Thursday, May 19, 2016

How Far is Baseball from Your State Capital?

I was bored last night and started a little game on Twitter: which MLB teams were closest and farthest from a state capital? Enough people nerded out with me over this that I figured I'd turn it into a blog post. Below are the distances from each MLB team to the nearest state capital, measured as the crow flies from each team's home ballpark to the closest state capitol building using this tool.

Following the trend of state capitals tending not to be states' biggest cities, only four MLB teams are based in state capitals: the Boston Red Sox, the Atlanta Braves, the Colorado Rockies, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. (The Toronto Blue Jays are also based in a provincial capital, while the Washington Nationals are obviously based in the nation's capital.) Of these, the Braves are based the closest to the seat of power, which is less than a mile up Hank Aaron Dr. (which becomes Capitol Ave. in Atlanta). When the Braves move to Cobb County, the Nats will, appropriately, be closest to a capitol building—the U.S. Capitol. If you just want to count state capitals, Coors Field will be closest.

The farthest MLB team from any state capital is the Marlins: 406 miles from Tallahassee. If you are just wondering about the farthest team from its own state government, though, the Padres take the cake—Petco is 472 miles from Sacramento.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Every Presidential First Pitch Ever

When President Obama was interviewed by ESPN during the Cuba exhibition game, he admitted that the most stressful thing he has ever done as president was throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a baseball game. Maybe that explains why he's on pace to do it the fewest times ever by a two-term president.

It has now been over six years since a president threw out the first pitch—the longest drought ever. Given that Opening Day is by far the most common occasion for a presidential first pitch, we can now safely say—barring a surprise appearance at the All-Star Game or World Series this year—that Obama will have tossed out the first ball just twice in his eight years in office. That's the fewest times since Jimmy Carter's one, and it pales in comparison with, say, George H.W. Bush's seven—in just one term, and despite the fact that there was no team in Washington at the time! It's strong evidence for the open secret that Obama, though he enjoys his sports, simply isn't much of a baseball fan.

The presidential first pitch is, in many ways, the epitome of this blog: the ultimate and purest form of politics and baseball intersecting. While there are lots of partial sources online for researching presidential first pitches, none was completely accurate or comprehensive. Therefore, I set about to compile all the information I could find on the topic and independently cross-checked and confirmed all the reported first pitches. The result is this definitive list of times the president has kicked off a major-league baseball game, including their dates, locations, and circumstances.



The president throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day was an annual tradition for decades at Griffith Stadium, home of the Washington Senators before their relocation. It started in 1910 with William Howard Taft and continued almost every year thereafter, pausing most notably during World War I and World War II. Nevertheless, Franklin D. Roosevelt is the president who has thrown out the most first pitches, at 11.

After the Senators left DC for good, presidential first pitches obviously became rarer, as they had to coincide with presidential trips. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford made efforts to go to the All-Star Game and throw out the first ball. Ronald Reagan, the first President Bush, and Bill Clinton made the trip up I-95 to Baltimore a few times on Opening Day. George W. Bush accomplished the impressive feat of throwing out the first pitch in six different ballparks, including his famous strike at Yankee Stadium after 9/11.

The team that has seen the most presidential first pitches was obviously the original Washington Senators; the current Minnesota Twins franchise has witnessed it 44 times. The Yankees, the Senators' constant rival over the decades, are in second place, with 18. The Rays, Astros, Mets, Marlins, Padres, and Rockies have yet to be treated to one.

Republicans have been much friendlier to the national pastime, throwing 47 of the 83 first pitches. Democrats are stuck at only 36 in large part because the last three Democratic presidents, dating back 40 years, have only tossed the first ball six times. Despite Major League Baseball's return to Washington in 2005 in the form of the Washington Nationals, the old tradition of the president throwing out the first pitch every Opening Day has not been revived. If you ask me, it's long past time for us to resume the tradition.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Predicting the 2016 Season—National League

Compared to the American League, the National League is more of a throwback to the turn of the century (this century): if you're good, you're really good; if you're bad, you're really bad; and ne'er the twain shall meet. The lack of parity makes predicting the league standings relatively easy, but it wouldn't be baseball if there weren't a few surprises thrown in. So, as I do every year, below I predict each team's order of finish and final record, as well as a few "fearless predictions" for each team—at least half of which never come true. To the line!

