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Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 7/7/20

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon and welcome to my first chat of … summer camp? Spring training 2.0? The long-delayed preseason? I’m still working on what to call it. What’s in no dispute is that I’d like to start the chat with some entry music from the most badass soundtrack composer of all, Ennio Morricone:

Tacoby Bellsbury: Is the bungled start to testing grievable? If so, do you expect the players to pursue that as an Avenue? Should they?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: That’s a good question, and not being a lawyer myself, I don’t have a definitive answer. I do know that the discussion of grievances with  regards to the negotiations concerning the return to play centered around whether MLB was making a good-faith effort to schedule as many games as possible, so I would think that the union would have to prove something similar here, and I bet it would be harder given that they did in fact sign off on the health and safety protocol involving this testing regimen just a couple of weeks ago.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Eugene Freedman, who often writes about labor relations, including for FanGraphs, would be a better person to ask on that score.

@RuthKapelus @NickFrancona @barrysvrluga I haven’t received/read the agreement on health and safety, so I don’t know the answer. Normally, the remedy for a dispute over implementation & interpretation of a negotiated agreement is the parties’ grievance procedure. But, in the case of imminent safety and health 1/
7 Jul 2020
TheBighen: First round of Mets bids are due 7/9 — whatever that means.  Think Jeff Wilpon gets to stay on as COO for 5 years for all buyers?  Seemed like a reasonable request last time. Cohen has to wind up with this team right?  He’s a lifelong Mets fan and has the most cash, I just can’t see him letting someone else buy the team.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: I have to admit my eyebrows did some funny things when I saw the report that Cohen is re-entering the fray. I’d assume that he’s the best capitalized of any potential buyer, and no, I don’t think Jeff Wilpon is going to get five years this time around because I don’t think the Wilpons have the kind of leverage that they believed they did a few months ago.

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MLB’s Testing Mess May KO Season

On Saturday, the Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka got hit upside the head and ultimately concussed by a 112-mph screamer off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton, the third player he faced in the team’s first simulated game of summer camp. By Monday, a good portion of Major League Baseball could identify with the headaches and other scary consequences of being knocked down so soon after restarting amid the coronavirus pandemic. The testing program that represents a foundational piece of the protocol to keep players and essential staff safe broke down, causing teams to delay or cancel workouts and amplifying a crisis of confidence within the sport.

Indeed, if one didn’t already feel a fair bit of ambivalence regarding MLB’s attempt to stage even an abbreviated season amid the pandemic, the dysfunction that’s been on display since late last week has certainly provided cause for concern. While the league reported results of its intake tests that initially appeared promising, the caveat attached — incomplete results from most teams — was enough to raise some eyebrows. Beyond that initial stumble, Monday brought news of at least half a dozen teams whose workouts were delayed or canceled due to holiday-related holdups in receiving test results, a matter that should have been anticipated well in advance. All of this comes while the ranks of players testing positive and those opting out both continue to grow, producing absences that could potentially reshape the season and in some cases have life-altering consequences. And of course, this is all unfolding (unraveling?) against the backdrop of record-setting numbers of new cases in the U.S. with totals topping 50,000 for three consecutive days.

Should MLB attempt to proceed at all? Can it? From here, the likelihood of the league pulling this off seems more remote than ever.

Though it was overshadowed by the rancorous and all-too-public exchanges between the owners and the Players Association, MLB sold the union and the public on the viability of a restart based on its ability to expedite a high volume of tests, primarily via saliva-based tests — faster and less invasive than nasal swabs — that a repurposed anti-doping lab in Salt Lake City could process for a 24- to 48-hour turnaround. Even before that turnaround time could be called into question, MLB made a mess of its intake testing, which began at players’ home stadiums on July 1. Players and essential staff were given temperature checks, saliva or nasal swab diagnostic tests for the coronavirus itself, and antibody tests using blood samples. Only those who tested negative were permitted to enter facilities for the first workouts beginning on Friday. Read the rest of this entry »

Masahiro Tanaka’s Concussion Adds to Yankees’ Question Marks

No sooner had the Yankees opened their summer camp — or spring training 2.0, or whatever we’re calling this tense and perhaps tenuous ramp-up to the long-delayed 2020 season — on Saturday than they got their first scare: the sight of pitcher Masahiro Tanaka being drilled in the head by a line drive hot off the bat of Giancarlo Stanton. The 31-year-old righty never lost consciousness but was taken to the hospital for testing and further evaluation, and while he was released, on Sunday he was diagnosed with a concussion. The terrifying sequence was a reminder that the coronavirus isn’t the only thing for players to fear during this abbreviated build-up to the regular season, but all things considered, both he and the Yankees look quite lucky right now.

