Fixing the All-Star Game: A Battle of the Ages

This is a guest post from RAB Shop extraordinaire Tyler Wilkinson. So read it, then go buy something.

Baseball’s mid-summer classic, once an avenue for die-hard fans to catch a glimpse of cross-country superstars, has descended into a watered down exhibition featuring all of the players we watch every night on MLB.tv and every morning on Sportscenter. With the appeal fading, several years ago Commissioner Bud Selig took the radical step of turning this meaningless event into the deciding factor for home-field advantage in the World Series. Yes, crazy. Believe it or not, the possibility of Aaron Crow influencing home-field advantage hasn’t yielded the results Selig was looking for. With that in mind, I have an unrealistic crackpot idea to drive up interest.

A battle for of the ages.

Problem 1, the rosters are too damn big. Peace out Aaron Crow. Royals, you want an All-Star, trade Hosmer and Moose Tacos to the Yankees for A-Rod. Picking on Aaron Crow is fun. Kidding aside, trying to include a member of every squad is diluting the talent pool and lessening the experience. Solution: 25 man rosters. Done.

Problem 2, Joe Buck & Tim McCarver. Do the right thing, Fox.

Problem 3, people aren’t tuning in to watch AL vs. NL anymore. We need a twist. How about a battle of old vs. new? Jeter vs. Cano? Lester vs. Gonzalez? Good vs. Good? Evil vs. Evil? Taking this year’s injury-riddled lineups and splitting them into the 25 youngest players I find interesting and the 25 oldest players I find interesting, let’s see how the rosters fill out.

Young Punks

C:  McCann
1B: Fielder
2B: Cano
3B: Sandoval
SS: Reyes (we’ll roll with the fan vote)
OF: Braun
OF: Kemp
OF: Upton
DH: Votto

SP: Lincecum
SP: Hernandez (F-Her, don’t forget to spread the nickname)
SP: Lester
SP: Price
SP: Hamels
RP: Weaver
RP: Cain
RP: Kershaw
RP: Pineda
RP: Jurrjens
CL: Robertson (shut up, it’s my list!)

BN: Avila
BN: McCutchen
BN: Tulowitzki
BN: Martin (3 catchers to swap out in the ASG seems reasonable)
BN: Bruce

Thoughts: Relievers not named Mo probably don’t belong in the ASG, apologies to Aaron Crow. That is a ridiculous pitching staff. I hope Lester hits Youkilis in his ugly ribs.

Old Geezers

C: Molina (I double checked. It’s not Gustavo)
1B: Gonzalez, Ad.
2B: Phillips
3B: Rodriguez
SS: Jeter
OF: Bautista
OF: Granderson
OF: Hamilton
DH: Holliday

SP: Halladay
SP: Sabathia
SP: Lee
SP: Verlander (the youngest of the old geezers & the exact middle point)
SP: Beckett
RP: Shields
RP: Wilson, Brian (have to break the no relievers rule)
RP: Valverde (and again, gross)
RP: Bell  (and again)
RP: Wilson, CJ
CL:  Rivera (forever and ever)

BN: Montero, Mig.
BN: Beltran
BN: Berkman
BN: Kendrick (someone’s gotta backup the middle infield)
BN: Youkilis (gross)

Thoughts: While the youngsters have a ridiculous pitching staff, the old folks have some big guns of their own up front with a familiar face closing it down. There’s a lot of pop in the old guys’ lineup.

While not perfect (Valverde survived the cut), I still believe the new format would increase interest. Baseball would have an avenue to market their phenomenal young stars to a national audience and the fat of the current system would be trimmed right off.  Plus, the novelty of seeing a Reyes/Cano double play combo is probably more appealing than the standard AL/NL lineups that people have grown accustomed to.  The one thing I think we can all agree on is that home-field advantage being decided in an exhibition game three months before the World Series is ridiculous and unnecessary.  While a radical alteration like the one I proposed is unrealistic, correcting home-field advantage is a simple step that needs to be fixed yesterday. That and Joe Buck.

Sabathia stops the losing streak, Yanks beat Jays 4-1

LOL Jays.

It had been almost a week since the Yankees last won a game, though the All-Star break makes that sound worse than it is. After losing two games in a row, the Yankees had the right man on the mound to … put it on the left side!

  • CC Sabathia‘s 23.2 IP scoreless streak ended in the very first inning thanks to a walk, a stolen base, and a single, but that was all the Blue Jays got. The big guy struck out eight in eight innings, walked three and allowed just three hits. He threw 110 pitches and got 14 swings and misses, his fifth highest total of the season. Over his last five starts, CC has struck out 50 and walked just nine in 39.2 IP. He’s quite good, you know.
  • The Yankees got all the runs they would need in the second inning, when Andruw Jones singled in Nick Swisher and Eduardo Nunez drove in Brett Gardner with a ground out. They chipped in another run in the third when the Jays botched a run down (they had Robinson Cano caught between first and second, but Curtis Granderson broke for home from third with two outs and Toronto threw the ball away), and a Derek Jeter infield single plated the fourth run in the fourth.
  • Brett Gardner had three hits (including two doubles) in four trips to the plate and is 7-for-12 with three doubles in the series. Jeter singled twice, Granderson singled and walked, Mark Teixeira singled, Cano singled and walked, Swisher doubled over the center fielder’s head, Andruw singled, and Frankie Cervelli walked. Eduardo Nunez was the only Yankee not to reach base, though he did lay down a bunt that eventually led to the run down mishap. Cervelli and Gardner each stole bases.
  • Mariano Rivera allowed two bloop singles in the ninth but was otherwise his normal self, striking out two. He did have to throw 28 pitches though (23 for strikes), which might be an issue if the Yankees have a late lead the next few games. It was a pretty standard win, Sabathia dominated, the offense scratched out some runs, and Mo slammed the door. That’s the story right there. Here’s the box score and WPA Graph.