NL East


1. New York Mets (94–68, 2nd playoff seed)
  • Yoenis Céspedes will become a Carlos Beltrán-esque disappointment to New Yorkers: impugned for his salary despite decent (110 OPS+) production. Thankfully (?), he will opt out after the season and enter a weak free-agent class.
  • Just as Zack Wheeler returns, Noah Syndergaard will feel the dreaded forearm tightness. He'll become baseball's latest loss to Tommy John surgery and give the Mets an unusual distinction: all five of their top rotation members (when healthy) will have undergone the procedure.

2. Washington Nationals (92–70, 1st Wild Card)
  • After a May incident where Dusty Baker forgets the handedness of one of his relievers, everyone will begin to wonder if the Nats' new manager is too old to handle the job.
  • The injury bug isn't done with Bryce Harper yet. Although he'll be every bit as excellent as he was in 2015 when he's on the field, balky body parts will cause him to miss a full third of the season.
  • Trea Turner will grab ahold of the shortstop job so surely that Stephen Drew won't even collect 100 plate appearances.
  • Lack of starting-pitching depth behind the mediocre Joe Ross and Tanner Roark will end up as the Nationals' undoing.

3. Miami Marlins (76–86)
  • Under the tutelage of hitting coach Barry Bonds, Marcell Ozuna will take his game to the next level, setting career highs in all three slash categories.
  • Ichiro Suzuki will rap his 3,000th hit during the Marlins' August trip to Cincinnati—in front of the only crowd in baseball that won't consider him the new all-time hit king.

4. Philadelphia Phillies (65–97)
  • As measured by PITCHf/x runs above average, Jerad Eickhoff will have one of the top five most effective sliders in the game.
  • Mark Appel will finally be able to relax away from the Astros organization, and he'll tear through the minors and secure a bullpen role in Philadelphia by September.
  • Befitting his name, Adam Morgan will pitch five games against the Nats in Washington, DC.

5. Atlanta Braves (60–102)
  • Not only will Ender Inciarte be more valuable than the man he was traded for, Shelby Miller, but he'll also be the best Brave, topping even Freddie Freeman in WAR.
  • Hector Olivera will show a knack for getting on base, but pre-season predictions that he'll be in the running for Rookie of the Year will be way off. He'll have trouble staying healthy and on the field.
  • Julio Teheran will continue to struggle his way to a 4.00 ERA, but Matt Wisler should step into the void, improving his strikeout rate to 7.5 K/9 and his ERA to 3.50.
  • Neither Tyler Flowers nor AJ Pierzynski will be worth a whit on offense, but at least Flowers can frame. He'll get more playing time as a result.

NL Central


1. Chicago Cubs (96–66, 1st playoff seed)
  • Three Cubs will be among the NL's top 10 position players by WAR: Jason Heyward, Kris Bryant, and Anthony Rizzo, in that order.
  • Ben Zobrist will be the weakest link in the Chicago order, as injuries continue to sap his defensive value. But it will just be a chance for Javier Báez to show off his prodigious power in the bigs.
  • Despite starting the year without a clear position, Jorge Soler will still wind up with 500 plate appearances and 25 home runs.
  • Kyle Schwarber will not feel comfortable defensively either at catcher or in the outfield. In a shocking midseason blockbuster, the Cubs will trade him to an AL club for a lights-out starting pitcher—Sonny Gray or Chris Sale, perhaps?