At Yankee Stadium, in a simulated game that marked their first formal workout of the restart, Tanaka had faced Aaron Judge and Gleyber Torres before Stanton stepped in. The slugger smoked a line-drive comebacker that struck the pitcher on the right side of the head and ricocheted high in the air (I’ll leave it to you to find the video). Keep in mind that since the advent of Statcast in 2015, only Judge and Nelson Cruz have higher average exit velocities than Stanton’s 93.4 mph — he is emphatically not the guy you want pounding a ball off your noggin. According to James Paxton, the ball came off the bat at a sizzling 112 mph. Tanaka fell to the ground, writhing in pain, and stayed down for about five minutes before sitting up and eventually being helped off the field with the assistance of two trainers. Read the rest of this entry »

A Minor Matt Kemp Move Illuminates Major Obstacles to a 2020 Season

It was a mundane transaction, one that ordinarily wouldn’t have required 500 words to explain to a baseball-starved readership, let alone 1,800. Matt Kemp, a 35-year-old former All-Star who played just 20 major league games last year, signed a minor-league deal with the Rockies. Given the move’s timing and the circumstances that surround it, however, Kemp-to-Colorado leaves a whole lot to unpack, and so here we are.

Kemp is on a minor-league deal, but he won’t play in the minors this year because there won’t be any minor league season, news of which was officially announced on Tuesday, though the outcome had long been apparent. Kemp may not play in the majors, either, not only because it’s unclear whether he’s good enough to do so anymore, but because the coronavirus pandemic that delayed Opening Day by nearly four months is still running rampant, and because the precautions designed to keep players and associated staff healthy may not be enough.

Even before the official green-lighting of the season, the Rockies were among the first teams to feel the impact of the coronavirus. Last Tuesday, the Denver Post’s Kyle Newman reported that four-time All-Star outfielder Charlie Blackmon was among three Rockies who had tested positive for COVID-19, along with pitchers Ryan Castellani and Phillip Diehl, all of whom had been informally working out at Coors Field in recent weeks. News of their illness followed reports of at least half a dozen teams being hit by the virus, though the players and staffers who tested positive on those teams weren’t identified. Blackmon and company were, but that’s not supposed to happen. While MLB has created a COVID-19-related injured list among its many new roster rules, on Tuesday ESPN’s Marly Rivera reported that both Yankees general manager Brian Cashman and Cubs general manager Jed Hoyer said that teams are not allowed to divulge the names of players who tests positive, in accordance with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Read the rest of this entry »

Understanding This Year’s Revised Roster Rules

In the Before Times, when the 2020 season was planned at 162 games — on February 12, to be exact — Major League Baseball officially announced a handful of rule changes that had been in the works for awhile, many of which concern teams’ active rosters. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the season has been drastically shortened, and between a hasty reboot of spring training, a suspended minor league season, and voluminous health- and safety-related protocols, the league has been forced to put some of those changes on hold and adopt a very different set of roster rules than was initially planned.

What follows here is my attempt to sort through those rules and explain some of the new entries in the transaction lexicon. Additionally, I’ll use a couple of teams as examples in order to illustrate some of the roster considerations that may be in play. We’ll start with the easy stuff…

Active rosters

Instead of simply expanding from the tried-and-true 25-man active rosters — a limit that was introduced with the first Collective Bargaining Agreement in 1968 — to 26-man ones as planned, teams will begin the season on July 23 or 24 with rosters of up to 30 players, though they’re allowed to carry as few as 25 (a minimum that will remain in place all season). According to the 2020 Operations Manual, on the 15th day of the season (August 6 or 7) the upper limit drops to 28 players, and two weeks after that date, it drops again to 26. For any doubleheaders after that point, teams will be permitted to add a 27th player.

Additionally, the nit picky rules governing the makeup of those rosters, which were laid out in February (and panned here by yours truly), are on the shelf. Teams won’t be limited to carrying 13 pitchers, after all, and position players won’t be limited to pitching only in extra innings, or in games in which teams are ahead or behind by at least seven runs. In other words, all of this is as it was last year, and somebody damn well better sign catcher/blowout closer Russell Martin tout suite. Read the rest of this entry »

Team Entropy Could Be the Real Winner in a 60-Game Season

At last we have a 2020 MLB season, or plans for one at least. Based upon what we know about the 60-game schedule — that teams will play each other 10 times within their own division, and have a total of 20 games against the geographically corresponding interleague division — Major League Baseball may need to revisit its tiebreaker procedures, because going by the handful of 60-game slices I examined from last year’s results, they could have some ties to unknot.

