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Fastball/Changeup

The Fastball: Punish Them to the Full Extent

By: Ryan

Earlier this week, ESPN received word that Major League Baseball is planning to issues bans to over 20 players connected to Tony Bosch‘s steroid drive-thru, Biogenesis. If reports are true, suspensions of varying degrees will be issued, with Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez being banned for the rest of the season and then some.

One hundred games to be exact.

100 game suspensions are usually reserved for “second offense” punishments and if any player receives a ban of this length as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, it will mark the first time that MLB has issued a steroid related suspension without the evidence of a positive test. Not only are these suspensions justified, but any and all suspensions issued by MLB as a result of this case indicate a new proactive approach to ridding the game of performance enhancing drugs – a step that is emphatically taken with 100 game suspensions.

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Bosch has been cooperative with the MLB Biogenesis investigation.

MLB always seemed to be 90 feet behind the steroid issue. Although home run numbers were growing just as fast as the muscles and foreheads of the players in the nineties, Baseball didn’t implement a random drug policy until 2004, where a positive test would result in a 10 game suspension. The policy was updated in 2005 to its current ramifications, but only after Congress pressured the sport to do so. Even then, the PED policy appeared to do little to curb the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in the game and seven suspensions were issued in 2012 alone.

The biggest black eye to the policy came in 2011 when MVP Ryan Braun found himself in his first PED scandal. At the end of that season, Braun was tested. His results showed an increased level of testosterone caused by performance enhancing drugs. But since his urine sample was not shipped via FedEx on the same day they were collected, Braun was able to escape without a suspension, dampening the legitimacy and strength of the MLB PED suspension policy.

A 100 game suspension issued to any player in the coming weeks would show exactly how serious MLB is taking the PED issue. This type of suspension would be the result of two factors, the linkage to the Biogenesis case and previous denials of usage to MLB officials. These two factors will more often than not go hand in hand, making 100 game suspension the norm and further disincentivizing the use and denial of PED’s.

With this approach, MLB is able to sidestep the players union, which has been hesitant to incorporate any increase in severity of the PED policy. This might present an interesting legal battle for the league if they do issue penalties, but it is a fight worth having. The suspension, with an emphasis on its length, establishes the League as a legitimate advocate against steroids and validates the MLB’s desire to use every piece of evidence possible to persecute offenders.

Unfortunately, giving Braun and A-Rod a 100 game suspension will not eradicate PED’s from the game, but it will show that MLB is taking cheating seriously, a stance that it hasn’t been willing to admit up to this point.

ryan-braun-big-eyes

Uh-oh.

The Changeup: No More Technicalities

By: Matt

Major League Baseball deciding to go forward and suspend these 20 players is good for the sport. It is high time the league took a stand. When it comes to A-Rod and Ryan Braun, any suspension will be a good suspension. The league is considering making an example of the two former-MVPs since both lied about their PED use in the past and are now implicated again. However, by seeking the maximum 100-game suspension (50 games for cheating and 50 games for lying about it), Major League Baseball is making a mistake. Lots of money buys good lawyers, and the players association will probably bring a lot of its clout to the fight as well. In the same way that Al Capone finally went to jail for tax evasion, so too should the League be happy to suspend Braun for just the 50 games. Braun got off on a technicality last time, and the League cannot afford to let that happen again. The length of suspension is not important. What is important is putting these players on record as having cheated. It will tarnish their image with the fans, vacate their records in the eyes of Cooperstown, and be a deterrent to future would-be cheaters that the MLB is finally taking this issue seriously.

Al Capone at a Baseball Game

Capone was a baseball lover, but still ended up doing hard time.

For this to actually work though, what is needed is a full-scale demonization of PED use in the game. It is time for everyone to stop looking the other way. The league needs to do everything in its power to show that it is taking cheating seriously.

This means that these 20 or so players identified in the Biogenesis documents need to all be suspended and on record as cheaters. There are calls everywhere to make the penalties longer, from 50 games to 100 games for first time offenders, for instance. This increase in length of suspensions would be hard to do because of the agreements that the players association has with the league. The length of the suspensions is not as important as the suspension itself. Penalties themselves do not dissuade players from trying to get a leg up. Players by their nature will do everything they can to try and get a little better. The important thing will be in convincing players not to cheat. This will only come if the media, owners, and organizations agree to stop looking the other way when it comes to known cheaters.

Melky Cabrera, one of the players implicated in the Biogenesis documents, was suspended last year in the midst of his best year in the big leagues. The Giants moved on and refused to put him on the postseason roster even though he was eligible. In his contract year, he didn’t receive the extension he was seeking, but did receive a lucrative 2 year, $12 million deal from the Blue Jays in the offseason. Bartolo Colon was suspended last year for PED use, but the A’s decided to resign him anyways and he currently sits as both the ace of their staff and an All-Star. There are around 18 other players listed on the Biogenesis documents. This means that around half the organizations in baseball have decided to look the other way at their players PED use.

This cannot continue.

