Sunday Notes: Three More Perspectives on Minor League Contraction

This week’s column leads with three perspectives on minor-league contraction, which is slated to occur once the current CBA expires at the end of this month. At least 40 teams are expected to lose affiliated status when that happens, with entire regions of the country finding themselves devoid of professional baseball. A wide-ranging look at the business side of the proposed contraction was provided here at FanGraphs, courtesy of SABR CEO Scott Bush, earlier in the week.

Today we’ll hear from a pair of broadcasters, each of whom paid his dues down on the farm before reaching the big leagues, and from an MLB general manager.

Joe Block, Pittsburgh Pirates broadcaster:

“It’s a two-way street, because I can see where the economics makes sense for Major League Baseball. They’re trying to streamline the minor leagues, and I can see the rationale for that. There maybe are too many teams; there are so many organizational players, as opposed to actual prospects. Realigning some of the leagues makes sense for easier travel. From a business standpoint, those things make a lot of sense to me.

“At the same time, I worked in Billings and in Great Falls. Those were two of the greatest experiences of my life, and not just my baseball life. I was living in Montana during the summers. I know how important [baseball] is to folks that live there. The winters are brutal, so having a ball game to watch, a family event… the team is a fabric of the communities in those particular towns.”

Dave Raymond, Texas Rangers brodcaster

“Contraction will be very tough on young broadcasters. Minor League Baseball is the training ground. [Play-by-play] takes time to figure out, to become comfortable with your voice, how to present the game every night. how you control that action. There are executives at the Major League level who, when I’ve applied for jobs, told me, ‘I’ve got to see at least a minimum of 500 games in the minor leagues before we would really even consider a guy.’ It might be 1,000 games.

“Now we’ll be dealing with a smaller pool of potential broadcasters. The guy who would have had a job for a team that gets contracted might have been the next Vin Scully. If he never gets the opportunity, we’ll never know. Plus, even if it doesn’t materialize in the ultimate — a big-league play-by-play job — for so many people, simply getting to call games is a realization of a dream. It would be disappointing for young guys, and gals, to miss out on that opportunity if there is indeed contraction.

“I do understand the rationale behind these things. But at the same time, anytime you contract anything you’re going to miss out on stuff. That’s whether it’s the development of additional broadcast talent, baseball talent, or the relationship of the game of baseball in a town. And that matters. I see there potentially being a lot more downside than upside to contraction. If you look at it from the standpoint of trying to build the popularity of our sport, that outreach in all those communities… I think it’s a really big deal.”

Dayton Moore, Kansas City Royals GM

“We’re in Burlington, North Carolina. We’re in the Appalachian League, which I guess is going to go away. In Burlington, if you’re a baseball fan, there are three teams you root for: the Atlanta Braves, the Cleveland Indians, and the Kansas City Royals. Why would anybody root for the Cleveland Indians or the Kansas City Royals in Burlington, North Carolina? Well, there are a lot of good players who came through there who played in the major leagues for the Cleveland Indians, and there are a lot of good players that came through there that played for the Kansas City Royals.

“It’s not a big commitment financially. It’s just not. And it’s so important for the growth of our game. The majority of those those young fans in Burlington will never see a Major League Baseball game. They won’t see one, not in person. Even now, if you go to a major league ballpark there aren’t a lot of poor kids, African American kids, disadvantaged kids. And in Appalachia, in some of these towns… trust me, I’ve spent a lot of time in those places. I know how important baseball is to those communities. It breaks my heart. It really does.”

——

Lefty Gomez accumulated 34.6 WAR while going 189-102 with a 125 ERA+ in 2,503 innings. Moreover, he went 6-0, 2.86 in 50-and-a-third World Series innings. Gomez has five rings.

Jon Lester has accumulated 46.3 WAR while going 192-110 with a 119 ERA+ in 2,589 innings. He is 4-1, 1.77 in 35-and-two-thirds World Series innings. Lester has three rings.

Gomez is in the Hall of Fame. Should Lester be as well? Sans his World Series bona fides, I’d be inclined to say no. Include them, and I’m inclined to say yes. Helping lead both the Red Sox and Cubs to titles is a meaningful accomplishment.

——

RANDOM HITTER-PITCHER MATCHUPS

Elvis Andrus is 2 for 4 against Dylan Bundy.

Tom Prince went 2 for 4 against Bruce Ruffin.

Erve Beck went 4 for 5 against Happy Townsend.

Jim Morrison went 4 for 7 against Rick Waits.

Frank Isbell went 4 for 8 against Pink Hawley.

———

Baltimore shortstop José Iglesias has just one home run, and his 2.2% walk rate is second lowest among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances. Remarkably, Iglesias also has a .921 OPS. I cited those numbers to Orioles hitting coach Don Long yesterday, then posed a simple question: “How is he doing it?”

