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COVID-19 Roundup: Players, Executives, Experts Weigh in on Health Protocols

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MLB’s Extensive List of Health and Safety Protocols Is Being Dissected

Last Saturday, a 67-page document laying out all of the health and safety measures considered necessary for a 2020 major league season was reported by The Athletic. In the week since, voices from inside baseball as well as the public health and epidemiology fields have weighed in on what the proposal means, where it goes too far, and where it falls short.

Beginning with medical experts — since they really are the most important voice here — the perspective seems to be that MLB’s proposal is extensive and thoughtful, but the actual execution of it will be challenging. That was the sentiment communicated by Andy McCullough and Marc Carig in a story for The Athletic that ran Thursday. Part of the challenge could be ensuring that measures are taken as seriously as they should be for as long as possible. If MLB’s protocols are effective, it will mean the virus isn’t spreading throughout clubhouses. That will make the threat seem less dangerous, which could lead to people letting their guard down and no longer following the rules as closely.

Troublingly, the steps toward that false sense of security has already begun. In a report by ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, players openly wondered why so many restrictions would be necessary in an environment where everyone has tested negative for the virus. As doctors have warned, however, false negatives exist, and allowing everyone to proceed with life as normal would be very risky regardless of test results. Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: MLB Organizes Health Protocols for 2020 Season

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MLB’s COVID-19 Health and Safety Guidelines Laid Out In 67-Page Document

On Saturday, Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich of The Athletic obtained a lengthy document that meticulously outlines the health and safety measures MLB considers key to holding a 2020 season. Those protocols cover everything from how the game will be played on the field to what the behavior of players and essential team employees should look like away from the ballpark, and serve as yet another glimpse into just how physically and mentally challenging it will be to play baseball in the middle of a global pandemic.

One can read the details of the proposal as a bulleted list in Rosenthal and Drellich’s report, or absorb them in the day-in-the-life example Jeff Passan worked out at ESPN. Both reports paint an image of baseball in 2020 in which the reminders of what’s currently happening in the world are constant, unrelenting, and bleak. During games, non-playing personnel must wear masks in the dugout and may be relegated to the stadium seats, where they must sit at least four seats apart from and two rows behind each other. Once a baseball has been put in play and touched by multiple players, it’ll be tossed aside and replaced with a new one. Between pitches, players are encouraged to be as distanced from one another as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Buried in the LG Twins’ Lineup, a Korean Baseball Great

On the mound is Ricardo Pinto. He’s 26 years old. At 6-feet and 195 pounds, he has a muscular build that immediately makes him look like an athlete. He’s struggling through this particular appearance, thanks to command issues and some iffy defense behind him, but he hasn’t really been hit hard. His low-to-mid 90s heat is on the faster side of what Korean Baseball Organization hitters typically see, and he leans on it heavily.

At the plate, with the bases loaded and two outs, is Yong Taik Park 박용택. He’s 41 years old. He wears glasses in the batter’s box. As he awaits each pitch, he stands with his front foot resting nearly on the edge of the box behind him. At 6-foot-1, 185 pounds, he doesn’t differ dramatically from Pinto in size, but his baggier uniform makes him look tall and thin.

Pinto begins his violent delivery, and Park brings his front foot square with the plate. As the ball approaches, he twitches it slightly, perhaps as a way to subtly maintain his timing. Finally, at the last moment, his bat explodes through the baseball as Park uncorks his whole body to turn on a pitch high and tight. It’s a gorgeous left-handed swing, and it produces a bases-clearing double.

Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: MLB’s Plans Begin to Take Shape

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MLB To Communicate Return Plans Early This Week

Major League Baseball owners and commissioner Rob Manfred will convene over a conference call Monday to approve plans for the league’s return, according to a report by Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic. If approved, a proposal will be passed on to the players’ union on Tuesday.

The details of the proposal, Rosenthal says, are likely to address many of the questions that have been batted around in the public sphere over the last few weeks. Spring training would get rebooted for three weeks in mid-June, setting up a regular season that begins in early July and lasts between 78 and 82 games. Teams would open in their home ball parks where possible, and play regionalized schedules that include only teams in their typical divisions and those in opposite league’s corresponding division (AL East teams would face AL and NL East teams, and so on). Teams whose home cities are not containing the virus at the level the league requires could temporarily locate to their spring training sites. Rosters could be expanded to include 45 to 50 players.