There are hundreds of young players that are toiling away in the Minor Leagues and doing everything right trying to make it to the show. The League needs to stop rewarding cheaters and keeping them around as it sends the wrong message. Minor Leaguers and even some college and high school players feel that they have to use PEDs to make it as well. PED use becomes both a feedback loop and self-fulfilling prophecy when gone unpunished or brushed aside. The League can get this right. The first step is going through with these suspensions and getting these players on the books. The second step will be up to everyone to decide if we can finally move forward as a sport.

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Human Error is a Part of the Game

By: Ryan

No play in baseball has lead to more outcry for the incorporation of expanded replay use by umpires than the blown Jim Joyce call which cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game in the bottom of the ninth. While baseball has been inching towards expanding the use of replay, many will soon find that while replay will solve some deficiencies in the game, it will merely adjust how these deficiencies surface.

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The Runner was Called Safe.

It always seemed that a large reason that the game had resisted replay was because its fans believed in two axioms; 1. People make mistakes and 2. Umpires are people. Fans accepted that human error was part of the game and that the human element just another obstacle to overcome. This mentality stems from strike zone discrepancies with different umpires. The general rule is that anything over the plate from the letters to the knees is a strike, but anyone that’s played baseball/softball knows that each umpire sees this zone differently. No other sport relies so heavily on the umpire to define the terms of the majority of the game. And since the game is so dependent on the umpire for balls and strikes, inconsistent “mistake” calls are inevitable. And it always seemed that because of this, we were willing to accept that umpire call were imperfect, even on the base paths.

But it’s 2013, and people are less tolerant of mistakes at the professional level. The demand for expanded replay has grown when fans witness blown call after blown call on the base paths and with fair/foul balls. While the reasoning for expanded replay use has been well vocalized and developed, the ramifications of play review have not been equally evaluated, even though expanded replay will result in longer games, continual play discrepancies, and continual human error.

The most obvious unintended consequence is the lengthening of games. Baseball as a sport is already ragged on because the game “drags on.” Currently, the average baseball game lasts just under three hours. Once umpires are allowed to review plays and consult, the game will see its average game time increase, just like basketball and football, making the baseball experience an even longer affair for non-diehard fans.

While many look for replay to remove the discrepancy that results from human interpretation, this won’t necessarily be the case. When replay is used to determine that a foul ball down the line is actually fair, it will be up to the umpires to determine how many bases the player will be awarded, which can vary depending on the depth of the hit and park proportions. There is no clear cut determining factor, unlike the ground rule double, making awarding bases and runs entirely arbitrary and unrelated to the players skills. Umpires then become even more involved in the game, and can receive more backlash.

Additionally, umpires can still blow calls after looking at replay, an unfortunate event that already happened this year. Earlier in the season, the Athletics were visiting the Indians and were trailing 4-3 in the top of the ninth. Into the box steps Adam Rosales and he crushes a ball deep to left field. The ball looks like a homer but is ruled a double on the field. Due to this discrepancy, the umpires review the play. Fans at home watch the replay and A’s fans rejoice because the hit is clearly a homer. The umpires come back out and rule to the contrary and put Rosales at second. A’s then load the bases before grounding out to the pitcher and losing the game. The next day, the umpires and MLB admit that they botched the call, a call which cost the A’s the chance forcing extra innings. Thus, while replay can reduce the number of botched calls, this problem is not eliminated and leaves umpires with little to no excuse for mistakes.

HR?

While instant replay appears to solve some of the problems that are present in the game, baseball will never be able to entirely eliminate human error and discrepancies.

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The Case for Expanded Replay

By: Matt

Nothing in sports is an exact science, but considering the amount of time, money, and effort that goes into playing a baseball game, the league should be doing everything in its power to get a call right.  Commissioner Selig has been wary of adding replay to the game for all the reasons that Ryan outlined above, and they are certainly valid, but we have come to a point with technology where no calls should be getting blown and no one should feel cheated or ripped off.

Below are some examples from this year showing that this is indeed a real problem in the game right now. Umpires miss calls. Like Ryan said: it happens, they are human.

Called safe. His foot looks on the bag to me.

Safe?

Missed the bag or didn’t have possession of the ball. Take your pick.

Nice sales job by Segura, but it would have been easily overturned on review.

And my personal favorite:

Ruled Out at Third, Safe at First. Two blown calls on the same play.

In the Adam Rosales home run case from Ryan’s article, the umpires got it wrong. MLB admitted that the call was blown and the A’s ended up losing that game. But can we really fault the umpires for blowing the call when, according to NBC Sports, they were watching the footage on this?

Replay booth or arcade game?

Replay booth or arcade game? Photo: NBC Sports

There are many other examples of blown calls so far this year even though we aren’t half way through the season yet. So, the problem exists, what should we do about it?

First off, MLB needs to upgrade the screens and televisions that umpires are using to review plays. It looks like the ones they currently use double as a way to check the weather during rain delays. There is no excuse for having umpires review on what looks to be a Pac-Man arcade game that has more pixels than the center field scoreboard.

