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Monthly Archives: April 2014

Last year, we looked at the arguments for and against the implementation of instant replay in baseball. This year, Major League Baseball decided to make replay a part of the game, but as with any change, there have been some hiccups. These hiccups have led to some resistance and blowback, leading to contention about the system itself. Each failure of instant replay in its infant stage represents a chance for the entire system to come crashing down. Baseball should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

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While many initially fought replay on the grounds that the new system was too complex or arbitrary, the list of rules agreed upon by MLB owners is very straightforward. A list of reviewable plays as reported by Jayson Stark at ESPN reports, can be seen below:

In addition to home runs, expanded replay was unanimously approved by MLB owners for the following plays:

• Ground-rule double
• Fan interference
• Stadium boundary calls
• Force play*
• Tag play
• Fair/foul in outfield only
• Trap play in outfield only
• Batter hit by pitch
• Timing play
• Touching a base (requires appeal)
• Passing runners
• Record keeping

*Except fielder’s touching of second on double play

These plays provide little room for interpretation and instead place a burden of education on the managers and team staff, as is the case with all other baseball rules. It is the team’s responsibility, as well as the announcers commentating on the game, to understand the possibilities of replay in order to effectively do their job.

Any critique of the new system on the basis of challengeable plays, such as those regarding the “neighborhood rule”, which is the caveat to the force play listed above, are fair in order to examine possible improvements. Yet these arguments should be analyzed through the lens of player safety, which is another focus that MLB is attacking through new policies regarding catcher collisions, pitcher’s padded hats, and now middle infielders.

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Mark Ellis Needed Surgery to Save His Leg After a Double Play Slide Injury Last Season

Another large critique is that replay is still getting calls wrong. However, it should be understood that replay is not a method that eliminates mistakes; as football fans will attest. Instead, the goal of replay is to reduce the number of incorrect calls. And this is done through the requirement that a replay needs “indisputable video evidence” in order to overturn, which gives preference to the initial call, sometimes at the cost of the right call. Yet this type of system, as opposed to one that assumes skepticism toward the play, limits the umpire’s ability to change a right call to a wrong call and will ultimately reduce the number of blown calls.

By no means is the system perfect, but it should be looked at with respect to what other negative effects replay could have imposed on the game. The current system does a good job of allowing for the possibility of taking a second look at close plays while limiting the possible nuances that could accompany play review. Currently replay rarely prolongs the game any more than a standard pitching change (average replay was just 1:39 in the first 13 games). It limits the possibility of over-challenging by invoking a negative penalty for poor challenges. And it gives GM’s another tool that they can use to evaluate their coaching personnel with; is the manager challenging at the right time, or is the manager too quick to go to replay.

While replay has its flaws, the current system accomplishes its goal of reducing blown calls while working within current MLB policy focuses. Any critiques of the replay system should also be viewed and discussed with the acknowledgement of how they will influence the larger game of baseball. New technologies represent new ways to help improve the game, provided any changes are evaluated and implemented with an eye to existing rules. There is no reason for baseball to stick its head in the ground and reject all change. Its time to move forward and look towards ways to continue improving the game.

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Tampa Bay

Might as well start off with a bang. Tampa Bay is my choice for division winner and for eventual World Series champion. “Pitching and defense” has become a bit of a trope at this point, but nobody does it better than the Rays and skipper Joe Madden is the best at using defensive switches and metrics to set his defense. Notable losses from the 2013 squad include Alex Torres, Fernando Rodney, Luke Scott, Kelly Johnson, and Jose Lobaton. Notable additions are David DeJesus, Grant Balfour, and Heath Bell.

Jake Odorizzi, the lesser known piece of the Wil Myers for James Shields trade, won the 5th starter spot in Spring Training. Look for him to shore up the backend of the best rotation in baseball while Alex Cobb breaks out into a true superstar in 2014. And that is without even mentioning David Price, who I expect to stay in Tampa Bay at least until the end of the season and is also my choice for AL Cy Young. Wil Myers is ready to take the next step after a solid freshman campaign and its time for Desmond Jennings to finally put it all together. Many of these players are young and relatively unproven, but if this team plays up to its potential, look out.

Baltimore

Baltimore was the hardest team for me to figure out going into this year. They lost Brian Roberts and Nate McLouth to Free Agency along with trading away their 40 save closer Jim Johnson to the A’s for once-prospect Jemile Weeks. They then stood pat for most of the offseason before making a flurry of moves late in Spring Training. Johan Santana looks like his days in the bigs are over, but Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez could have real impacts, unfortunately both are flawed players. Cruz will be a negative defensively, unless they utilize him as a full-time DH, left field could be an adventure. Jimenez has had stretches where he has been unhittable in his career, usually coming right before a contract. We’ll see if his new digs translate to his old successful ways, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Suk-min Yoon could be the steal of the season despite flying under the radar as Hyun-jin Ryu did in the 2012-2013 offseason.