2. Saint Louis Cardinals (90–72, 2nd Wild Card)
  • A two-year streak of terrible luck with runners in scoring position (.254 average in 2014, .242 in 2015) will snap, and the Cardinals will score 50 more runs despite a nearly identical team OPS (.716).
  • Despite remarkably high BABIPs in 2015, Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty will be able to sustain them thanks to a great hard-hit percentage and speed, respectively.
  • While it looks like there isn't a weak spot in that rotation, one will emerge as Mike Leake hands in a pedestrian 100 ERA+ season. Jaime García will land on the DL again.

3. Pittsburgh Pirates (86–76)

4. Milwaukee Brewers (71–91)
  • Remember the name Domingo Santana. The Brewers right fielder could put up a vintage Adam Dunn season: a .230 average but a .340 OBP, 180 strikeouts but 30 home runs.
  • Milwaukee will be the only team in baseball whose starters pitch zero complete games in 2016.

5. Cincinnati Reds (64–98)
  • Jay Bruce, one of the Reds' few high-performing players, will be shipped out by June. Devin Mesoraco will put together a nice rebound year behind the plate—and then get traded as well.
  • Billy Hamilton will never learn to get on base, squandering the talent of his wheels. A career-low 35 stolen bases are in the cards.
  • Anthony DeSclafani will use a 5.0 K/BB ratio to shave a full run off his ERA; we'll see him in San Diego at the All-Star Game.
  • Brandon Phillips will have an OBP below .300 and his glove will begin to attrite. His 2016 WAR will be exactly 0.0.

NL West


1. San Francisco Giants (91–71, 3rd playoff seed)
  • It's an even year, and you know what that means: the Giants are going to the World Series. They'll win their fourth championship this decade in controversial fashion—playing all seven games against the Rays at home after Tropicana Field is damaged by a freak hurricane.
  • Jeff Samardzija will be a bust, amassing just 0.5 WAR in the first year of his five-year, $90 million contract.
  • Johnny Cueto, however, is fully healthy and will even outpitch Madison Bumgarner.
  • Bruce Bochy is your 2016 NL Manager of the Year.

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (88–74)
  • In the outfield, Andre Ethier will scuffle, but Yasiel Puig will rediscover his 2013–2014 form. If the Dodgers just sit back and let Joc Pederson do his thing, they won't regret it.
  • The Dodgers will lead baseball in days on the disabled list. The injury bug will be particularly devastating to their starting rotation, as only Clayton Kershaw hits the 200-inning mark.
  • The victim of diminishing velocity, Scott Kazmir will wash out of the major leagues just as suddenly and mysteriously as he did in 2010.
  • Two Dodgers will bring home hardware in November: Corey Seager for Rookie of the Year and, of course, Kershaw for Cy Young.

3. Arizona Diamondbacks (80–82)
  • The DBacks' two major offseason trades will both prove to be counterproductive. In addition to the Miller-Inciarte debacle, Jean Segura's presence will rob the team of its best remaining defender in Nick Ahmed in exchange for an equally limp bat.
  • Shelby Miller won't appreciate the move to homer-happy Chase Field. Patrick Corbin and maybe even Robbie Ray will allow fewer runs.
  • Zack Greinke's ERA will rise by 1.50—the biggest increase of anyone in baseball—but will still rank in MLB's top ten.
  • Arizona will give back every last one of its league-leading 63 Defensive Runs Saved from 2015, finishing as a neutral fielding team. When the team allows exactly the same 713 runs it did in 2015, GM Dave Stewart will admit, "We forgot that defense matters in run prevention, too."
  • After two second-place finishes, it's finally Paul Goldschmidt's turn to win an NL MVP Award, completing the NL West's sweep of the postseason awards.

4. San Diego Padres (73–89)
  • PETCO Park was surprisingly offense-friendly in 2015; don't expect that to carry forward, depressing the Padres' offense but rejuvenating their pitchers.
  • James Shields will keep the ball in the park and pound the strike zone more. The results will be a return to form: a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 2.0 walks per nine innings.

