year comes to mind where the Cubs were playing the Rockies and a ball was hit to Tulowitzki, who threw it to Barmes at 2B. Barmes was at least a foot off the bag but the runner was still called out. Lou came out to argue and was thrown out.

http://chicago.cubs.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20090809&content_id=6335104&vkey=news_chc&fext=.jsp&c_id=chc

So, I guess in terms of neighborhood plays and the unwritten rules, Lou was wrong to argue?

Oct 19, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Actually the ball was hit to Stewart.

Oct 19, 2009 09:42 AM
rating: 0
 
ottosboys

Actually the secondary market was soft for this game - my brother and I got grandstand (upper deck) seats for $52 apiece on stubhub less than 48 hrs before game time.

Oct 19, 2009 13:02 PM
rating: 0
 
Dr. Dave

Actually, the most common phantom DP comes when the pivot man crosses the bag (and leaves it) before he receives the ball. This is essentially always called an out, despite the obvious advantage it gives the defense. (The pivot man doesn't have to worry about foot and ball simultaneously, he can get well out of the way of the oncoming runner, and he's closer to the player throwing him the ball, allowing a faster pivot.)

The sad part is that if Aybar had touched second base when he first got there, then received and fielded the throw exactly as he did, the out would have been called.

Oct 19, 2009 09:38 AM
rating: 0
 
jtrichey

I also think the ump made the right call on the so called nieghborhood play in this instance. The majority of the time on that call, the middle infielder is at least on the bag at some point. Aybar never touched the bag at any point in the play, and frankly never came that close to touching the bag. To call him out there would be taking the neighborhood play to far over the extreme, and THAT would have truly been the farce.

Oct 18, 2009 16:21 PM
rating: 1
 
Alex Nixon

"One of the dozen best players in baseball history was demoted to the eighth spot because his own manager couldn't see past a week's worth of failure. That will always be the low point of Joe Torre's tenure in New York."

I don't know if that's what Torre's reason was. My sense of it, looking at Torre's managerial style, was that Torre saw A-Rod as "pressing," and tried to take pressure off of him by moving him lower in the lineup. Obviously, the move hugely backfired.

Oct 18, 2009 18:12 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

Joe -

Yes, I think this series is over.

Very, very over.

It will not come back to New York.

Oct 18, 2009 19:06 PM
rating: -2
 
ScottyB

Agreed- good luck winning 4 of 5 vs the Yankees

Oct 18, 2009 19:54 PM
rating: 0
 
amazin_mess

"In what has become one of those Octobers, one of those months that leaves you breathless until Thanksgiving, last night's game may be the signature game."

Maybe if you're a Yankees fan. Otherwise, these playoffs have sucked. Close games maybe - but the fan without a rooting interest have no sense that the Angels have a shot in this series. This postseason has been boring as hell.

Again.

Oct 18, 2009 19:09 PM
rating: 1
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Good series, but awful hard to feel good about the richest team in baseball winning. No one should like the favorite, but it seems plenty of bonehead, selfish fans do exactly that.

Baseball's lack of some kind of competetive balance is what keeps it from being as popular as the NFL - when you can fairly safely say that 2-3 teams are going to make the playoffs most years, there's a real problem.

Oct 18, 2009 19:21 PM
rating: -17
 
ScottyB

Well, one generally roots for the team they grow up geographically closest too, unless their dad is a big fan of some other team, so it is not Yankke fan's fault they are Yankees fans

Oct 18, 2009 19:57 PM
rating: 1
 
Joe D.

"No one should like the favorite, but it seems plenty of bonehead, selfish fans do exactly that."

I'm a bonehead, selfish fan because I'm rooting for my favorite team?

And when someone is a fan of any favorite, they should switch sides and root for the underdog, or else they are boneheaded and selfish?

---------------

Re: "Baseball's lack of some kind of competetive balance is what keeps it from being as popular as the NFL..."

In the last ten completed seasons, there have been 10 World Series featuring 15 different teams and 8 different champions.

In the last ten completed seasons, there have been 10 Super Bowls featuring 14 different teams 7 different champions.

In the last decade, baseball has had the wider variety of teams both competing for and winning the championship. By a slight margin.
However, this is *despite* the NFL allowing a full four more teams into the playoffs than baseball does (12 teams versus 8 teams). So baseball's parity record -- with regard to titles and title games at least -- is very much superior to that of the NFL.

-------------

Re: "...when you can fairly safely say that 2-3 teams are going to make the playoffs most years, there's a real problem."