You may recall that earlier this month, when a 50-game schedule appeared to be a distinct possibility, I reviewed increments of that size from the 2019 season to illustrate how different the playoff picture might look, depending on when the snapshot was taken. In examining the 50-game segments, which began with Games 1, 26, 51, 76, and 113, I found that nine teams that actually missed the playoffs would have made it at some point. An average of 3.8 actual division winners matched their final positions over those increments, and likewise, an average of 1.2 Wild Card teams did so, with an overall average of 2.6 party crashers per period; division/Wild Card flip-flops accounted for much of the discrepancy. However, not once in those five sets of samples did I find ties for division titles or Wild Card spots, and only once did two Wild Card qualifiers even “finish” with the same record, a rather odd and seemingly improbable result given the limited range of outcomes.

With the 60-game slate now a reality, I decided to revisit the study. While many of the answers it returns are similar to those from the 50-gamer — a fair bit of variation in the selection of playoff teams from snapshot to snapshot, but perhaps not as much as if it were based upon a season that didn’t hit a low point as far as competitive balance was concerned — I went forward with this largely because it promised substantially more fun from a Team Entropy standpoint, which is to say a greater potential for end-of-season chaos via more ties for playoff spots, whether division or Wild Card. That may be a function of selecting a larger number of increments, beginning with Games 1, 16, 31, 46, 61, 76, 91, and 103, or it may just be dumb luck. Obviously, there’s no guarantee such results will be replicated in the upcoming 60-game slate (assuming it can be played to completion, a rather large elephant in the room), but they’re something to hope for, at least if you can get past the anxiety produced by [broad gesture at everything].

Standings Based on 2019 Games 1-60
AL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Yankees 38 22 .633 Div Champ Div Champ
Rays 37 23 .617 1 Wild Card Wild Card
Red Sox 31 29 .517 7
Blue Jays 22 38 .367 16
Orioles 19 41 .317 19
AL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Twins 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Indians 30 30 .500 10
White Sox 29 31 .483 11
Tigers 23 37 .383 17
Royals 19 41 .317 21
AL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Astros 40 20 .667 Div Champ Div Champ
Rangers 32 28 .533 8 Wild Card
Athletics 30 30 .500 10 Wild Card
Angels 29 31 .483 11
Mariners 25 35 .417 15
NL East W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Braves 33 27 .550 Div/WC Tie Div Champ
Phillies 33 27 .550 Div/WC Tie
Mets 28 32 .467 5
Nationals 27 33 .450 6 Wild Card
Marlins 23 37 .383 10
NL Central W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Cubs 34 26 .567 Div/WC Tie
Brewers 34 26 .567 Div/WC Tie Wild Card
Cardinals 31 29 .517 3 Div Champ
Pirates 29 31 .483 5
Reds 28 32 .467 6
NL West W L W-L% GB Status Actual
Dodgers 41 19 .683 Div Champ Div Champ
Rockies 31 29 .517 10
Padres 31 29 .517 10
Diamondbacks 30 30 .500 11
Giants 25 35 .417 16
SOURCE: Baseball-Reference

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No Induction Weekend, but the Hall of Fame is Reopening

While this year’s Induction Weekend festivities have been postponed until next summer, on Wednesday the National Baseball Hall ofdat Fame and Museum announced plans to reopen to the public on Friday, June 26, after nearly 3 1/2 months of closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The reopening is being done with a comprehensive health and safety plan in place, one that includes mandatory mask wearing, timed entrances to limit capacity and allow for physical distancing, widespread availability of hand sanitizer, increased cleaning and disinfection schedules, and the continued closure of the building’s larger gathering spaces. All of this is being done in accordance with New York State’s regionally-focused phased reopening plan, as the Mohawk Valley (which includes Cooperstown) moves to Phase Four.

While New York has been hit the hardest of any state by the novel coronavirus, with over 390,000 conformed cases and over 30,000 deaths according to data from the Centers for Disease Control, the impact in Otsego County, which has a population of 62,000 with Cooperstown as its county seat, has been comparatively minimal, with just 74 confirmed cases and five deaths as of June 22, including only 12 confirmed cases and one death in the six weeks since I covered the virus’ impact on the region in early May.

Despite the minimal number of cases locally, the cancellation of Induction Weekend — which, with Derek Jeter as the marquee attraction was expected to exceed last year’s estimated 55,000 attendees and perhaps even eclipse the all-time record of 82,000 from 2007, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Tony Gwynn were honored — has hit the area hard, particularly as it followed the cancellation of the Cooperstown Dreams Park series of youth baseball tournaments, which annually bring over 17,000 youth players (and their families) to the region. As of early May, the estimate for the economic impact on local governments via lost sales taxes on the area’s restaurants, hotels, rental properties, and baseball-oriented shops stood at $50 to $150 million. Read the rest of this entry »

Jay Jaffe FanGraphs Chat – 6/23/20

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Good afternoon, folks, and welcome to the latest Cape Cod-based edition of my weekly chat. We’re still awaiting word on the go-ahead for the wee 2020 season, and while i remain cautiously optimistic, I also know that Tony Clark and Rob Manfred are as likely to bury salad forks in each others’ eyes as to shake hands on anything.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: While the universal DH is expected to be part of this year’s agreement, it doesn’t yet appear to be a done deal for next year, as had been previously proposed. Nonetheless, I have a new piece today noodling on some DH candidates for NL teams…

Scott: What impact do you think the universal DH will have on the trade market?