5. Colorado Rockies (72–90)
  • By Coors Field standards, the Rockies' bullpen won't be bad. Jason Motte, Chad Qualls, and Jake McGee will all pitch well above average—probably leading to some fruitful trades in July.
  • Poor Jon Gray will be dominant on the road—posting a 2.80 ERA—but will be unable to solve Coors, stumbling to a 5.20 home ERA.
  • José Reyes won't play a single game for the Rox after he is convicted of domestic assault.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Predicting the 2016 Season—American League

Every year, the baseball cognoscenti make predictions about what will happen the coming year. Every year, they're horribly wrong. With that said, here are my totally correct, unimpeachable picks for what will go down in 2016 in the American League. Take them seriously if you must... Or, as I have learned to do, just have fun and recognize them for what they are: an excuse to talk about baseball again after a long, long winter.

As I do every year, I'll predict each team's order of finish and final record, and I'll include a few "fearless predictions" for each team—at least half of which never come true. Enjoy!

AL East


1. Toronto Blue Jays (90–72, 2nd playoff seed)
  • The Blue Jays' fate will be determined by how hard their rotation falls back down to earth. Marco Estrada simply will be slaughtered. Returning to 9.0 hits per nine innings will put dozens more runners on base for the 30 home runs he allows to this division's potent offenses. JA Happ, meanwhile, will turn in his third season of an exactly 90 ERA+ in Toronto.
  • Young hurlers Roberto Osuna and Aaron Sánchez will suffer from role mismatches. Sánchez is a better fit for the bullpen, which means the experiment of trying him as a starter will fail. In a role reversal with Drew Storen, Osuna will pout as a setup man after Storen is named closer, leading to a sophomore slump that will cause the Jays to consider a move to the rotation.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (87–75, 1st Wild Card)
  • The Rays easily have the most upside in this division. Watch out for breakout seasons from Steven Souza and Steve Pearce. In a mirror image of the Dodgers last season, Drew Smyly will vie with teammate Chris Archer to be Cy Young runner-up.
  • The pitching staff will only get stronger in the second half, as Alex Cobb returns from Tommy John surgery and top prospect Blake Snell makes a play for Rookie of the Year by striking out over 10 batters per nine innings.
  • Kevin Cash will win Manager of the Year in a close race against Terry Francona.
  • Tampa will follow the trail blazed by the 2014 Royals and advance from a nailbiter Wild Card game into the World Series.

3. New York Yankees (83–79)
  • The Yankees' most valuable position player? Would you believe Chase Headley? He'll rediscover his footing defensively and improve to league-average hitting with 20-home-run power.
  • This year's version of Greg Bird will be Aaron Judge, who will replace a totally hapless Carlos Beltrán in right field and sock 10+ home runs in 200 plate appearances.

3. Boston Red Sox (83–79)
  • Rick Porcello will be a very sad sinkerballer. His ERA will be half a run higher than his FIP, thanks to Boston's league-worst defensive infield.
  • Led by Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, the Red Sox bullpen will strike out a quarter of the batters it faces, second in the league only to the hated Yankees.
  • Mookie Betts will contend for MVP, but Xander Bogaerts will remain stuck on single-digit home runs.

5. Baltimore Orioles (80–82)
  • Yovani Gallardo and Kevin Gausman will swap 2015 ERAs—with Gausman finishing 2016 as the Orioles' ace with a 3.42 ERA and Gallardo regressing to 4.25. The now spectacle-less Gausman will credit his offseason LASIK surgery for the improvement.
  • As a team, the O's will hit 250 home runs—the most since the 2010 Blue Jays.
  • Korean import Hyun Soo Kim will lead even this loaded lineup in OBP.
  • Another subpar season on the field will lead to the dismissal of manager Buck Showalter.