Next, the MLB must expand their use of replay. The argument that review would slow down the game makes sense, but doesn’t the game already get slowed down when a player argues with the umpire? And then the manager argues with the umpire? And then the manager gets tossed? And then the manager keeps arguing since he’s already tossed and can say what he really feels now? And then the players bark at the umpire from the dugout and get tossed? I think you get my point, but think about all the extra time that bad calls currently soak up in a regular baseball game.

This could all be avoided with the introduction of a “challenge flag” system like the one practiced in the NFL. Certain plays would be deemed reviewable, and a manager could get 1-2 challenges per game. This of course would not work on balls and strikes. Since that is still sacred ground with umpires, and this Kickstarter failed. Umpires would be able to review a call and save face on a blown call by reviewing it and getting it right, and managers and players would be happy since they would no longer feel cheated out of an at bat, hit or run.

Now that wasn’t so hard.

Baseball will never be perfect, but considering the expectations that we place on baseball players and management to do everything right all the time, that same expectation must be placed on its umpires. An expanded replay system will not only make sure that the umpires have the materials they need to get the call right as often as possible, but it will eliminate grudges and animosity between players, managers, and umpires. This will lead to fewer ejections and hurt feelings, and most importantly a better ball game.

The Fastball

By: Matt

Spring Training stats don’t matter. You hear the phrase uttered by broadcaster and bleacher bum alike. For rookies and grizzled veterans trying to make a big league roster for the first (or last) time, having a “good” spring is very important. Putting up good numbers during spring training is an important part of winning a job, but hitting .400 is just as meaningless as hitting .125 once April 1st comes around. Major Leaguers who aren’t trying to win a job use the spring as a “tune-up.” Starters will work on a specific pitch, relievers will try and get better at pitching in certain situations, and hitters will tinker with their swings. If these tinkerings work and a player puts up good numbers then great, but for the players themselves, they could care less about their final spring numbers, because  everyone goes back to 0 once the season starts.

Let’s take a couple case studies. Brandon Belt has been having an awesome spring for the Giants and he looks primed for a breakout. He is currently raking with a .410 batting average and 8 homers. So, he must be about to have a breakout season right? Well it turns out the Baby Giraffe has done this every spring. In 2012 he hit .378 and in 2011 he hit well enough to win the job, as shown in the Showtime series The Franchise. Maybe Belt will have a breakout year, but it’s more likely to come from not having to challenge Aubrey Huff for playing time and less because of confidence heading into the season.

How about we look at 2012’s Spring Training batting title champion? No, it’s not Albert Pujols or Joey Votto, no Mike Trout or Ryan Braun. Ladies and gentlemen I present to you…drum roll please: Munenori Kawasaki. The shortstop made the jump from the Japanese Nippon league to the MLB easily in Spring Training and put up a .455 batting average. However, once the season rolled around Kawasaki batted under the Mendoza line at .192 and only appeared in 61 games for the Mariners. A great spring training did not translate into good season numbers for Mune, likely because while it was easy enough to wrap singles against inferior competition, the regular season brought on the best pitching in the world. Major league pitching is a tough adjustment for any player, especially one coming from a different country. Though he never quite figured it out with the bat during the regular season, Kawsaki remains the single most gifable player in the bigs and the best bench warmer any team could ask for.

This is how everybody celebrates a walkoff, right?

Chris Sale and Stephen Strasburg both posted ERAs over 4 in Spring Training last year and went on to Cy Young-caliber seasons (or ¾ seasons). Pitchers often will work on a specific pitch or the timing of their delivery during spring training games, since bloated ERAs and losses don’t matter. Pitchers can also suffer from bad numbers thanks to the strict innings limit placed upon them. A starter may only pitch through a few innings for most of Spring Training so as to protect their arm and ward off injury.

In professional sports it is never a good thing to lose. A culture of winning is something to be fostered, and for baseball players, that culture starts in the spring. Winning Spring Training games can help a team to find their identity and some teams can carry that culture into the season, but this matters more towards the last few weeks of ST. For the first few weeks, players are getting back in the groove, meeting new teammates for the first time, and trying to work on certain things. A player can go 0 for 4 and still have a great day because they learned not to swing at a curveball on a certain count. Spring Training is just that, training. It’s a necessary part of the business, but has no real effect on the real thing. I, for one, am glad baseball is back for real. Happy Opening Day everybody!

Happy Baseball Season!

The Changeup

By: Ryan

It’s easy to say that spring training stats don’t matter. Players are returning to the game in various mental and physical states, and coaches are shifting lineups and splitting squads. With all this variance, it becomes hard to interpret stats and easy to disregard all spring training numbers. But there are certain “player-centric” stats that can be reliably used to highlight strong/troubled players, a fact that is especially valid at the beginning and end of a player’s career.

I use the term “player-centric” to describe stats that are influenced by the least number of players in the game. The fewer number of people that can influence that particular stat, the greater the individual player’s control is over that number. The difference between wins and quality starts displays the discrepancy between these two types of stats. Wins depend on the pitcher’s performance, the team offense, and the team defense. With more people involved, a pitcher can be robbed of a win with a poor team performance, ultimately masking a pitcher’s abilities. In comparison, quality starts rely solely on the pitcher’s ability to dominate hitters, and becomes a more accurate way to judge a season.