The Colts have made the playoffs 6 times in a row entering this season.
The Patriots and Seahawks have made the playoffs 5 of the last 6 years.
The Steelers, Chargers, Giants, and Eagles have made 4 of the last 6.






Oct 18, 2009 20:00 PM
rating: 12
 
R.A.Wagman
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

What if what baseball needed to do to be more popular was not connected with the cap, but with the game itself? What if baseball used a ball more similar to a basketball? Or stretched it out to resemble a football? Would more people watch? Would you?

Oct 19, 2009 07:58 AM
rating: -4
 
amazin_mess
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

It'll get worse before it gets better. MLB needs a floor and a cap - and until they do, the NFL will keep kicking its ass.

Oct 18, 2009 19:26 PM
rating: -16
 
Dr. Dave

You are Carl Pohlad, and I Claim My Five Pounds.

Oct 18, 2009 20:50 PM
rating: 0
 
OldBean

Better at what exactly? Making the owners rich(er)? Because yeah, the NFL probably does kick MLB's ass at that... not on competitive balance, though.

Oct 18, 2009 20:53 PM
rating: 0
 
Adam Hobson

I don't get why every sports league needs to operate the exact same way... Do MLB players need to wear shoulder pads and girdles because NFL players do as well? Should baseball switch to a 16 games schedule with only a single game a week?

One of the things I like best about sports is how different they all are, even in their economic dealings.

Oct 18, 2009 21:18 PM
rating: 3
 
TADontAsk

I believe the NFL may operate next season without a cap. I'm sure they won't lose any fans.

Oct 19, 2009 07:00 AM
rating: 5
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

The NFL crushes MLB when it comes to marketing, popularity and competetive balance.

Your stats about the playoffs naturally ignores the fact that the NFL has 50% more playoff teams every year so obviously more teams can make the playoffs at a higher frequency.

I think the most evident case of lack of balance is that the NY Yankees have 16 winning seasons in a row(and Boston 11), while the longest such streaks in the NFL are 9 and 8. Combined with an annual salary base that exceeds every other team almost every year, there is a clear correlation between money and the Yankee's success.

And of course let's not forget the Yankees 27 world series titles, or approxiamately 1 in 4 since they started playing world series. The NFL highest are the packers at about 1 championship in every 7 years.

Lastly, people aren't born a fan of a team. They select one. Usually people choose the local team to root for, but plenty of fans are fairweather, bang-wagon jumpers who find a team that consistently wins and then roots for them. Which one are you Joe? lol

Oct 18, 2009 22:01 PM
rating: -13
 
Joe D.

Re: "Your stats about the playoffs naturally ignores the fact that the NFL has 50% more playoff teams every year so obviously more teams can make the playoffs at a higher frequency."

Except that I explicitly stated that very fact. One would think that would make for greater variety of champions, not less.
Further, you decried that in baseball "when you can fairly safely say that 2-3 teams are going to make the playoffs most years, there's a real problem." More playoff teams makes your scenario more likely, not less. Why is this a problem for you in baseball but not football?

In baseball, about 27% of teams make the playoffs. In football, it's about 38%. I don't see that as a staggering enough difference to consider say, the Yankees and Red Sox bad for the sport while not applying similar reasoning to the Patriots, Colts, and Seahawks.

Re: "I think the most evident case of lack of balance is that the NY Yankees have 16 winning seasons in a row(and Boston 11), while the longest such streaks in the NFL are 9 and 8."

The number of games per season in the NFL is less than 10% than the number of games per season in baseball. Far smaller sample sizes lead to far greater fluctuation in record, even if the team talent holds perfectly steady. The greater in-season flux in the NFL leads to less consistent season-to-season results.
This is not a good way to compare competitive balance of the two sports. Your points could simply be a function of the different schedules.
Else, we could simply make the argument that there have been many NFL teams that have finished the season with an .850+ winning percentage, while no MLB team has topped .765. Boom: baseball would win, but it's not a sounds argument.

Re: "And of course let's not forget the Yankees 27 world series titles, or approxiamately 1 in 4 since they started playing world series. The NFL highest are the packers at about 1 championship in every 7 years."

Except that we're discussing competitive balance now, not throughout history. The Yankees' dominant 1920's and 1950's teams, for example, have nothing to do with the discussion. (Perhaps except to ironically note that baseball was the most popular sport at the time.)

Plus, unless I'm reading something wrong here...the Steelers (and others) lead the Packers, no?

Using Super Bowl I as a starting point: the Steelers have won 6 of 43 Super Bowls (14% of all Bowls), followed by the Cowboys and 49ers (11.6% each), then five teams who have won 3 (7%) each.

