Baseball

We discussed this on the Desipio Podcast, but I wanted to delve into it a little more. It’s the actual aim of this proposed playoff system in MLB.

First off, it has to be said again that this leaking out of the idea, the trial balloon as it were, is almost certainly an attempt to get people talking about anything else than the Astros, or Jim Crane, or the Red Sox or Cubs simply raising a white flag. While baseball did hand out some contracts this winter and had some stories other than that, nothing has been as big as the sign-stealing scandal or the Betts trade, and as excited as Dodgers fans might be to have Mookie Betts, the optics of it still stink. This is some Wag The Dog tactics by MLB, I’m sure of it.

And we also know the real reason that MLB wants to expand the playoffs is more television money for more playoff games. I don’t know where the saturation point is for that, where people stop caring about playoff games because the number of them don’t make them special anymore. The NBA and NHL would be examples of MLB being a long way off from that, though that’s always been basketball’s and hockey’s system and maybe the perception or feeling is different when you’re changing to get to that. I guess we’ll find out one day.

The cover reason is to give more teams something to play for throughout the season. That’s what they’ll tell you, though. I would argue that the real reason is to give more teams more reason to just aim for 86 wins instead of 95.

That’s why, in hockey and baseball, you see front offices always pumping the idea, “You just have to get in.” With the Nationals being defending champs, it would appear that a champion can be somewhat random. Except that’s the exception. Look at recent history:

2018 – Red Sox: 108 wins

2017 – Astros: 101 wins (legitimate or not)

2016 – Cubs: 103 wins

2015 – Royals: 95 wins

2014 – Giants: Wildcard winners

2013 – Red Sox: 97 wins

So two of the last seven were “outside the box,” as it were. More than a quarter of the time, but still hardly anything like a 50-50 shot.

Now, perhaps with an expansion of middling teams getting a shot, you’d see more and more upset winners. Sheer numbers would tell you that, especially when the system isn’t really weighted to the better teams other than the top one, and they still would have three rounds to negotiate to win the World Series.

This is just an expansion of the “just get in,” theory, which really is just a justification for not putting in the work and resources to build a truly great team. What really is the reward under that system to build a team capable of winning 100 games when winning 88 only requires you to play three more games, and quite possibly all at home? And if more teams under this system come from the clouds to win a World Series, it would only justify staying in the middle more.

The counter to this is that the old, four-divisions-four-playoff teams left too many teams out of it by July and hurt interest and attendance. And I realize we’re never going back to that. But the landscape is so different now. For one, baseball teams aren’t nearly as beholden to their attendance figures for profit as they were. There’s far more avenues pouring into their coiffeurs now. Do they really care if they aren’t drawing that well in August?

Hell, right now we can safely say that Seattle, San Francisco, Colorado, Texas, Miami, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, Pittsburgh have exactly dick to play for. That’s nearly a third of the league. You might be able to put Arizona and Cleveland on this list before a couple months in the season are played. So what’s an unacceptable number of teams not playing for anything? Hasn’t it always been this way? Do we think things would change there with four more playoff spots available? Curious.

But really what they want is not to be held to such a high standard. If you only allowed division winners into the postseason, then everyone would have to aim to get to Dodgers or Yankees or Astros-level (fairly or not). In order to sell excitement to your fans, you’d have to threaten that you’d actually threaten those teams one day soon.

I don’t know that I completely buy the idea that fans won’t show for a team that’s not going to the postseason completely. A good marketing a team along with at least a vision shown by a front office that had demonstrated a desire is enough for most fans to enjoy a day out at the park. It’s still baseball in the summer, isn’t it?

But that would require more work than these assholes are willing to put in. Why pay for a 100-win team when it’s easier to rig the system so you only have to pay for a 86-win one?

They’re all Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom.

 

Baseball

You’ll never convince Cubs fans that Bryce Harper wouldn’t have fixed everything that’s wrong with them. Big splashes feel good. You learned that when you were four at the pool (unless you were like me and your father showing you “Jaws” at age four had you terrified of any body of water until you were like 10. It was an odd childhood). Harper would probably be a slight upgrade on Nicholas Castellanos now, and certainly would have provided more than Albert Almora Jr. did in center, or whatever various combinations the Cubs have tried.

Still, the Phillies–or more to the point, their fans–might just be wondering if this is all they’re going to get from their $330M man. Because it’s easy to sit and point out that his average, his on-base, his slugging are all below career-norms, as are the encompassing numbers like wOBA and wRC+. It would be natural to conclude that it will go up from here, that is if you were the optimistic type. Phillies fans have rarely been confused with that, though.

But this is hardly the first season that Harper has put up above-average but hardly Titan-mashing numbers. His wRC+ is 118 this year. He has a 111 season on the resume, and a 115. He’s shown this before. And none of these numbers are bad, but they’re not worth the armored truck he’s getting paid on a weekly basis.

And you have to ask how much his incredible 2015 season, which featured a 197 wRC+ and a .461 wOBA. Even without that season, his averages for his career are that of a very good, if not great, player. But he’s hardly a metronome. It’s not that he’s past his peak, it’s just that the Phillies can see it from where he is now.

So how do they get him back to that 2015 form? Or even 2017 when he was fantastic before getting hurt? Which is also a patented move for him.

That’s a tough answer. Harper has seen a small surge in his contact numbers, just liek everyone else this year thanks to the Titleists that are posing as baseballs these days. But hardly a surge, and pretty much in line with what he’s done most of his career.

What has flummoxed Harper this year is that he’s been nearly helpless against breaking pitches. He whiffs on half the swings he takes against them, which is a bit obscene. Against sliders and curves he’s not even close to hitting .200. He hasn’t been much better on change-ups. Harper has always struggled with slower stuff, but this is pushing it. Might make one fear he’s cheating on fastballs, which at the age of 27 would be something of a nightmare. It’s still tough to get a fastball by him, but he can’t be selling out for that now. And he is whiffing a touch more on those as well.

And it would appear that pitchers have found a soft-spot on Harper with the fastball: Check out up and in in the zone on him and outside for his career and then this year, in terms of slugging:

Now with the pop-up rate this year:

Seem like he’s having trouble catching up? Care to guess where most of the whiffs on sliders and curves come? You know, we don’t have to show you.

It’s hard to believe that with Harper’s other-worldly bat-speed he can’t get to fastballs in tight anymore, but that’s the way it looks. He’s not going to see anything else until he solves this, and solve it via another way then just getting out in front even more. Otherwise, the next 11 years in Philadelphia he’s going to find are less than sensitive.