AL Central


1. Cleveland Indians (86–76, 3rd playoff seed)
  • Good infield defense—including surprising glovework at both corners by Juan Uribe and Mike Napoli—will result in ERAs below 3.00 for both Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.
  • Cleveland will break its MLB-longest streak without a no-hitter with THREE no-nos in 2016: one each by Kluber, Carrasco, and Danny Salazar.
  • Cody Allen will pace the majors in saves.
  • Francisco Lindor, last year's should-have-been Rookie of the Year, will be as good as he was last year, but his numbers will look totally different. He won't be anything special with the bat, dropping 100 points of OPS, but his incredible D will lead to a Gold Glove.

2. Kansas City Royals (85–77)
  • Yordano Ventura will be the Royals' only above-average starting pitcher. That won't matter during the regular season thanks to another excellent year from the majors' most-used bullpen…
  • …But it will matter when the Royals find themselves in a tiebreaker game against the Rangers for the second Wild Card. Ian Kennedy will be no match for Cole Hamels.
  • The Royals will have a better record when Raúl Mondesí Jr. starts at shortstop than when Alcides Escobar does.

3. Chicago White Sox (82–80)
  • Chris Sale's 3.41 ERA from 2015 will prove to be a career high when all is said and done; he's not merely above average, he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. He'll return to a sub-2.50 figure and finally win a richly deserved Cy Young Award.
  • Carlos Rodon will notch 200 strikeouts, and Mat Latos will be worth 2.0 WAR despite missing a few months, as usual, with injuries.
  • The offense will rocket from the league's worst to above-average, thanks in large part to a bounceback from Melky Cabrera.
  • José Quintana and Adam Eaton will both have WARs over 4.0 but remain criminally underrated.

4. Detroit Tigers (75–87)

4. Minnesota Twins (75–87)
  • The Twins and Tigers will finish with identical records and run differentials—boasting the best offenses in the division but the worst pitching staffs.
  • However, unlike the ageing Tigers, Minnesota will be must-see TV. Three Twins will finish in the top five for AL Rookie of the Year: José Berrios, Byung Ho Park, and eventual winner Byron Buxton.
  • Park and Miguel Sanó will combine for 60 home runs.
  • #FreeOswaldoArcia will be the hashtag activism cause of the summer, as the outfielder hits .300/.350/.500 but can't get more than two starts a week over the far inferior Eddie Rosario.

AL West


1. Houston Astros (91–71, 1st playoff seed)
  • Playing the role of Miguel Cabrera/Josh Donaldson—i.e., the player who steals the MVP Award from Mike Trout—in 2016 will be Carlos Correa. Voters won't be able to resist voting for a shortstop who flirts with the 40-homer plateau.
  • Doug Fister, sadly, will show he has nothing left in the tank, forcing the Astros to trade from their stash of prospects for rotation reinforcement at midseason.
  • The Astros will assiduously try to keep Ken Giles out of the closer's role to keep his price from skyrocketing in arbitration, but that will actually be to their benefit—he'll work in the team's highest-leverage situations and lead the AL in leverage index.

2. Texas Rangers (85–77, 2nd Wild Card)
  • Yu Darvish will win Comeback Player of the Year as he pitches 150 innings of 3.30-ERA ball.
  • Even though Ian Desmond usually starts the year on shaky defensive footing, he'll look so lost in left field in the early going that the Rangers will bench him. He'll enter career purgatory, bouncing around on the free-agent market as a utility man for the rest of the decade.
  • Talent defeats age in Texas, at least for one more year: Prince Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo will turn in carbon copies of their superb 2015 seasons.

3. Seattle Mariners (80–82)
  • Joaquín Benoit will end up with more saves than Steve Cishek.
  • M's fans will finally see the Robinson Canó they thought they were getting, as he stretches last year's second-half slash line of .331/.387/.540 over a full season.