Now baseball all-time starting with the first modern World Series: Yankees have won 26 (not 27) of 103 (25.2%), then the Cardinals (9.7%), Athletics (8.7%), Red Sox (6.8%), Dodgers (5.8%), and three teams at 5% each.

Under your criterion (championships, all-time), that the NFL has been far more competitively balanced is highly debatable. Though the #1 team has won a greater share in baseball, it also a dead ringer for the top two teams combined in football. Beyond that, the spread is quite similar through the top eight teams.
Is there really that much value to be had in the vast majority of fans saying "Damn Steelers and Cowboys" rather than "Damn Yankees"?

On the flipside, 15 current NFL teams have never won a Super Bowl, and five have never been to one.
8 current MLB teams have never won the whole enchilada, and three have never been to one.

Between this and the earlier points made in the discussion we've seen a lot of evidence that competitive balance between the NFL and MLB is roughly even or tilted in MLB's favor, but certainly none that show the NFL has the lead in that regard.

Perhaps a more thorough examination taking into account the differing number of teams each season (varying era of expansion), and a criteria other than championships won or competed in might do the trick? (Investigating the gap between worst and best over a sufficiently long timespan, perhaps?)
But you've offered none of that, and the points you have made didn't support your conclusions.

Instead, it's been the usual knee-jerk "football is more competitively balanced" story with nothing backing it up that props up when the Yankees do well.

On that note, if anyone has seen a good, thorough study of competitive balance that properly takes into account the major differences* between the two sports, I'd love the link for that sucker.
(*i.e. 32 teams vs 30, 12 playoff teams vs 8, 16 games vs 162, 1 game playoff vs 5-7 game series).

Otherwise my strong hunch is that the extra teams, extra playoff teams, short schedule, and one-game playoff series give us the illusion of greater parity in football. What we're probably seeing is what happens when smaller sample-sizes and playoff dilution can do for "competitiveness".

Perhaps baseball will wise up and let 38% of the league in the playoffs. Or do football just a wee bit better and let everyone in. Then we'd really see some parity.


And finally, hyprvypr, I did grow up a Yankee fan, and started following them closely when I was about 11 or 12 in '89/'90 or so. Not that I care for or worry about the cock-waving TrueFan! balderdash that many supposed fans engage in. Unfortunately, I suppose I'm not immune to the feeling I need to defend my credentials.

Oct 18, 2009 23:46 PM
rating: 15
 
TADontAsk

Joe D. - also for your argument is the fact that the NFL schedules are unbalanced every year. No explanation of NFL team year-to-year performance is complete without considering that. A first place team gets a "first place schedule", and ditto for a last place team. That makes season-to-season variation much more likely. A bad team can play a weak division and 2 other last place teams. So if teams can constantly be near the top despite these more competitive schedules, I'd think that can factor into an argument of competitive balance.

Oct 19, 2009 07:13 AM
rating: 1
 
hyprvypr
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Also, in the NFL, plenty of teams that were great one year are bad the next, or visa versa. This very rarely happens in baseball. Teams that are bad generally stay bad and teams that win generally continue to win. The playoff droughts and world series wins droughts back this up as well.

Oct 18, 2009 22:04 PM
rating: -8
 
Joe D.

Re: "Also, in the NFL, plenty of teams that were great one year are bad the next, or visa versa. This very rarely happens in baseball."

Yes, drastic changes occur very rarely in baseball between seasons:

From '03 to '04:
Toronto, 86 wins to 67. (-19)
KC, 83 wins to 58. (-25)
Detroit, 43 wins to 72. (+29)
LA Angels, 77 wins to 92. (+15) *Made Playoffs
Texas, 71 wins to 89. (+18)
Seattle, 93 wins to 63. (-30)
St. Louis, 85 wins to 105. (+20) *Made Playoffs
Arizona, 84 wins to 51. (-33)
San Diego, 64 wins to 87. (+23)

From '04 to '05:
Chicago White Sox, 83 wins to 99. (+16) *Won WS
LA Dodgers, 93 wins to 71. (-22)
Arizona, 51 wins to 77. (+26)
San Francisco, 91 wins to 75. (-16)

From '05 to '06:
Cleveland, 93 wins to 78. (-15)
Detroit, 71 wins to 95. (+24) * Made WS
St. Louis, 100 wins to 83. (-17) * Won WS
LA Dodgers, 71 wins to 88. (+17) * Made Playoffs