“Most of his [OBP] is batting average, and that’s not always the best recipe for success,” Long said of Iglesias, who is slashing .377.406/.515. “But he is hitting the ball hard, and he’s got a lot of doubles. I think he’s made strides in not chasing as much as he used to. He’s got great bat-to-ball ability. A lot of times he makes contact on pitches out of the zone, especially with two strikes, which isn’t necessarily what you want. But when he stays within himself — his approach is to hit the ball hard on the line — that’s where a lot of his success comes from.”

Long went on to note that Iglesias’s contact skills are directly related to his low walk rate.

“A lot of his at-bats are over before he gets to three balls,” said Long. “It might be 0-1, 1-1, 2-1, and he’s put the ball in play hard. The at-bat is over.A lot of guys have more opportunity to get to three-ball counts, because they get the pitch they want and foul it off. Now they have to keep battling their way through.”

Iglesias has had 21 three-ball counts in 138 plate appearances.

———

A quiz:

Al Simmons has the second-most hits in Oakland/Philadelphia Athletics history. Who is the franchise’s all-time leader?

The answer can be found below.

———

NEWS NOTES

The Society for American Baseball Research will host a Pandemic Baseball Book Club panel at 8:00 p.m. EDT on Wednesday September 23. Mark Armour, Leslie Heaphy, Bill Nowlin, and John Thorn will discuss SABR 50 at 50: Most Impactful Players of the Past 50 Years.

Legendary scout Gary Hughes has died. A member of the Professional Baseball Scouts Hall of Fame, Hughes spent more than five decades in the game. He was 79. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale paid homage to Hughes here.

Ubaldo Jiménez officially announced his retirement earlier this week. The 36-year-old right-hander pitched 1,870 innings for three teams over 12 big-league seasons. Jimenez had his best years with the Colorado Rockies, with whom he went 19-8, 2.88 in 2010.

———

The answer to the quiz is Bert Campaneris, who had 1,882 hits while wearing an A’s uniform. Al Simmons had 1,827, Rickey Henderson 1,768.

———

My Learning and Developing a Pitch series has been on the shelf this summer due to the pandemic. With no clubhouse access, talking to multiple pitchers about their offerings on a weekly basis is next to impossible. Looking ahead — this assuming a return to normalcy — the series should return next year.

That said, a small number of unpublished “pitch” interviews have been sitting in my future-use folder. One of them, from the tail end of last season, is with Alec Mills. As the Chicago Cubs righty tossed a no-hitter one week ago today, now is a good time to unearth what he had to say about his signature pitch.

Mills told me that he wasn’t exactly sure when he began throwing a curveball, but it was “probably between the ages of 10 and 12.” He doesn’t recall it being taught to him so much as he learned it “just messing around.”

The 28-year-old University of Tennessee at Martin product described the grip as conventional, as opposed to spiked. He did allow that his pointer finger will often
come off the ball as he’s delivering the pitch. He knows that solely through watching video. The more-mesmerizing version of his hook dates back to early last season.

“I don’t want to say I did it by accident in the game, but I kind of just threw one in there a little slower,” explained Mills. “It was effective, so I from there I worked with it to make sure everything was looking the same coming out of my hand. I just kept trying to get slower and slower. There have been a couple times where I was 62-63 [mph] — something like that — but it’s usually around 66-68.”

How does he take off velocity without telegraphing what he’s doing?

“I grip the ball really hard,” said Mills. “I’m choking it as much as I can. I also kill my legs a little bit in the delivery without slowing down the upper body. But really, I never really threw a hard curveball to begin with, so it doesn’t take much for me to slow it down.”

Mills’s curveball has averaged 66.6 mph this year. Among pitchers with at least 30 innings, only Washington’s Patrick Corbin (65.1) has been slower.

———

2020 STAT NOTABLES

Through Friday there had been 202 MLB debuts this season. There were 261 debuts in 2019.

Ron Gardenhire announced his retirement yesterday, effective immediately, thus finishing his career with exactly 1,200 managerial wins. He was replaced by Lloyd McClendon, who got his 500th managerial win last night as the Tigers rallied to beat Cleveland.

The Cincinnati Reds have a team batting average of .213. The lowest batting average in Reds franchise history is .227, in 1908.

Going into Friday, the Reds had scored 200 runs and drawn 200 walks. They were the only team in baseball with as many walks as runs. The Reds have the most walks in the National League, and the fewest singles of any team.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitchers have issued 20 intentional walks, the most in the majors. The Minnesota Twins are the only team not to have intentionally walked a batter.

The Oakland A’s are 22 for 25 in stolen base attempts. No team has been caught stealing fewer times.

Baltimore Orioles rookie Ryan Mountcastle is 9 for 23 with runners in scoring position since making his big-league debut on August 21.