Some of the more reliable “player-centric” stats to quantify spring performances are K and BB percentages. Mike Podhorzer at Fangrpah.com did some regression analysis on these stats for pitchers and found that they are both correlated to regular season performance. This gives fans and scouts the ability to use these numbers to evaluate pitchers and pick better fantasy teams.

He goes even further to speculate that really strong performances should be valued higher than poor performances. His explanation being, “You cannot fluke your way into striking out a high percentage of hitters, but pitchers work on new pitches or their mechanics in the spring all the time and can easily explain a weak performance.”

While his regression model didn’t confirm this notion, another blogger found this speculation to be true. William Juliano at The Captain’s Blog looked at K/IP and K/BB ratios from the 2011 preseason and identified players with stats above a certain threshold as “potential breakout candidates.” A similar list was compiled of players that had spring stats below a threshold. They were labeled “potential breakdown candidates.”

Juliano found that the “breakout candidates'” stats translated better to the regular season. Based on the stats alone, his model correctly identified the breakout seasons of Craig Kimbrel, Ian Kennedy, and Justin Masterson.

BB and K ratios are also useful stats when it comes to hitting. The prime example being the Cuban minor leaguer, Yasiel Puig. The Dodger’s outfielder was relatively unknown prior to this year, since he missed most of 2012 with a staph infection. However, he recently left Glendale, Arizona with a .527 batting average in 55 at bats. With that number, he easily becomes one of the best outfielders in the game, but he lacks plate discipline. Puig struck out 15 times (27% of the time) and only walked four times, yet the Dodgers cited these numbers as a reason for sending him down at the end of March.

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Please come back Yasiel.

Still, in his 25 games, Puig made a name for himself and developed a reputation, indicating a greater importance on stats for the rookies. For rookies, these stats appear more significant. This is the first time that these players are able to face major league talent, and the baseball community winds up giving more weight to their numbers. This was the case with Julio Teheran, SP, Atlanta Braves, who in 6 games, posted a 1.04 ERA 3.89 K/BB ratio. At the beginning of spring, talk was he would wind up back in AAA, but a strong month proved to be enough, earning him the 5th starter role.

Players who are exiting their prime also see their stats heavily scrutinized. Roy Halladay is one player whose stats indicate a potential problem. He has seen his fastball velocity drop even lower than the already reduced high 80 fastball he had last season. It seems unlikely that his velocity will rebound during the season, which has fans worried throughout Philadelphia.

Players in their prime are usually immune from this scrutiny because their “player-centric” stats are traditionally in line with their career norms. But this isn’t always the case, as Tim Lincecum has recently been criticized for having velocity issues also. His fastball speed has been down and his pitch location isn’t as strong as it used to be, leading to speculation that his 2013 is going to look a lot like his 2012.

Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum

Can either of these guys bounce back?

The degree to which these “player-centric” stats are useful depend on the career arc of the player. The players whose stats receive the most scrutiny, justifiably so, are those player’s in their first couple of spring trainings and those exiting their prime. At the same time, they can confirm regressive tendencies with players in their prime.

As nice as it would be to disregard all preseason stats, certain spring training stats prove that they cant be ignored. It seems that spring isn’t just a time for celebrities to play baseball.

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But still, who doesn’t love Billy Crystal?

The Fastball

By: Ryan

No 9th inning pitcher was feared more last year than Aroldis Chapman. The dude is a beast; standing 6’4 and throwing heat that tops 100 mph, he easily overpowers hitters and eliminates late game heroics. This kind of dominance led to extensive speculation in the offseason about a possible switch to the front half of games. If your best pitcher is your closer, why not have him start?

chapman

While this seems like an easy switch to make for a pitcher, there aren’t that many pitchers who have successfully made the switch. Sure there are numerous guys who have done it, but only John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley remain the only two pitchers to record a 20 W season and a 50 Save season in their careers. The lack of other dominant names suggest the difficulties that pitchers face when transitioning, all of which should be considered when thinking about where Aroldis will pitch.

Obviously, the biggest difference between the two pitching roles is the number of innings. This impacts pitchers in two ways. First is the additional innings during the game, which is analogous to the difference between a sprinter and marathon runner. The marathon runner has to worry about their pace and making it to the end of the race, which is similar to the starter who needs to worry having enough juice to make it deep into the game. In comparison, the sprinter just needs to hurry up and finish. If Aroldis where to start games, his 100+ fastball would likely need be reduced to the mid 90’s so that he could log innings. A mid 90’s fastball is still great, but it lacks the dominance that helps Chapman as a closer. Without trying to overpower hitters on speed alone, Aroldis would have to develop great control over his pitches (which he isn’t known for).

The additional innings also brings Aroldis’ durability into question. His workload will increase from 75 innings a year to 180+. This is a huge increase, especially for someone who experienced left should fatigue after pitching 70 innings last year. The Reds could attempt to mediate this by implementing an innings cap similar to Strasburg after Tommy John, but that also presents problems that question the motive to move Chapman to SP.