4. Oakland Athletics (77–85)
  • Sonny Gray's 2015 luck will reverse itself; a .340 BABIP will lead him to a forgettable 3.95 ERA season.
  • Rich Hill will pick up right where he left off—with four dominant starts to begin the year. Then he will lose his feel for pitching and finish with a 4.00 ERA.
  • Despite his poor defensive reputation, Marcus Semien will be one of Oakland's best players next year, including as a net positive on defense (going by metrics more advanced than errors).

5. Los Angeles Angels (73–89)
  • The left-field combo of Daniel Nava against righties and Craig Gentry against lefties will be among the most successful platoons in history. Together they'll hit .320/.380/.420 and amass 4.0 WAR.
  • Andrew Heaney will establish himself as a bona fide ace in the middle of a rotation in tatters. CJ Wilson will be injured all year and untradeable, while Jered Weaver will shockingly decide to retire midseason when it becomes apparent he can't throw above 80 miles per hour.
  • The total collapse of Albert Pujols is nigh.
  • Despite the presence of Mike Trout, the Angels will have the lowest OBP in the American League.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Free-Agent Finishing Touches

Pitchers and catchers have reported; Spring Training games have begun; players are even starting to fall victim to cuts and injuries. With the signings of the last big free agents like Ian Desmond and Dexter Fowler, the hot-stove season is also officially over. That means it's time to reveal the final roster for Baseballot's All-Free-Agent Team. In two previous installments, I went through the offseason in real time "signing" the best free agents to one imaginary team. In February, we plugged the team's final holes (the blue names below). Here is the 25-man active roster; my logic and justifications after the jump:


Infield

With one position player slot left and a hole at second base, I narrowed my choices down to recent Cuban defector José Fernández and Juan Uribe. But then Steve Pearce signed with the Rays on a team-friendly, one-year, $4.75 million deal. Pearce, if you've read some of my other blog posts, is one of the most intriguing baseball players in my book—an ostensibly part-time player who burst out for a .930 OPS in 2014 on the basis of peripheral stats that were actually quite solid. He's also very versatile defensively, playing over 120 innings at second base last year. Don't think I didn't notice that; it's not enough playing time for me to claim, in good conscience, he can be a staring second baseman, but as a utility man... That could work!

The downside to this is that Álex Guerrero, who horrified scouts with his play in the field last year, is now our team's starting second sacker. That's not ideal, but second is much easier to play than shortstop, Guerrero's natural position. And the chance to buy into a legitimate breakout candidate like Pearce is too good to pass up. It also proved to be a safe play: Fernández still hasn't signed with a team, raising doubts that he will play at all in 2016.

Relief Pitcher

The remainder of the open jobs on the all-free-agent team were in the bullpen. My strategy here was to pass on all the lucrative, $6-million-a-year reliever contracts and wait until the last minute to snatch up the bargains that are always left over at the end of the offseason. (You can't wait around and safely assume that there will be a good shortstop still on the market by February, when remaining free agents can be signed at huge discounts, but there will always be good relievers; it's always the deepest position in free agency, with hundreds of players on the market and not that many guaranteed bullpen jobs.) The gambit served me well, as I think I built a solid bullpen for just a few million a pop.

Korean closer Seung-hwan Oh, nicknamed the Final Boss, had 41 saves in Japan last year, and at first I targeted him as a dominant but probably below-market-price finisher. When he signed with the Cardinals, though, reports were sketchy about how much he was paid—and the implication was that it was a pretty penny. Scrapping that plan, I resolved that "closer" is just an intimidating label, and I threw Yusmeiro Petit—who still holds the MLB record for most consecutive batters retired!—into the role. That freed me up to look for a setup corps on the cheap.

When the Cardinals signed Carlos Villanueva last offseason on a minor-league deal, I really liked it for the team. Sure enough, he filed a 2.95 ERA in a long-relief role, continuing his career-long ability to absorb quality innings. When he signed a $1.5 million deal with the Padres this offseason, I knew I had to have him. His .265 BABIP last year indicates some regression may be in store, but that will be mitigated by pitching in PETCO Park.

