The Gift of Our First African Baseball Player

Screenshot 2017-05-09 00.06.26Tyler Kepner tells a pretty good story about Gift Ngoepe (en-GO-epe), the first African to play in the major leagues. He’s a slick fielding infielder from South Africa who was promoted last week by the Pirates, who have nurtured him through their system for the past nine years. Nicely, the story suggests.

You should read the story, because it is a good story, because Ngoepe is charming, because his mother was a saint and so she suffered (and died), because he worked with Barry Larkin in Italy, because he’s a great fielder, apparently, (and a bad hitter, but off to a hot start with the bat in the majors).

And maybe because it’s helpful to hear some of the details of how some person got to that point. Kepner tells a good story. Even if you didn’t care about baseball you might like this one.

 

 

Rotoman is the Twins GM!

For the second year in a row Brian Joura of Mets360.com asked me to participate in his GM Simulation.

Here’s the deal: 30 baseball writers are given the rosters of the major league teams and are asked to simulate the offseason. For the second year in a row I had the Twins.

joe_mauer_by_keith_allisonLast year, I dumped Joe Mauer, saved some money and improved the team.

This year, I made more like the real Twins and made Mauer the (downcast) face of the organization. All that money spent on a mild-mannered first baseman who is no Superman made improving the team difficult, but maybe having Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier and lots of other young talent will be enough.

I put down some notes about my plans and how I executed them here, at Brian’s site.

You’ll find the comments of other owners on the project page.

I encourage your comments about my moves and everyone else’s. I’m not an expert on the Twins farm system, but it seemed to me there might be enough talent in Gonsalves and Stewart to shore up the rotation if the hitters came through, but that’s far from a sure thing. What is for sure is that there wasn’t the money to buy a better starter than what we already had.

 

 

A Pitch Clock.

pitchclock-arizonaThere’s a story here that is all gung ho in favor of a ML pitch clock that limits pitchers to 20 seconds between pitches.

The writer shows the average times for the Royals pitchers last year, and only Bruce Chen averaged less than 20 seconds. He notes, however, that there wasn’t a pitch clock, that hitters were allowed more time to get ready than they presumably will if the pitcher is facing a clock, and the Royals other starters, Ventura and Guthrie, were just a hair over 20 seconds on average, so maybe wouldn’t be too rushed if the rule is adopted. All well and good.

I just wanted to report that after watching some games in the Arizona Fall League last November, in which the pitch clock was used, the main thing we noticed is that there were clocks everywhere. In order to make sure everyone knew how much time remained, there were clocks on the fence behind the catcher, on each dugout, and on the right and left field fences. Maybe it was the novelty, but the bright flickering light was a definite distraction. (The picture above shows the clocks on the first base side.)

And just as at a basketball game, there was almost as much suspense watching the pitcher beat the clock as there was seeing him work the batter. So, the clocks are ugly and distracting. Will they speed up the game?

Another point is that the clock is reset when the pitcher starts his rocker step. So, if a pitcher uses all 20 seconds to start his rocker step, his full windup and delivery will put him on a longer than 20 second pace.

With that in mind, if each pitch is made on average five seconds faster, a game with 250 pitches would save 1250 seconds. That’s 21 minutes or so, which would be quite an accomplishment, but would we even notice? I suspect that we wouldn’t. We would still be irritated by pitching changes for every batter in the later innings, in games aren’t all that close, and two minute breaks between half innings for commercials, and three minutes for the 7th inning stretch’s two songs–at least. These are the things that make baseball games seem slow and too long, and each is hard to address because it either is an important part of the competition strategically, or it is a money generator.

So if we’re really concerned about game length, let’s try another idea: Seven inning games.

Link: Causes of Competitive Balance Equals Selig

Joe Posnanski has a theory why so many lower budget teams are doing well this year. I like that he doesn’t say it is definitively the Age of Peds, but includes that possibility in with some of the other things going on at the end of the last millennium.

In the meantime, it seems, rich teams overinvested.

LINK: Explaining the Singleton Deal

Eno Sarris does a good job explaining how the Astros and Jon Singleton came to a deal that pays him $10M if he busts, and $30 if he’s a success.

How good a job? Don’t take my word for it.

Screenshot 2014-06-07 13.10.22

Coming Soon! More baseball stats!

Screenshot 2014-03-02 13.48.20Major League Baseball Advanced Media announced yesterday that starting in 2015 every major league ballpark will have a system in place to measure placement and speed of all objects on the ballfield. Now, if only they would do something about the lines to buy food. (Kidding. Actually they seem to have.)

It is unclear whether the new system will replace Pitch F/x. It is being tested this year in Minnesota, Milwaukee and at Citi Field in New York.

The story has a video clip showing Jason Heyward making a diving catch on a fly ball into the gap, then on the replay shows how hard and high the batter hit the ball and tracks Heyward has he runs, showing his distance run, speed and acceleration.

The promise of a system like this is that, once aggregated, the data will help us learn all sorts of new things about defensive abilities, defensive strategies, the value of speed and in all likelihood stuff we can’t even imagine now.

Besides it’s relationship to Pitch F/x, which has produced a lot of innovative research because it was available, and Hit and Field F/x, which were not, is the availability of the data to the baseball research community.

No doubt MLBAM will look for the system to pay for itself through team and media licenses, but the widespread distribution of data will help improve the system initially and spur innovative uses after that.

Exciting stuff.

 

MLBPA Is Threatened By A-Rod Case

Ken Rosenthal has an excellent piece out today at Fox Sports.