An innings cap wouldn’t be the only thing Chapman would share with Stras, both are known for the infamous inverted W pitching motion. This is know to cause tremendous strain on the pitcher’s elbow and shoulder, sometimes resulting in Tommy John surgery as was the case with Strasburg. The inverted W could also explain Chapman’s fatigue at the end of last year, and exposes the risks that can come with a heavier workload.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Cincinnati Reds

See any similarities?

strasburg inverted w

Strasburg

If Chapman were to start, he’d also have to work through the lineup numerous times in a game. One of the key advantages pitchers use to do so is employ different pitches to deceive the hitter. Currently, Chapman has a fastball, a fastball, and a fastball. Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com saw Chapman start recently in spring training and noted, “He couldn’t get his off-speed stuff over the plate.” This is a major problem for any pitcher no matter how fast you throw. Without at least two more pitches at major league level, Chapman shouldn’t even be considered for the starting role.

It won’t help the Reds get to the playoffs by having Chapman struggle and become another mid rotation starter with an injury risk. Instead the Reds are making the right choice by leaving Chapman as the closer and the head a dominant bullpen.

How can we forget.

The Changeup

By: Matt

Aroldis Chapman wants to be a closer. The Reds are shooting for a World Series crown this year and Chapman was one of the best closers in baseball last year. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well…not exactly. Quite simply, if the Cincinnati Reds want to get the maximum value out of Aroldis Chapman. They need him to be a starting pitcher.

When the Reds originally signed Chapman to a six-year, $30.25 million contract in 2010, it was with the intention of making him into a starter. He was only thrust into the closer role last year because of injuries. And he took to it. He became one of the elite closers in baseball and his triple-digit fastball put fear into the hearts of many hitters. The back end of the Cincinnati bullpen was quite formidable, especially after a midseason trade for Jonathan Broxton. And the Reds roared into the playoffs with one of the best records in baseball before they ran into trouble. The ace of the staff Cueto went down with an injury, and the rest of the Cincinnati starters were not able to match up, leaving games out of reach and Chapman sitting in the bullpen watching. He logged only 3 innings of work, and gave up 1 run. Not quite the domination that fans were used to during the regular season. Mostly, since he didn’t get the chance to showcase his stuff in limited innings due to his role.

The role of the closer is sexy. They have been immortalized by Hoffman, Rivera, Wild Thing, and Beard, but their value is way overstated.

wild thing

Dominating Closers. Small WARs.

Dominating Closers. Small WARs.

Short Term Value

While WAR has its downsides as a statistic, it is a decent metric for assessing value and will work for this case. Chapman posted a 3.6 WAR last year as the Cincinnati closer which ranked him among the top relievers, however, the difference between WAR for an average and an elite closer is about 1.0. For comparison, Chapman’s possible replacement Jonathan Broxton had a 1.1 WAR in 35 innings with Kansas City before his trade, so if you were to project his numbers across the 70+ innings that Chapman pitched in the regular season you would put him at about 2.2, close to the league average. So, we can project Chapman as about a +1 win player by keeping him in the closer role. An elite closer definitely helps their team, but as you can see, their value is limited.

Now let’s compare with starting pitchers. The league average starter that pitches a full season posts a WAR of around 2.3. The Reds fifth starter, Mike Leake would be the most likely to lose his job were Chapman to move to the rotation. Last year, he made 30 starts, threw 179 innings. Posted a 4.58 ERA and a 4.47 FIP, meaning these numbers were pretty close to accurate. All of this amounted to a WAR of 0.6. Even if Chapman were to not reach ace status and post only his baseline ZiPS projection, he would post a 3.63 ERA across 144 innings with a WAR of around 3.0. This would be far better than Leake, and create more net value and wins for the Reds in the short term than keeping him in the bullpen.

Long Term Value

As for the long term, the value would be way better. The track record for changing relievers into starters is there. Daniel Bard, Neftali Feliz, Lance Lynn, Jeff Samardzija, and Chris Sale have all had success recently. The most obvious comparison for our purposes is with Sale. The hard-throwing lefty made the transition from bullpen to starter last year to great results. The Sox were careful about spacing out his starts and giving him enough rest and he posted a 3.05 ERA in 192 innings with 192 Ks and 5.7 Wins Above Replacement. Sale made the jump to ace status immediately, and since both are hard-throwing left handers with movement, it seems possible that Chapman could do the same. The stuff is obviously there, as Chapman can pop 100 with ease. His slider is nasty, and reports show that his changeup, though still developing was starting to come along in Spring Training. If he were to start, comparisons to Randy Johnson or Dontrelle Willis’s early years are easy to make. If Chapman came even close to these levels, the Reds would be foolish to keep him trapped in the bullpen.

Reds fans might have trouble convincing Snoop to change color loyalties. Hes a fan of the Green.

Starters like Chris Sale get all the love.