Avatar Jay Jaffe: It wouldn’t surprise me to see some contending AL teams make moves to shore up their DH spots if their current plans go pear shaped, but until we know about a trade deadline, I’m not sure we can expect much.

Pitch_Out: Remember way back when we were talking about hosting all MLB games in CA, AZ, FL, and possibly TEX? Seems like that would have been a bad call with the way COVID is rampant in those states in particular right now.

Avatar Jay Jaffe: Very much so. It’s an utter catastrophe what’s going on in those states, driven by irresponsible politicians.

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A Look at Some NL Designated Hitter Candidates

The universal designated hitter will be a reality in 2020, assuming that the Major League Baseball Players Association agrees to the health and safety protocols connected to the March 26 agreement, which is to say, that it will be part of the revised rules for this weird, short season. But because the league and the union were unable to agree to any of the subsequent proposals that have been batted back and forth in recent weeks, the status of the universal DH for 2021 and beyond — with the expectation that it would slip smoothly into the 2022 Collective Bargaining Agreement — is not a done deal, after all. Rather, it’s something that will have to be revisited within discussions over rules changes for next year, which typically begin at the November owners’ meetings.

Even so, as it’s the rare point upon which both sides agreed amid the otherwise rancorous negotiations, I think I’m still on solid ground in discussing the longer-term changes that could come with such a move. On Friday, I discussed the apparent end of pitchers’ often-pathetic attempts at hitting, and last month, Craig Edwards took an initial stab at how NL teams might handle their DH slots given their roster construction, with special consideration given to the Mets’ situation. This time around, I’d like to consider which players might stand to benefit in the longer run.

For starters, it’s worth noting that the demise of the DH has been somewhat exaggerated. Several years back, the AL saw a notable decrease in the number of players reaching significant thresholds of plate appearances at the spot, but those totals have largely rebounded:

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The Universal Designated Hitter May Be Here to Stay

We’ll always have his epically improbable 2016 home run, but Bartolo Colon ain’t walking through that door. If the players union and the owners can agree to something along the lines of the latest volley of proposals without immolating themselves in fiery rhetoric — now that they’re at 100% pro rata, it shouldn’t be that difficult, yet here we are — then the days of pitchers hitting are likely at an end. Per the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Haudricort, MLB’s most recent proposal includes a universal designated hitter not only for this year, but for 2021, and ESPN’s Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers report the same is true for the union’s latest proposal. Beyond that, as Haudricourt notes, a universal DH is “almost certainly” going to be included in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that takes effect for the 2022 season. Not that hammering out that CBA will be a simple matter given the bad blood between the owners and the union, but it does appear that whenever they get around to playing again, the National League will finally join every other major circuit except Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League in adopting the DH.

The DH has been around since 1973, though its roots go back to the late 19th century. As the role of the pitcher became more important, necessitating they concentrate on improving that aspect of their game, the feeling was that pitchers should be excused from their offensive duties. While movements to adopt a “tenth man” came and went from time to time prior to World War II, it took until the late 1960s, amid declining offenses, for the Triple-A International League and various other minor leagues to begin experimenting. The AL and NL could not agree on whether to adopt the DH; they voted separately, and you know the results. The original plan was that after three years, both leagues would either adopt or discard the rule, but the AL enjoyed the significant bumps in scoring and attendance in the wake of the rule’s adoption, and the two differing brands of baseball were maintained.

That was easy to do so long as there was no interleague play, but the World Series presented an awkward clash. From 1973-75, no DH was used, while from 1976-85, an “Even-Odd” scheme was used, with the DH in the even-numbered years, and since then, the “When in Rome” scheme has been used, with the DH present in AL parks but not NL ones. That scheme was extended to the regular season when interleague play began in 1997. Thus the two brands of baseball have generally coexisted in peace for nearly half a century, albeit not without endless debates contrasting the purity of the game with its need to adapt, as well as the occasional push within the game to move one way or the other. Because the position’s duties tend to be filled by higher-salaried veterans, the Players Association sought the universal DH in negotiations for the 2011 and ’16 CBAs. They didn’t get it either time, but now it’s a useful bargaining chip for the owners to throw into the pot, and notable that the players have maintained it in their counteroffers. Read the rest of this entry »