From '06 to '07:
Chicago White Sox, 90 wins to 72. (-18)
Minnesota, 96 wins to 79. (-17)
Cleveland, 78 wins to 96. (+18) * Made ALCS
Oakland, 93 wins to 76. (-17)
Chicago Cubs, 66 wins to 85. (+17) * Made Playoffs

From '07 to '08:
Tampa Bay, 66 wins to 97. (+31) * Made WS
Chicago White Sox, 72 wins to 89. (+17) * Made Playoffs
Cleveland, 96 wins to 81. (-15)
Seattle, 88 wins to 61. (-27)
Colorado, 90 wins to 74. (-16)
San Diego, 89 wins to 63. (-26)

From '08 to '09:
Cleveland, 81 wins to 65. (-16)
Seattle, 61 wins to 85. (+24)
NY Mets, 89 wins to 70. (-19)
Colorado, 74 wins to 92. (+18) * Made Playoffs
San Francisco, 72 wins to 88. (+16)

Aside from those 33 examples of drastic 15+ win swings in the last six seasons -- an average of 5.5 big swings per season -- I can see what you mean. :)

Oct 19, 2009 01:38 AM
rating: 11
 
greg26

The problem with MLB is not that some teams make the playoffs a lot. It's that many teams start the season with very little chance of making the playoffs. Instead of citing that 10 WS have had 15 teams, look at the teams that have made the playoffs with stunning infrequency in the last 20 years. That's what is unfortunate about MLB.

Compare that to the NFL and you'll find almost no NFL teams that can't expect to make the playoffs 1/3 of the time.

Oct 18, 2009 23:00 PM
rating: -1
 
R.A.Wagman

Part of that is due to their being so few teams in the playoffs. There aren't too many people out there who are even arguing for anything more than a second wildcard team per league with a 1- or 3-game playoff between wildcards to kick the playoffs off.
Another way to improve likelihood of teams' making the playoffs would be to do away with the 3 division format and go back to 2, or even 1, division. That would make geography a bit less of a factor.

Oct 19, 2009 04:36 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Joe Sheehan
BP staff
(17)

I'm not wading into too much of this, but 16-game seasons and 12/32 teams reaching the postseason drive the perception gap when it comes to competitive balance. It's a math problem--you can't get very much separation over 16 games, and a couple of "lucky" events can have a huge effect on your season.

Were a baseball season 16 games long with 12 teams making the playoffs, it would look a lot more like the NFL.

I'm not saying one is better than the other. I'm saying you can't compare something like "competitive balance" without noting that the two largest factors, before revenue sharing or payroll restrictions or anything else, are the math of playing 16 games and the lowered bar for postseason participation (and thus contention).

Oct 19, 2009 10:14 AM
 
ElAngelo
(942)

Joe: I agree that it was good that Saunders made the pause to set himself up to try to turn the double play, but the fact is that Jeter should have been called safe. Arguably, this pause should have cost the team the double play.

Oct 19, 2009 07:06 AM
rating: 1
 
Mountainhawk

It's hard to believe their are people that still argue that MLB is as balanced as the NFL. It's not even close people.

Since 2000, the NFL has had 284 'team seasons', 108 of which went to the playoffs. That gives a shot of about 38% of making the playoffs.

So, of those 108 teams, 108 * 38% = 41 teams should have repeated in the playoffs. In reality, 49 of the 108 teams repeated, giving a p-value of .0714.

Since 2000, MLB has had 300 team seasons, of which 80 made the playoffs. That gives a shot of about 26.7% of making the playoffs.

So, of those 80 teams, 80 * 26.7% = 21 teams should have repeated in the playoffs. In reality, 40 of the 80 teams have repeated, giving a p-value of .00001.


How about the other way?

In the 9 seasons since 2000, the NFL has had 45 teams finish in the bottom 5. If the league was balanced so that teams could rebound quickly, those teams should have had the same 38% shot of making the playoffs the next season.

That gives an expected number of bottom 5 teams making the playoffs the next season as 17. In reality, 9 teams made it there. This gives a p-value of .0077.

For MLB, we have 10 completed seasons, so 50 bottom 5 teams. We should have seen 13 of those teams rebound to the playoffs, instead we saw just 2. This gives a p-value of .00003.

Moving out of the binomial analysis, the NFL has had 29 of its' 32 (90.6%) franchises make the playoffs in the last 9 seasons, while 21 (65.6%) have finished in the bottom 5 at least once. MLB has had 24 of 30 franchises make the playoffs in the last 10 years (80.0%) and just 17 (56.7%) franchises finish in the bottom 5.

The NFL has a much better system of being able to go from bad to good (or good to bad) quickly, meaning very few franchises have to go through decades long drought of not even seeing a playoff game.