The Reds have a team that is built around a strong core of young players. Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, and Brandon Phillips are all under contract for multiple years, and all except for Phillips are under 30. The team does not have to mortgage their future to win right now, and by moving Chapman to a starting role, they would create more value in the short and long term.

The Fastball

By: Matt

Congratulations to the World Champion Dominican Republic, the best team in baseball! Ok, so no one actually believes that the WBC winner is the best team, but that doesn’t mean that the Classic isn’t good for baseball.

World Banana Champions

World Banana Champions

Putting baseball on a national stage is first and foremost the best part of the Classic. This year’s tournament received record ratings in Japan and Puerto Rico and did a lot to showcase the international stars of the game. 

More important than ratings, though, is the passion the game creates. Baseball was eliminated as an Olympic sport in 2008, and since that time the Classic has stepped in to fill the void. The “World Series” is a bit of a misnomer, as American baseball only has one Canadian team. However, the best players from around the world want to play in the MLB because they get to face the best competition and get paid the most money. While many of the players on the non US teams looked familiar, that they were playing for national pride heightened the meaning for many. The best part about this event is the passion it inspired in both the fans and players. American baseball is not the only style played, and the Latin fans and players showed a passion for every at bat that I haven’t witnessed in American baseball except in the playoffs.

I understand that the WBC doesn’t have the best players, as some are afraid of injury or afraid that it will affect their normal routines in preparing for the season. This is the normal argument, but it just isn’t true. Jayson Stark writes that players playing who played in the WBC were 1/2 as likely to suffer an injury as those that did not. With this knowledge, the best players have no excuse not to represent their country. If the US filled out a roster with Verlander, Kershaw, Trout and Posey you mean to tell me you wouldn’t be waving the flag and cheering with everything you’ve got? That’s a tournament I’d like to see.

The Changeup

By: Ryan

Baseball is a great game that has a huge international presence. While it isn’t anywhere near soccer in terms of world popularity, the sheer number of foreign born athletes in the MLB shows the ability for the sport to grow and develop players outside the United States. At the start of the 2012 season, 28.4% of players on Opening Day rosters were born outside the US. And with players like Roberto Clemente, Fernando Valenzuela, and Ichiro decorating the game’s past, there is an incentive for Bud Selig to seek development of international talent, both for the betterment of the game and his pocketbook. With an excellent model in the World Cup, which even manages to get the US excited about soccer, and removal from the Olympic games, baseball can pull on the national pride of its fans to create a similar tournament. Yet the current setup is a disaster. The World Baseball Classic is a great idea that is horrendously executed.

The biggest and most obvious flaw within the WBC is its timing. Taking place only weeks after pitchers and catchers report, the WBC forces players to enter a playoff mentality without even getting accustomed to a regular season game. With rusty players, there is going to be a large discrepancy in player output. The March start time for the WBC also puts MLB teams in an awkward position. Teams want to respect their players’ wishes to play for their home country, but at the same time they don’t want to lose their stars to injury not even 30 days before the start of the season.

Unfortunately, this happened this year as the Mets lost their one remaining notable player, David Wright, to an injured rib cage. He is currently questionable for Opening Day. The Dodgers refused to let their ace, Clayton Kershaw, partake in the WBC this past year in an overprotective measure to prevent any residual inures from flaring up. With teams getting more protective of their players, a trend likely to increase in the future, less stars enter the tournament, leaving the WBC as an exhibition for teams to develop their AAA talent at something more competitive than Spring Training.

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David Wright

If there’s fewer stars, there’s fewer fans, which could explain the struggling attendance. Recently, there was a China-Brazil game in Japan which brought in 3,100 people (at least that’s what was announced). A similar attendance was present at the China-Cuba game a day earlier. While some might try to disregard these events since Japan wasn’t playing in either of the games, the low turnout does speak against the execution of the WBC and lack of internationally relevent star power.

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Can you find 3,000 people in this photo?

Another flaw within the WBC is its ability to go dormant for years at a time. Unlike the World Cup, where teams begin qualifying and playing together years before the tournament, national teams dissipate until the next WBC starts. Even if they are playing together, they lack the star presence that fills out the rosters once every four years. This leaves teams no time to develop chemistry, minimizing the chances of a cinderella story and essentially designating the winner as the team has the most raw talent. In other words, you don’t get a Giants 2013 story in the WBC.

The WBC does little to encourage other countries from trying to qualify for the tournament. Every team who won one measly game in the 2009 WBC was guaranteed a berth in the 2013 tournament. The teams who didn’t win were forced to duke it out in a qualifying round with other interested countries. Thus, between the rest of the world, two spots were up for grabs out of 16. This does little to stimulate competition and international excitement, unless you live in one of the “pre-selected” countries.

One final interesting tid-bit shows how out of touch the WBC is with the rest of the world. The Netherlands team is comprised predominantly of players from Curacao. Curacao is an autonomous territory that is part of the Netherlands, somewhat similar to Puerto Rico’s relationship with the United States. However, Puerto Rico has its own team in the WBC, whereas Curacao is listed as the Netherlands. At least Curacao has its own World Cup team.

