I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving, full of turkey, stuffing, and lively baseball arguments largely drawn along generational lines. While that may be a generalization, and while analytics have begun to permeate most of the vox populi, there are still holdouts at that Thanksgiving table.
Thankfully you’re a BtBS reader, and you were armed with everything you needed to parry every rebuttal. The thing is, you know that the goal isn’t proselytizing, it’s merely giving that relative another porthole to view the sport through. If they don’t want that, that’s OK, but maybe next year, they’re telling you that they wish there were error bars on Steamer projections. A younger relative can dream. OK, so here we go.
Baseball Fan Relative: What’s the deal with that Opener? I watched the AL Wild Card game and they didn’t even have a starter! I think that if you’re not good enough to have a starting pitcher you can start in an elimination game, then you probably shouldn’t be in the postseason. Back in my day, a good team always had an ace.
You, wise: In your day, those pitchers would still be used in the same strategies if they played today, it’s just that the level of talent has exponentially increased. The reason why we use Openers is because many pitchers have a large penalty for each time through the order they face, which makes intuitive sense: as the pitcher becomes more tired and the batter sees more pitches, they get better.
That effect still existed back then, too, and it should be all-the-more-alarming that teams are still scoring as many runs as they did in the past; that’s even with a tailor-made reliever in every situation. It doesn’t mean we don’t have aces, either; there will always be a Justin Verlander or Chris Sale, but so-so pitchers need to used as puzzle pieces if you don’t want the other team to score seven runs a game.
BFR: Well, I don’t like the use of relievers at all anyway. I think there are way too many pitching changes and it makes the game slow, not to mention weakening the starter vs. starter narrative I actually liked to follow in the past.
You, wise: I can actually understand that. Just because something is changing doesn’t necessarily mean it’s aesthetically pleasing, and I’m sure following ace vs. ace match-ups back in the day was a lot of fun. To some degree, unfortunately, only a corrective measure would really fix this. If you cap the number of pitching changes, offenses will inevitably score more runs as the depth of bullpens is hamstrung.
But if you want to maintain the number of relievers, you probably need more roster spots. That being said, there’s only so far this trend can go. You’ll always need an innings getter who can record at least four innings per game even in an Opener world, so there’s a natural limit just based on the fact it’s a nine-inning game.
BFR: Another thing I was pretty mad about this year. Miguel Andujar was almost certainly snubbed for the Rookie of the Year. I get the Shohei Ohtani hype and I understand he’s doing something only Babe Ruth did, but he didn’t play a full season at either position, so we’re talking about a DH who got injured as a pitcher. Andujar hit .297 with 27 home runs and 92 RBIs.
You, wise: Look, I’m not going to say that you shouldn’t like a player. And the Rookie of the Year isn’t necessarily supposed to answer a particular question of value, so if you found him to be an aesthetically better-to-watch player, then so be it. But in terms of value provided, I think this underrates two important factors: one, how important even a few innings of pitching at a high level is, and two, how important Andujar’s defense is.
Even by guesstimate defensive metrics, which I know you don’t care about, it shows him as one of the worst defensive players in baseball. Even if he isn’t, you can tell by the eye test that there’s something off. He makes the sure plays and his arm is fine but he has no range, so a lot of balls are getting through. Heck, the Yankees didn’t even trust him defensively late in playoff games, which gives you a hint at their own scouting interpretation.
On Ohtani, his pitching was still incredibly valuable. He had 367 plate appearances of a .925 OPS and a 3.31 ERA over 51 2⁄3 innings. You put those together and it’s a compelling, near-full season of performance that is likely comparable (and higher) in value than Andujar’s decent hitting but very poor defense.
BFR: Well, I like him as a ballplayer. Plays hard, hits in the clutch, and runs hard. It would be a real shame if he was replaced by Manny Machado, who I don’t like at all. Not hustling in New York, or anywhere, is unacceptable, and I doubt teams like that.
You, wise: I think him trying to injure a player was more problematic than not hustling, which has been shown to be not-at-all important to value (you maybe miss a few singles a year) while nearly ensuring you don’t pull a hammy or something on the base paths. I probably take that trade for someone as good as him. I think he’ll still get paid well over $300 million, and it’s because he’s a generational talent in his youthful prime, which you want in a free agent. You hope that he grows out of some behavior, but like Robinson Cano showed, you can not hustle and be one of the best at a position ever.
BFR: They get paid too much anyway. I wish they got the salary cap in 1994 and this could have been avoided.
You, wise: This is the last I’ll say before turkey, but that wouldn’t have changed the overall greed factor at all, for the reason that we don’t get to see the owner’s contract. That money is being made anyway, and someone has to get it. And with players getting a shrinking share of salary as a percentage of revenue, the talent should be getting their fair share according to their win value. That being said, I can understand feeling a disconnect with them because they aren’t at all in their socio-economic class, and ideally they really shouldn’t be making that money.
But the hope is that a stronger and more dynamic union with better payouts and benefits will not only benefit players lower on the pay scale, who get paid relatively little and have to make it stretch for their whole lives, and the real hope is that unionization goes to the minors, so maybe more of that Machado and ownership money can also give a living wage to any player trying to reach their dream.