On Friday, Kyle Gibson became the 14th pitcher in Texas Rangers history to throw a complete-game shutout in a 1-0 win. Bobby Witt, on August 26, 1990, was the last.

Toronto’s Tanner Roark and Pittsburgh’s Trevor Williams have each allowed 14 home runs, the most in the majors. Atlanta Braves left-hander Max Fried has thrown 55 innings and has yet to allow a home run. Kansas City Royals right-hander Brad Keller goes into today’s start with 43-and-two-thirds homer-free frames.

Tomoyuki Sugano is 11-0 with a 1.64 ERA with NPB’s Yomiuri Giants. The 30-year-old right-hander has allowed 64 hits in 93-and-a-third innings.

Yesterday, Neftali Soto became the 81st imported player to reach 100 home runs in Japan. The all-time leader is Tuffy Rhodes, with 464. (per jballallen.com.)

———

Albert Pujols hit his 661st and 662nd home runs on Friday night, lifting him past Willie Mays and into fifth place on the all-time list. Mays had 660 home runs in 12,497 plate appearances. Pujols has 12,376 plate appearances.

A few other numbers:

Mays had 3,283 hits, Pujols has 3,235 hits.
Mays had 6,066 total bases, Pujols has 5,922 total bases.
Mays had a 154 wRC+. Pujols has a 143 wRC+.
Mays had 149.9 WAR. Pujols has 88 WAR.

———

Last Sunday’s column led with San Francisco Giants rookie left-hander Caleb Baragar, who’d garnered six decisions — five of them wins — in just 17-and-two-thirds big-league innings. Noted in the second paragraph was the possibility that no other pitcher had begun his big-league career with as many decisions in so few innings.

It turns that one had. According to research by stat geek extraordinaire Aidan Jackson-Evans, in 2004, Brian Bruney had a record of 3-3 with the Arizona Diamondbacks through his first 17-and-two-thirds innings.

Also per Jackson-Evans, Robbie Ross went 4-0 in his first eight innings. He did so with the Texas Rangers in 2012.

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Betty Caywood Bushman, who broke barriers as a Kansas City A’s broadcaster, died earlier this month at age 89. Pete Grathoff has the story at The Kansas City Star.

At The Detroit News, Chris McCosky wrote about how Tigers hitting coach Joe Vavra has helped Jeimer Candelario unlock his offensive talent.

At Our Game, John Thorn wrote about King Kelly, Rube Marquard, and baseball’s early history of selling players to rival teams.

Nelson Cruz is having another big year, and MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince is wondering if 2020 is finally the year for a DH to win MVP.

MASN’s Steve Melewski wrote about how the Orioles teach English as a second language to young Latin players.

———

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

Los Angeles Dodgers right-hander Don Newcombe had 2.3 WAR in 1955… as a hitter. Newcombe slashed .359/.395/.632, with seven home runs, in 125 plate appearances. As a pitcher, he went 20-5, 3.20 with 4.6 WAR.

Coco Crisp had 309 stolen bases and was caught 79 times. Buddy Bell had 55 stolen bases and was caught 79 times.

From 1955-1962, Mickey Mantle had 108 stolen bases in 123 attempts, an 88% success rate. The “Commerce Comet” also had 320 home runs over that eight year stretch.

In 1922, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Max Carey had 51 stolen bases and was caught stealing twice. He drew 80 walks and struck out 26 times.

Justin Verlander has 226 wins, a 3.33 ERA, and 72 WAR.
Tommy John had 288 wins, a 3.34 ERA, and 79.4 WAR.

Pat Malone went 60-22 for the Chicago Cubs from 1928-1930. Per Jeremy Frank and Jim Passon Jr’s Hidden Ball Trick: The Baseball Stats You Never Thought to Look For, Vol 2 no other live-ball era pitcher has won 60 games in his first three seasons.

Players born on this date include Tom Tresh, who won a World Series with the New York Yankees in his 1962 rookie-of-the-year season. A native of Detroit — he went on to finish his career with the Tigers in 1969 — Tresh was the son of Mike Tresh, who caught for the Chicago White Sox throughout the 1940s.

On this date in 1910, Farmer Ray — in the final game of his brief career — took the loss as the St. Louis Browns fell to the Boston Red Sox by a score of 9-5. Per B-Ref, Ray is the last of five major leaguers who are remembered with the first name “Farmer.”

On September 23, 1995, Lance Johnson went 6 for 6 with three triples to help lead the Chicago White Sox to a 14-4 win over the Minnesota Twins.