This team has real stars in Chris Davis and Manny Machado. It has solid position players in J.J. Hardy and Matt Wieters. But the rotation just won’t be able to keep up in the talented AL East. All-Star Chris Tillman’s 19-win season glosses over some problems with his underlying numbers, but he’s still the closest the team has to a number 1 starter. Marwin Gonzalez, Bud Norris and Wei-Yin Chen should not be in the rotation of a team that is looking to win now. And that is what the Orioles need to do. Their team is not built for the future, its built for now, but it is still missing a few key pieces if they look to surprise the baseball world again with another playoff berth.

Boston

The first thing you might notice is that I did not pick the reigning World Series champions to repeat, or even reach the playoffs. Everything went right for the Boston Red Sox last year and they overcame a lot of underlying issues with their pitching and team as a whole and went on an incredible run in the postseason. However, this is not the same team from 2013, and there are real problems heading into the season. Notable losses from the offseason include Jacoby Ellsbury, Stephen Drew, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia along with Ryan Dempster who decided to take a year off. Those losses have been replaced with some real question marks in the oft-injured Grady Sizemore, the untested Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., and the consistently mediocre A.J. Pierzynski. Look for Will Middlebrooks to settle into his role as starting third baseman after an up and down freshman campaign and have a moderate breakout. Unfortunately, this team has lost too many key players and is asking too much of its young players as they look to follow up on their 2013 world championship.

New York

This Yankee team looks remarkably different from the one that took the field in 2013, with a new starting position player at every position on the diamond in 2014. The loss of Robinson Cano obviously loomed over everything that occurred in the offseason, but the Yankees tried valiantly and expensively to mitigate his loss of production with the additions of veterans Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Carlos Beltran along with Masahiro Tanaka the $155 million man. All of these players will contribute in 2014 and help the Yankees to field one of the most experienced and productive teams on the field in 2014, but there are real question marks in the rotation. CC Sabathia has declined for two years in a row now and the zip is off his fastball taking him down from an ace to a hittable middle of the rotation starter. Tanaka will be good, but fans should temper their expectations. The first year in America can be a rough one for players making the jump from Japan, and there is already a lot of wear on his arm from 7 years in the big leagues in Japan – don’t expect Darvish-like production. New York’s best pitcher last year was the ageless Hiroki Kuroda who had one of the best years of his career at 38. The question is how much longer the Yankees can expect him to hold up. At age 39, there may not be much left in the tank, and he will be asked to carry the load all season. Ivan Nova and Michael Pineda represent real upside at the back end of the rotation, and the way they pitch could dictate if the Yankees finish near the top or bottom of the AL East standings.

Toronto

Everything went wrong for the Blue Jays last year, with a majority of the players on the Jays’ roster succumbing to some form of injury or another. That being said, the 2014 Toronto team still has some work to do to contend in the deep AL East. Notable departures include Josh Johnson, Rajai Davis and J.P. Arencibia. Though Johnson never put it together in a Jays uniform, he represented the best chance this staff had for an anchor, and without him or a bounce back from R.A. Dickey, this staff will repeat as one of the worst in the majors. With the loss of Arencibia, the Jays looked to upgrade at the catcher position and did so with the addition of Diner Navarro. Navarro has yet to prove himself as a full-time backstop, but a 2013 slash line of .300/.365/.492 definitely turned some heads. The bat is there, but the defense remains a question, and Toronto is one of the hardest staffs to catch in the big leagues with knuckleballer R.A. Dickey and junk-thrower Mark Buehrle. The lineup is one of the best in the bigs, and look for Colby Rasmus to finally break out this year, but the pitching remains a problem even with newcomer Drew Hutchinson making his way into the rotation full time.

It’s been an exciting offseason with star studded trades, record extensions and off-field drama, but the season has started and it’s time to get back down to business. We are already more than a week into the 2014 season and  I’m many days late and many dollars short at this point, I know. But I needed to get something posted to put my predictions out there. Playoff teams are in bold.

AL East

Tampa Bay
Baltimore
Boston
New York
Toronto

AL Central

Detroit
Cleveland

Kansas City
Chicago
Minnesota

AL West

Oakland
Los Angeles
Texas
Seattle
Houston

NL East

Washington
Atlanta
New York
Philadelphia
Miami

NL Central

St. Louis
Pittsburgh
Cincinnati
Milwaukee
Chicago

NL West

Los Angeles
San Francisco
Colorado
Arizona
San Diego

World Series: Tampa Bay over St. Louis

AL MVP: Mike Trout
NL MVP: Bryce Harper

AL Cy Young: David Price
NL Cy Young: Adam Wainwright

AL ROY: Jose Abreu
NL ROY: Billy Hamilton

Over the course of the week I’ll do a write up looking at each division and pick where I think the teams will finish, call out a few notable additions or subtractions from each team’s roster and pick a surprise breakout or slump performance.

AL East
AL Central
AL West

NL East
NL Central
NL West