In mid-January, Joe Blanton signed a $4 million, one-year contract with the Dodgers. I was a big believer in his 2015, when he reinvented himself as a 25.6%-strikeout-rate reliever, but even this fairly average contract was a bit too rich for my blood. I was confident that better deals would bubble up for comparable relievers, and I was right: a few days later, the White Sox signed Matt Albers for $2.25 million. Injured and insanely lucky (with a left-on-base percentage of 95.1%), Albers put up a 1.21 ERA in 37.1 innings in 2015. Nevertheless, his FIP was still a solid 3.48, and he has a long track record of excellence thanks to an ability to get groundballs (59% in 2015). His injury is unlikely to be nagging, as it was a broken finger suffered in a bench-clearing brawl.

Albers completed my right-handed arsenal, although there were even more options I could have sprung for. Tommy Hunter, who has allowed just two walks per nine innings in his career, signed for the bargain rate of $2 million, although it later turned out he was injured, so our team likely dodged a bullet. Even cheaper was Ryan Webb, who cost the Rays just $1 million.

I had just one opening left—for my bullpen's left-handed specialist. I was hot in pursuit of Angels non-tender-ee César Ramos, but his was a curious case. After putting up a 3.33 ERA in 135 innings since 2014, he's the kind of guy who might have been in line for a hefty multi-year deal. Instead, he signed with the Rangers on a minor-league deal, and the team announced they would convert him to a starter. Unusual, to say the least—but this also meant he wouldn't work in the role we wanted him for.

Antonio Bastardo was also on my short list, but he got the rare lucrative deal late in the offseason. This had me scraping the bottom of the barrel for lefties—Matt Thornton and Neal Cotts were two of the only reliable ones left. Finally, in late February, Cotts won the staring contest of who would sign first. He went to the Astros for only $1.5 million—certainly affordable for our imaginary ballclub.

Starting Pitcher

With seven starting pitchers on our roster as of several months ago, this wasn't a position where we were looking to add—but I was certainly tempted to when Mat Latos hitched up with the White Sox for $3 million. Latos had a terrible 2015, posting a 4.95 ERA for three teams (all of which seemed to hate him), but the previous two years he carried 3.25 and 3.16 ERAs. His strikeout-to-walk ratio in 2015 indicated he hadn't actually gotten any worse but instead was just supremely unlucky. Three million dollars is a steal for any starting pitcher, let alone one who is actually a good candidate for a bounceback. And although Latos has a reputation for being injury prone, if he is merely a league-average pitcher for two months, then suffers a season-ending malady, he'll still have been a bargain. (Mediocre starting pitchers regularly sign for $12 million a year these days, so a third of a mediocre season is worth $4 million.) I was upset I couldn't fit him onto my team, but he is a perfect example of the virtues of staying patient throughout the free-agent season. This year, I simply didn't wait out the market long enough. Sad!

* * *

At the beginning of the offseason, I pledged to build a 25-man roster of free agents under the constraints of a $200 million payroll. It was a close call, but we came in under budget, as our 25 players are guaranteed $193,990,833 for the 2016 season. The final roster will be viewable on this website all season long, and after the campaign I'll take a look back to see how they fared. Were they worth all that money? Or did I waste a not-so-small fortune on a bunch of replacement players? Stay tuned!

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Of Course Donald Trump Thinks Pete Rose Should Be in the Hall of Fame

Today we learned something that, perhaps, we should have already known.

Trump is trying to win votes in Ohio, where he said this during a campaign rally on Sunday, so it's not surprising he would say this to curry favor. But it's also not surprising that he thinks this. Pete Rose fits the profile of Trump and his disaffected supporters perfectly: he's a working-class icon (despite actually being quite rich, Rose's hard-nosed style of play was always considered workmanlike) who has been chewed up and spit out by The Man. Like the manufacturing towns that love Trump, Rose is well past his prime but seems increasingly desperate to regain it. His attempts to stay relevant appear outrageous and sad to the outside world, just like Trump supporters are viewed as backward by the coastal elites. Trump and Rose are even both reality-TV stars. And it's no surprise that Trump finds little fault with Rose's main transgression of betting on baseball. Despite winning the evangelical vote in many states, Trump is not much of a moralist: he is twice-divorced and owns several casinos from Las Vegas to Atlantic City.