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Curacao National Soccer Team

A lot needs to change in the WBC for it to accomplish what it was designed to do. Until then, we’ll wait for Opening Day.

The Fastball

By: Ryan

Even though the Oakland Athletics won the AL West last season, team owner, Lou Wolff, has not let the champagne bottles distort his goal of moving the team out of Oakland and into the South Bay. While there has only been one team that has changed cities in nearly 40 years, the move makes sense for both the Oakland Athletics and the City of San Jose.

The Oakland A’s have been struggling with a fan base that just doesn’t seem to want to turn out to games. Since the Barry Zito days (2005), the team has had yearly attendance in the bottom five of all MLB teams every year and was dead last in two of those seasons. Last year, even though the team came from behind to clinch the ALDS on the last day of the season, they still had the fourth worst attendance on the year, averaging only 20,000 fans per game. If we instead look at attendance percentage, the 2012 number looks pretty impressive at 60%. While this rating seems fairly high, the stadium is listed at only holding 35,000 people, with tarps blocking off an extra 20,000 seats that are usually full for Raiders games. Even though the relocation news is motivating the community to make awesome t-shirts and create buyer groups willing to commit to a downtown stadium, it doesn’t seem to have any effect on fan turn out. Unfortunately, the A’s simply can’t afford to stay in Oakland if turnout remains this low.

The timing makes sense as well, since the team is in need of a new stadium. Oakland Coliseum is considered one of the worst stadiums in the MLB, alongside Tropicana Field. Even Bud agrees with this statement. This concrete behemoth is the last multi-purpose stadium left in the United States, and the Mt. Davis facelift it received in 1996, turned the Coliseum into a football stadium that baseball teams play in. Instead of making a new Coliseum in Oakland, which would commit them to the area and obligate them to the taxpayers (if it were publicly funded), it makes more sense for the A’s to move now, so they can begin to develop and invest in their new community.

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Mt. Davis is above the Center Field wall.

Economically, it makes the most sense for the A’s to move to San Jose. There is no doubt that the team would do wonders for the San Jose economy, reports indicate a $2.9 billion impact over 30 years. This type of money would make any city excited over the possibility of a MLB team moving within their lines. Additionally, the economic benefit to the A’s, although not as large, will surely do wonders for the competitiveness of the team. A move to San Jose would eliminate the team’s eligibility for revenue sharing dollars, which in recent seasons has been around $30 million. Yet, many expect the team to make millions more from ticket sales, concessions, and luxury seats, leaving the A’s in a far better position. This increased revenue will roll over into increased wins, finally giving the A’s the money to lock down their talent instead of shipping them to the Yankees.

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Nick Swisher: Former Athletic

Thus it becomes clear that a move to San Jose would expand on the recent resurgence found in the A’s organization last season and should be the favorite option for the team in the future. If it doesn’t work out, they can always change their name to the San Jose Athletics of Oakland.

The Changeup

By: Matt

My colleague makes some good points about the low turnout of fans in recent seasons. Without fans a team cannot pay its players enough to be competitive. Additionally, without many fans, it is hard to attract players to your team.

That being said, in the years since 2005, the A’s have had only three winning seasons: 2005, 2006 and 2012. It takes a special kind of person to support a team when they have a culture of losing so Oaklanders can be forgiven if they are not buying tickets every night to watch a below .500 team. But in the 2012 season, the A’s played well and made the playoffs on a remarkable run, and what happened? The fans showed up and the A’s had their highest yearly attendance in 5 years. It’s no coincidence that in ’05, ’06, and ’12, the A’s averaged 1.92 million people per year, while in their losing seasons they averaged 1.57 million. If you play well, they will come.

The 2012 Oakland Athletics

The 2012 Oakland Athletics

The way that this debate has drawn out for so many years shows a few things. One, the Giants territorial claim has merit and the commissioner is serious about upholding those rights. And two, though San Jose may be a good place to put a team financially, members of the Oakland community are serious about keeping the A’s.

The idea of “territory” might seem silly to some, but the San Jose Giants have been around since 1988 and have built up a following. They have won 6 class-A league titles in that span and helped to develop more than one hundred big league players. The Giants are serious about keeping San Jose as part of their territory in the same way that the Red Sox would be adamant about blocking an expansion team in Connecticut.

It will be interesting to see if the fans show up for the 2013 season. Coming off a good year that did a lot to build up Oakland pride as well as returning fan favorites like Coco Crisp and Grant Balfour should help boost attendance. But there is only so much of an argument you can make for staying if fans don’t show. It will also be up to business leaders in the Oakland community to come together to put a plan for a new stadium or a renovation of the Coliseum and the surrounding area that shows investment in the community and seriousness about keeping the team around. There is opportunity for all in a new stadium in Oakland, but if Wolff has already made up his mind about leaving he may not see it.

So, what do you think? Should the A’s stay put or move to greener (and golder) pastures? Vote and leave your comments below.