This proposal would also expand the playoffs from five to seven teams in each league. Each No. 1 seed would get a first round bye, while the other two division winners and the top Wild Card team would host the three other Wild Card teams in a best-of-three Wild Card round. Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: Indians Give Target Return Date to Players

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Cleveland Tells Players to Prepare For Season To Start July 1

Speaking to players and other members of their organization via Zoom, officials with the Cleveland Indians provided a target date of July 1 for the start of MLB’s regular season, according to a report by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. According to the story, that July start date would follow a three-week “Spring Training” period beginning around June 10. Both of these dates are “fully expected to change,” but are supposed to act as placeholders for members of the organization as they plan for what this season could have in store.

While this is just one team, these dates mirror those communicated in a somewhat controversial tweet sent by former major league infielder Trevor Plouffe on Monday. Because it was sent by a former nine-year big league veteran, the tweet gained some steam, even getting corroborated by Plouffe’s former teammate Phil Hughes. Meanwhile, some established MLB reporters such as The Athletic’s Keith Law disputed the reports, saying no date has been proposed. Read the rest of this entry »

The Wait Is Over in the KBO

Even the first home run of the NC Dinos’ season turned out to be an exercise in waiting.

It had been more than five weeks since the Korean Baseball Organization’s regular season was originally scheduled to begin, and nearly eight weeks since sports across North America came to a near-uniform halt in response to the accelerating spread of COVID-19. Then, just as ESPN was preparing to broadcast the KBO season-opener between the Dinos and the Samsung Lions, rain intervened, delaying the game’s start by about 30 minutes.

Finally, just before 2:30 AM on the east coast of the United States, viewing audiences got their first spark — a towering fly ball down the right field line in the top of the fourth inning off the bat of Na Sung-Bum, disappearing somewhere over the foul pole. But ESPN commentators Karl Ravech and Eduardo Perez, calling the game on a remote feed from their own homes, struggled to find the ball, warily calling a home run only as Na began to circle the bases. A replay review ensued and lasted for several minutes, with a tricky camera angle seeming to show the ball flying directly over the pole.

After several moments, the homer was confirmed. It was the first run scored in a nationally televised regular season baseball game this year, and it set the Dinos on a path to their 4-0 victory over the Lions.

Read the rest of this entry »

Finding the Sweet Spot in the MLB Season Proposal Chaos

Three weeks ago, Jeff Passan of ESPN reported a proposal for starting the 2020 season that involved all 30 teams playing in Arizona, using Chase Field, Cactus League parks, and other area facilities. It was the first thing resembling an actual plan to be connected to MLB decision-makers, and predictably, it was full of holes. After wide-ranging skepticism and a league-issued statement of, “Alright, let’s all just take it easy,” the Arizona plan ceded ground a few days later in favor of a new proposal that explored using teams’ spring training facilities in Arizona and Florida, completely re-arranging the divisions to do so. Right on schedule, another state was added to the mix last week, when CBS Sports reported that Texas was being discussed as a potential third site for games.

Finally, MLB’s newest reported plan was brought to light on Tuesday, and it is far and away the most ambitious yet. According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, MLB is now discussing a proposal that would allow the season to open in late June or early July, with all 30 teams playing in their home stadiums, without fans in attendance. What would make this possible, MLB hopes, is a complete rebuilding of divisions, eliminating the AL/NL structure to construct three, 10-team geography-based divisions.

The details of this plan, and ones like it, are important in as much as they provide a window into MLB’s top officials’ thinking right now. But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, they can also change dramatically from one iteration to the next. That’s understandable, given how quickly conditions on the ground can change, and how much we still don’t know about how soon and how widely testing will be available, when states and municipalities will lift their stay-at-home orders, and when a vaccine will be developed and mass-produced. The more time MLB takes to finalize a plan, as Passan and The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal noted in columns earlier this week, the more information they’ll have at their disposal. No matter how many reports we read now, it will almost certainly be weeks before anything concrete is established by MLB and the MLBPA. Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: College Summer Leagues Respond To Crisis

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

Cape Cod Baseball League Cancels Season

The Cape Cod Baseball League announced Friday that its executive committee voted unanimously to cancel its 2020 season, which was originally scheduled to open on June 13.