At their core, Trump and his fans see an unfeeling, snobbish bureaucracy as conspiring against them—the "establishment" in Washington, DC, who took away what made them great in the first place and now is fighting like hell to prevent them from regaining power through Trump. Similarly, it is Commissioner Rob Manfred and the suits at MLB headquarters who are wronging Rose, first by banning him from baseball and, most recently, by failing to reinstate him. Rose doubtless feels that these unelected executives who never played the game are denying him his real-life accomplishments as baseball's all-time hits leader—and they are refusing to let him join their exclusive club by denying him entrance to the Hall of Fame. Maybe the real question is when we get a Donald endorsement from the Hit King himself, not the other way around.

UPDATE: And there you have it:


SECOND UPDATE: Now Rose's lawyer is claiming that that baseball doesn't mean Rose is endorsing Trump. Rose, apparently, will write whatever you want when he autographs a baseball for you.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Picking the Land of the Free Over the Home of the Braves

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association just announced they're doing a great thing: donating a 12,500-seat baseball field to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the biggest military base in the country. On top of that, to inaugurate the field, the Marlins and Braves will play a regular-season game there on July 3—the "first regular-season game of a professional sport ever played on an active military base," claims the press release.

The game should be a cool spectacle to behold—it's being televised on ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball and will be part of the fort's Fourth of July festivities—and will be a treat for baseball fans in the military who, living in North Carolina, are hundreds of miles away from the closest major-league team. But the flip side is that, when Fort Bragg gains a game, another location loses one, and this game was previously scheduled as a Braves home game. Normally it wouldn't be a huge deal to lose one home game in a season of 81, but 2016 also happens to be the Braves' last season at Turner Field in downtown Atlanta before they decamp for a new stadium in suburban Cobb County.

Given the huge political controversy that has surrounded the Braves' move, and the team's messy divorce with the City of Atlanta, this strikes me as a slap in the face to urban Atlanta fans. By leaving Turner Field in pursuit of upper-class suburban dollars, the team is already making city-dwelling fans feel unwanted and expendable—but it could have at least dumped them nicely by staging a respectful, sentimental final season at Turner Field in 2016. Instead, they are doing the opposite. The Braves have made no secret of their eagerness to vacate downtown Atlanta in the public press, and now, with their participation in the Fort Bragg game, they appear to be seizing any chance they can get to minimize the number of games they ever have to play at Turner Field again. Again, 80 games vs. 81 isn't a huge difference by the numbers, but symbolically, it's an insult to the City of Atlanta and the many Braves fans there who now have one fewer chance to say goodbye to their favorite team. (After this season, fans who live downtown will have a very hard time going to games, as the new stadium in Cobb County is inaccessible by public transit and faces the prospect of huge traffic problems.)

I want to emphasize again that the Fort Bragg game is a wonderful gesture to the base and to military members in general. I'm not against the game by any means—indeed, I'm very much in favor of it—but MLB could have easily chosen a different team to play in it. Baseball has a long and admirable track record of providing support to veterans and the military, but its zealousness to be patriotic has lately perhaps become too much of a good thing. While servicemen and women deserve our respect and acknowledgment, so do many other sectors of society—ones that are often forgotten. Many people believe the Braves, by leaving downtown Atlanta, are guilty of leaving behind some of these marginalized populations, especially the poor and African Americans. Bringing baseball to them is just as important as bringing it to our troops. We should be able to do both. The Braves, by contrast, are using one as an excuse to nakedly neglect the other.