2012 wasn’t kind to many players last season. But fortunately for them, 2013 is upon us and with it comes the opportunity to turn around their slump and help their team compete throughout the season. While ESPN recently posted an article listing the players they thought were most crucial to helping their team, we here at FB/CU thought the list focused too much on the big name stars who will likely produce as they always do. Instead, we decided to dive a little deeper and locate the bubble players whose performances should dictate the trajectory of their team’s season.

National League:

By: Ryan

East: Brian McCann (C) Atlanta Braves

The Braves have a couple candidates that could be listed here since both Uggla and Upton also had subpar seasons last year. While the Braves lineup will be able to tolerate another slumping season from one of them, two slumping Braves could prove costly. Upton will likely improve (since both Uptons will think they’re playing in the schoolyard), and if we assume Uggla slumps again (which has been the case up to this point in spring training), McCann will be the question mark. His 2012 BA and OBP were 50 points under his career stats, leaving him with a WAR of 0.6 for 2012. While most of this was due to nagging injuries throughout the season, McCann is likely to start out on the DL in 2013 because he is recovering from offseason surgery on his shoulder. If he returns to form after the DL stint, expect a high .200BA, 20+ homers, and a 3.0 WAR. These numbers would help balance the bottom of the Braves order, and prove a huge improvement over their backup catcher who averages a WAR of 0 over the last three seasons.

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Can one of these guys bounce back?

Central: Francisco Liriano (SP) Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates attempted to add some guys in the offseason that could help shoulder the brunt of a 162 game season, something they couldn’t do in 2012 (the team limped to October after being playoff contenders early, with a record of 20-39 in the last two months of the season). Liriano is the acquisition with the most uncertainty, since he has only had two great seasons in his career. He had a WAR above 4 in both of those seasons (2006, 2010) and a WAR under 1 in every other season (2007-2009, and 2011-2012). With that being said, this is his first season in the National League and Liriano should be able to take advantage of having one less bat in the lineup. Additionally, many batters will be facing Liriano for the first time, giving him an advantage that should keep ERA and WHIP numbers low. If Liriano finds a way to keep his walk count down, as he did in 2006 and 2010, he will prove to be a formidable back of the rotation starter, giving the Pirates something that the Cardinals don’t seem to have.

West: Brandon McCarthy (SP) Arizona Diamondbacks

McCarthy’s season was cut short last year when he was hit in the head by a pitch, requiring a 2 hour surgery to relieve cranial pressure. While his stats last season were impressive, there is no doubt that this incident had a psychological impact that could send his 2013 season off course. If this doesn’t happen, expect his transition to the NL to produce a drop in his ERA, which averaged 3.28 over the last two seasons, and an increase in his SO numbers. He’s a great ground ball pitcher who keeps his walks down, and his experience will complement the talented youth that comprises the rest of the rotation. A strong year from McCarthy gives the Diamondbacks an extremely talented pitching staff that could compete for the postseason, and more importantly, displays the strength and determination of McCarthy.

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Follow this guy on twitter. Now.

American League:

By: Matt

East: Melky Cabrera (OF) Blue Jays

The Jays acquired many new stars in their blockbuster with the Marlins, which we talked about here and also added a Cy Young Award winner to boot, but their success might depend on all of these star personalities gelling together. One potential impediment to that goal might be Melky Cabrera. Melky put up career numbers last year with the help of some herbal supplements but what was telling is that even after his suspension was up, the Giants management (to their credit) did not offer him a spot on their postseason roster. If Melky just does his job and stays out of trouble, then the Jays and all their talent should have a spot in October.

It’s hormone-free milk, I swear.

Central: Nick Swisher (OF) Indians

I like what’s going on in Cleveland. The management seems serious about spending money to win. They brought in a proven manager in Terry Francona and the lineup on paper looks like it could so some damage. However, they don’t have any starters that would be more than a 3 or 4 guy on most teams, so the lineup is going to have to produce. That production will have to start with the team’s biggest acquisition of this offseason Nick Swisher. Swisher has hit 20+ homers in every one of his full seasons in the big leagues and helps his team by drawing a lot of walks and getting on base. In New York it was easy for Swisher to draw a walk and let the superstar hitting behind him take care of business, but in Cleveland, Swisher might not have the same kind of protection, so it will be on him to hit in the clutch and be the guy there, whether or not he steps into that role and carries his team offensively might determine whether or not Cleveland is able to contend in a weak division.

West: Yu Darvish (SP) Rangers

In the wild west, the Angels on paper look primed to run away with things, but even though Texas missed the playoffs last year, counting them out would be folly. Texas this year is good, but not great. And what is separating them from that greatness is an ace starter. In his first year in the Majors, Darvish put up a 16-9 record with a ERA of 3.90 in 191 innings. He struck out 221 but walked 89. He has the stuff, but wasn’t able to put everything together last year. Darvish with a year of major league experience under his belt has the potential to be crazy good. If he can get his walk numbers down he won’t dig himself into holes like he often did last year and the Texas lineup will give him enough of a cushion to win a lot of games. If Darvish makes the ascension into ace status this year, Texas could easily find themselves playing October baseball yet again.

At least the Rangers won’t have to deal with this anymore. He’s with the Angels now.