Nothing to do with baseball, but notable nonetheless: Bud Grant, who coached the Minnesota Vikings for 18 seasons and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played two seasons with the NBA’s Minneapolis Lakers. A 6’ 3” forward, Grant was on the George Mikan-led Lakers squad that won the NBA title in 1949-50.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

newest oldest most voted
Dooduh
Member
Dooduh

Contraction of the minors is such a disaster on so many levels and for what..? So penny wise and pound foolish. Not only the obvious impact to the growth of interest in the game at the fan level but also if you cut the draft and the minor leagues by a third, that will ultimately yield results accordingly – you will eventually see fewer players choose to focus their energy on baseball if there are fewer pro opportunities. While not every player expects a ML career, for many just playing professionally is the realization of a dream. With that being reduced, we are likely to see the talent pool shrink. It’s a terrible decision for the long term health of the game. Really stupid idea.

Phil
Member
Member
Phil

Fully agree – and Dayton Moore’s comments were spot on.

Also, if MLB want to keep it’s privileged position (so things like its antitrust exemption) then it has a moral duty to make sure there are as many opportunities to see baseball as possible.

William
Member
Member
William

Moore has spoken out on this topic in more detail. Please read this statement from him: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EZN-K3SXkAApWIk?format=png&name=900×900

These words from Moore should be drilled into the subconsciousness of Rob Manfred and all 30 MLB owners every single night while they are sleeping.

martyvan90
Member
Member
martyvan90

Phil, I love your “moral duty” argument. Baseball fans are a unique breed…
Notice Dayton Moore doesn’t make the player development argument. Although sadtrombone (below) alludes to Eric having made that case? I think its a weak arguement.
Most insiders feel better development would take place around complexes. The prospects with a real shot would have better working conditions (housing, nutrition, etc.) , better competition, better coaching, compensation aligned to hours worked, and avoidance of those six hour bus rides. Moore (like myself) makes the point that folding of lower leagues will impact small town American most. But they’ve been forgotten and ridiculed for 30 years.
Phil, it is a free country (still) and perhaps citizens like yourself should consider following your passion, risking capital, and developing an independent league team. I’m actually not being facetious. I think like all business ventures it’s risky, it’s hard work, and if there is a true business need it might be successful. Good luck.

Phil
Member
Member
Phil

But why on Earth would I want to set up an independent baseball team? MLB is a closed shop. (Also, is the rule that closed the Portland Mavericks still in effect – because I could go through all that effort, only for MLB to shut my team down)

I’m British – and tomorrow I could set up a football team in the England football leagues (ok, tomorrow is an exaggeration – but in non-Covid times, it could happen very fast). Would they be good? No. Would they be playing in front on two men and a dog? Yes. But could they eventually make the Premier League? Yes.

In fact, some fan groups have been so irritated by their team’s ownership, that they have set up their own teams. One, AFC Wimbledon, in London, was set up because their original team were moved to Milton Keynes. They both now play in the same division.

Either baseball has a privileged position and extra rights that a normal business does not, and therefore has extra responsibilities too. Or it is a normal business, and should have to follow normal business rules. How is, for example, the draft something that follows free market principles?

martyvan90
Member
Member
martyvan90

Thanks for an excellent and measured response. The baseball antitrust provision is full of misconceptions (I had a few before rereading NG’s excellent series- see below). What “privilege” MLB is afforded is an interesting question- I would suspect its one filled with additional misconceptions. Obviously U.S. law and professional league structure varies tremendously from English and perhaps La Liga et al? In reality, Congress revoking the antitrust exemption (maybe a good idea?) won’t “fix” what people think it will.
But the gist of the original article is around MiLB contraction. My question always is what’s the argument(s) for opposing contraction? Drayton Moore’s is it’s impact on town rural America. Perhaps MLB should initiate a rural baseball initiative like they tried for the inner African American community? I don’t know the effectiveness of those efforts?
In closing, I find irony in people who rightfully sought a minimum wage for all MiLB players becoming apoplectic when a solution emerges- albeit not the one they sought… And the argument against Minor League contraction is weak on impact of player development- most insiders feel player development around complexes will result in better development of elite MiLB players. The marginal prospects will fall through the cracks and possible try the independent league route- hence my comment ^.

https://blogs.fangraphs.com/baseballs-antitrust-exemption-a-primer/

MikeS
Member
Member
MikeS

If just one of those org guys develops into an average major league starter, the excess value generated probably offsets several years cost of running one of those teams.

Drafting and development is largely chance after you get past a very few guys at the top of each class. You want as many of those lottery tickets as you can possibly have.

sadtrombone
Member
Member
sadtrombone

I had always considered expansion a bit ridiculous, but Eric’s argument about the number of quality players who weren’t getting a chance swayed me quite a bit. I don’t know for sure about all of the teams–some places, like Colorado Springs, are just bad places to develop players–but expansion serves the interest of (1) having more places for these upper-level minor leaguers to get a shot and (2) saving 8 of those teams, at minimum.