Oct 19, 2009 10:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Richard Bergstrom

Just as an addendum, I would bet that getting to the playoffs in MLB benefits MLB teams more, financially, than getting to the NFL playoffs as an NFL team. If a MLB team gets to the playoffs, that team is guaranteed at least one additional home game and as many as eleven where in the NFL, you get maybe two additional games (and then a Super Bowl featured at a neutral site).

Oct 19, 2009 12:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Mountainhawk

I believe profits from the NFL playoffs are mostly, if not completely, distributed equally among the 32 teams.

Oct 19, 2009 12:04 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm not as familiar with how NFL profits are distributed, but I do believe that MLB teams that make the playoffs keep a portion of their gate revenue and are not distributed... so when an MLB team makes the playoffs, that MLB team directly benefits financially.

Oct 19, 2009 17:51 PM
rating: 0
 
dpratola

This argument fails to account for the 16-game vs 162-game schedule. MLB 2009 divison series playoffs if determined after first 16 games:
Blue Jays vs Royals
Red Sox vs Mariners
Marlins vs Dodgers
Padres vs Cardinals
Go KC!

Oct 19, 2009 16:06 PM
rating: 1
 
yankee

Great column. Best analysis I've seen, far superior to the public prints. I often read/hear comments made during and after ball games that I know are wrong , but I'm unable to articulate what the problem is. To quote a British historian:It's like knitting without a guillotine".One can't beat good writing and good analysis.
Best,
Paul

Oct 19, 2009 11:35 AM
rating: 0
 
dzahniser

Joe, I don't know how old you are but I'm 44. I can tell you the Denlinger call is the single worst moment in baseball for me. I'm inspired to do a blogpost about instant replay.

Oct 19, 2009 19:21 PM
rating: 0
 
deep64blue

I'm 45 but in the UK and didn't follow MLB closely in the pre-internet days :-) Reading the wikipedia article it seems like the players lost their focus due to one bad call and that's what cost them the Series, is that a fair summary?

Oct 20, 2009 02:21 AM
rating: 0
 
hyprvypr

More on the ridiculously unbalanced MLB structure compared to the NFL...

The last seven years in the AL, four of the 15 teams have been in the playoffs a total of 21 times(NYY 6, BOS 6, LAA 5, MIN 4), the other eleven teams? They've been in a TOTAL of 6 times... That, my friends, is absofuckinglutely ridiculous.

Compare it to the NFL, in the NFC the from 2002-2008, out of a total of 42 playoff teams, every team made it at least once except Detroit, and all but four teams made two apperences or more during those seven years. No NFL team made the playoffs more then 5 out of 7 years... Two did it in baseball, despite less playoff spots.

If you still believe MLB is anywhere near as balanced as the NFL, then you're just a dellusional idiot.

Oct 20, 2009 21:05 PM
rating: -3
 
amazin_mess

I totally agree. And there are a lot of idiots out there.

Oct 22, 2009 11:47 AM
rating: -1
 
You must be a Premium subscriber to post a comment.
Not a subscriber? Sign up today!
<< Previous Article
Premium Article On the Beat: Digging a... (10/18)
<< Previous Column
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keep... (10/17)
Next Column >>
Premium Article Prospectus Today: Pala... (10/19)
Next Article >>
The Week in Quotes: Oc... (10/19)

RECENTLY AT BASEBALL PROSPECTUS
Premium Article Minor League Update: Games of Thursday, Apri...
Premium Article What You Need to Know: April 17, 2015
Going Yard: How Bryant Can Crush
The Call-Up: Kris Bryant
BP Boston
Premium Article Rubbing Mud: So You Want to Trade Your Draft...
BP Bronx

MORE FROM OCTOBER 18, 2009
Premium Article On the Beat: Digging a Hole
Premium Article Winter League Preview
Prospectus Q&A: Ron Roenicke

MORE BY JOE SHEEHAN
2009-10-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Horror
2009-10-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Putting the Drama in Drama...
2009-10-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Palate Cleansing
2009-10-18 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Absent Without Leave
2009-10-17 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keeping You Guessing
2009-10-16 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Reminder
2009-10-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The NLCS
More...

MORE PROSPECTUS TODAY
2009-10-21 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Horror
2009-10-20 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Putting the Drama in Drama...
2009-10-19 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Palate Cleansing
2009-10-18 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Absent Without Leave
2009-10-17 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: Keeping You Guessing
2009-10-16 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The Reminder
2009-10-15 - Premium Article Prospectus Today: The NLCS
More...