“Following CDC guidelines and medical recommendations, the league determined it would be impossible to guarantee the safety of players, coaches, umpires, host families, volunteers and fans during this unprecedented health crisis,” the league said in its announcement.

The Cape Cod Baseball League is the second in the National Alliance of Summer College Baseball to cancel its season, following a similar decision by the Valley Baseball League in Virginia that was made earlier this month. In addition to cancelled seasons, stay-at-home mandates issued by individual states have pushed back the season-openers of the Northwoods League and the Hamptons League, while the Cal Ripken Collegiate Summer League made the proactive decision to delay the season until July 1. In the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, there is still a plan to proceed with the season as scheduled, but three teams have already stated that they won’t be able to operate this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Where Mike Trout Stands Out Most

If someone asked you what Mike Trout’s signature skill is, what would your answer be? You might say it’s his power, even though he’s never led his league in homers, or his elite approach, even though he still strikes out a little more often than he walks. If you watched him in person when he was much younger, you might say it isn’t even his steady hitting that defines him, but the way the 6-foot-2, 235-pound mammoth of a man moves, sprinting with top-line speed to steal bases and gliding to field balls hit to center field. The correct answer, of course, isn’t any of those things. What separates Mike Trout from the pack is that he is one of the best, if not the best, at virtually everything. He is the sum of several staggeringly impressive parts.

Still, it feels a bit odd that the player we think of as the best in the game wouldn’t have any specific skill that stands far above the rest of the competition. But while it’s true that Trout has never cruised to a batting title, or demolished the field in homers or walks, the baseball community is constantly coming up with new statistics and methods through which we can evaluate players. Trends, trials, and technology help those new tools grow and improve, and with each one that sticks, we have a new chance to discover a player’s distinctive traits.

In recent years, many of those new revelations have come along because of Statcast, which has introduced an increasing number of statistics into even the casual fan’s lexicon, a technology that gives us a peek into data and visuals we didn’t previously have access to. One of the more recent additions to Statcast’s suite of tools is Swing/Take value, which sorts each pitch into four attack zones based on where it crosses the plate — the heart of the plate, the shadow of the plate, chase pitches, and waste pitches — as well as whether the hitter swung or took the pitch, and uses Tom Tango’s RE288 table to assign the result of each pitch a run value. The result is sort of a hybrid set of data, a glimpse at the particulars of a hitter’s plate approach, as well as his impact when he does decide to swing. Read the rest of this entry »

COVID-19 Roundup: MiLB Reportedly Willing To Concede Loss of Teams

This is the latest installment of a series in which the FanGraphs staff rounds up the latest developments regarding the COVID-19 virus’ effect on baseball.

MiLB Is Closer to Accepting Contraction in Wake of Pandemic

Small baseball communities around the country were delivered a bit of a gut punch on Tuesday, when Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reported that Minor League Baseball is nearing an agreement with Major League Baseball that would result in the loss of 40 affiliated teams. The Associated Press put out a similar report Tuesday, while Minor League Baseball itself released the following statement.

The statement seems intended to temper public reaction, though it doesn’t exactly reaffirm MiLB’s commitment to keeping the total number of affiliated teams at 160 (MLB’s proposal would reduce the number to 120). MLB’s proposal was first introduced back in October, with the league claiming it would help teams boost minor leaguers’ pay, as well as improve their quality of life by reducing travel distances and guaranteeing higher-quality facilities. Public reaction to the plan, however, decried it for what it more appeared to be — a money-saving move for the league and the owners. But advancing that goal would result in far fewer players having a place in affiliated professional baseball, not to mention the millions of Americans who would find themselves without reasonable in-person access to the sport itself, as Meg Rowley and Ben Clemens wrote about for this site in November.

But the entire professional baseball landscape looks much different now than it did a few months ago. The impact of the lost revenues of months, and possibly an entire season, of baseball is making itself felt at the major league level. The circumstances are much more dire for minor league teams, which are suddenly under threat of extinction not only from the commissioner’s office but the COVID-19 pandemic as well. As a new Professional Baseball Agreement is negotiated, MiLB could place enough value in insuring the long-term security of existing teams that it is willing to accept contraction for those on the chopping block. Read the rest of this entry »