He alludes to something I have long thought had gotten lost in the long history of baseball and PEDs: The union’s opposition to drug testing back in the 90s. The story is usually told that the union looked the other way, or resisted baseball’s efforts (especially in the early part of the decade) to get or stay clean. But this  simply isn’t true.

Peter_Ueberroth
Peter Ueberroth

The union’s resistance to drug testing and other enforcement procedures was based on its obligation to protect player rights, as well as a profound lack of trust in the owners. Remember that this period coincides with the massive triple-damages award in the collusion ruling against MLB and Peter Ueberroth (based on their 1985-1987 efforts stifle the free agent market).

This was also the time of the run up to the owner’s massive (and failed) attempt to crack the union by shutting down baseball in midseason in 1994.

Oh, and this was also when George Steinbrenner accepted a “lifetime” ban from the game because he had hired a whole lot of shadiness to try to extract himself from his obligations to Dave Winfield by tarnishing Winfield’s reputation.

The union’s position that ownership could not be trusted was well earned.

In the A-Rod case, as Rosenthal points out, MLB sued Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch in order to pressure him to testify against A-Rod. Whether they could have won that case is doubtful, but there is no doubt that Bosch was in no position to pay for a defense. This is the place where the player’s union could have stepped in to protect not only A-Rod but all players’ rights, but declined. Rosenthal writes:

“Rodriguez’s legal team could have made its case without attacking Weiner, who died of brain cancer on Nov. 21. But one of the team’s central points – that the union should have acted to stop baseball from its “sham” lawsuit against Biogenesis – is a fair criticism, particularly in hindsight.”

But Rosenthal also points out the bind that the union was in. On first blush, a countersuit would certainly have looked like they were defending drug use, just as history says they were defending it back in the 90s when they were trying to protect against just such a situation with MLB running over player rights.

The silver lining for A-Rod (and could the union have had the foresight to defend him by going at it this way?) is that perhaps his only chance of winning his lawsuit against MLB is to show that his union failed to represent him competently.

Recommended: The Steroid Hunt by Bryan Curtis

Writing in Grantland, Curtis presents a long but very readable survey of the press coverage of baseball’s steroid era, starting in 1988 (with Jose Canseco, of course, defended by Tony La Russa), through accusations against Mark McGwire in 2002, defended by Tony La Russa), and up to McGwire’s confession in 2010.

You can read it here.

There is something of a who knew and when did they know it aspect to this whole thing. After writing about Murray Chass the other day I spent some time looking into when Chass started writing about steroids in the Times. On March 31, 2002 Chass wrote:

“Finally, some people in baseball suggest an unspoken factor has fueled the home run generation — the use of steroids and other supplements, such as the androstenedione that McGwire used during his record-setting year. No one has accused any particular player, and one person who felt certain of the contribution of steroids acknowledged that he had no proof.

But this person said, ”You don’t get bigger overnight pumping iron.”

But Chass also wrote quite a bit about androstenedione, which McGwire was taking during his record-setting home run battle with Sammy Sosa in 1998. After that revelation by a reporter who saw the legal supplement (that was already banned then by the NFL and the Olympics) in McGwire’s locker, baseball launched an investigation into the steroids precursor.

Sabermetrics and the Twins

Aaron Gleeman liked this story today on Facebook, and it’s a delightful romp showing how baseball’s statistical revolution is earworming Terry Ryan and Ron Gardenhire.

The thing I didn’t know and wonder about is the assertion that Michael Lewis’s first choice for a Moneyball team was the Twins. That seems, um, sick, in the, um, sick way. Whatever.

The reason to read this story is because some of the players talk about their process in a less than canned way, which is bracing. Okay, a little bracing.

The Final Weekend

The penultimate software update came out last Thursday, and there haven’t been any major suprises since then, but I’m going to post notes on some of the little things that might change your draft.

Khris Davis: Has made the Brewers after a big power-hitting spring. He’s not a huge prospect, but he is coming off a very productive minor league year and a robust spring training. I think he’s moved up into the top of the $1 or $2 outfielders in NL only leagues.

Steven Pearce: He’s also had a huge spring, but unlike Davis who is 25, Pearce is 30. Not that he can’t be productive for a spell, but his issues are with major league pitchers (not the mix he saw in ST). He may be a worthwhile pickup if you have a hole, but don’t count on him to get playing time or hit regularly.

Johan Santana: Is having shoulder surgery and may never pitch again. And certainly not this year.

Colin Cowgill: Has been given the leadoff spot and job in center field for the Mets. I’m very dubious that he’ll be able to hold it, too many strikeouts, not enough power, but he doesn’t have any shut down opposition.

Pablo Sandoval: Is hurting still. These spring training issues often go away when the games count, but I’m not buying him. There’s simply too much downside smoke to ignore.

JD and Fernando Martinez: JD is recalled, Fernando goes on the DL. Neither has shown he’s a big league regular, but Fernando has the better pedigree. Both are still young and should not be ignored.

Steve Delabar: Manager John Gibbons has said he’ll get saves if Casey Janssen needs to be rested and he’s a better matchup than Sergio Santos. That will probably send his price up some, but his skills will make him a plus even if he doesn’t get a lot of saves.

Mike Carp: Made the Red Sox and could see time at DH with David Ortiz’s problems. Carp is a good hitter but a defensive liability.

Ryan Sweeney: Did not make the Red Sox.

Tyler Colvin: The Rockies for some reason demoted Colvin. It’s hard to see what the talented hitter with limited contact skills can learn in more Triple-A time, but there you go. He’ll be back and instead of costing $12 will be a waiver pickup, and much more dangerous.