The final game of this four-game series will be played Sunday afternoon. Phil Hughes will make his second start off the disabled list against Carlos Villanueva. I’m kind sick of Toronto, time to get out of there.

A loss at (almost) every level

Tyler Austin has been promoted to Short Season Staten Island. Mason Williams kinda sorta broke the news on Twitter, and the team roster confirms it. The Yankees weren’t messing around, he dominated rookie ball and they bumped him up to give him a challenge. Meanwhile, a Mets scout is making a special trip to Trenton this weekend. Dun dun dun.

As for some injury news, Mark Prior was scratched from his scheduled appearance today. For shame. Bradley Suttle is day-to-day with some arm stiffness.

Triple-A Scranton (7-4 loss to Toledo)
Kevin Russo, LF & Doug Bernier, SS: both 0 for 3 – Russo walked twice and struck ut … Bernier got hit by a pitch and struck out twice
Austin Krum, CF & Terry Tiffee, DH: both 2 for 5 – Krum drove in a run and struck out … Tiffee doubled and scored twice
Jesus Montero, C: 1 for 3, 1 R, 2 BB, 1 K
Jorge Vazquez, 1B: 0 for 4, 1 BB, 1 K, 1 E (fielding) – 106 strikeouts in 75 games
Brandon Laird, 2B & Jordan Parraz, RF: both 1 for 4, 1 2B – Laird drove in two and whiffed … Parraz plated a run
Luis Nunez, 2B: 2 for 3, 1 R, 1 SB, 1 HBP
Pants Lendleton, RHP: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 1 K, 2-6 GB/FB – exactly half of his 86 pitches were strikes
George Kontos, RHP: 2.1 IP, 4 H, 5 R, 4 ER, 2 BB, 1 K, 4-2 GB/FB – 34 of 52 pitches were strikes (65.4%) … that won’t help his chances of a call-up
J.C. Romero, LHP: 1.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 0 K, 3-0 GB/FB – ten of 13 pitches were strikes … picked a runner off second

[Read more…]

Open Thread: Curtis Granderson on ESPN’s E:60

Curtis Granderson will be featured on ESPN’s E:60 this coming Tuesday, a piece that looks at his relationship with the family of Brian Bluhm. Bluhm was killed in the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007, but he was a lifelong Tigers’ fan and one of Grandy’s biggest fans. He was a pretty active member of the online baseball community as well, doing most of his commenting over at John Sickel’s Minor League Ball. The E:60 feature will air Tuesday at 7pm ET on ESPN. That’s the trailer above.

Here’s your open thread for the night. MLB Network is airing a game, though the teams depend on where you live. Talk about whatever you want here.

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Soriano to begin rehab assignment on Tuesday

Via Chad Jennings, Rafael Soriano will begin a minor league rehab assignment on Tuesday, most likely with High-A Tampa. He threw 25 or so pitches in a live batting practice session today and everything went fine.  The Yankees want Soriano to pitch in back-to-back days before activating him, but rehab assignments for relievers are a formality more than anything else. If all goes well, figure he’ll be back in two weeks.

On WAR and the duties of the analyst

One of the biggest ironies of the new stat age is that the development of sophisticated and nuanced analytical tools like WAR provide the reader with a shortcut and enable the same type of lazy, simplistic analysis the tools were created to avoid. One doesn’t need to travel very far to find instances of this sort: see the use of single-season fWAR to settle debates on All-Star selections/snubs or MVP ballots. For the uninitiated, this is “doing it wrong”. WAR is comprised of many components: baserunning, fielding, and offense, among others. When it comes to fielding, a large sample of data is required in order to ensure reliability. In fact, many say that 3 seasons of UZR data is a good sample size. But single-season fWAR considers only the UZR data in that given year. This doesn’t mean that single-season fWAR is useless, just that some caution and editorial discretion is required in its application.

This isn’t the fault of WAR’s framework, although one can be forgiven for wishing there was some sort of warning sign attached to it on the Fangraphs’ leaderboards with a blinking light and a flashing message: “BEWARE! Small sample sizes still apply! Especially with the defensive component!”. Rather, the misuse of the framework is more user error than anything else. Drivers are responsible for knowing how to properly operate a car; analysts are responsible for knowing how to use WAR. They’re also responsible for not intentionally misuing WAR, or any other stat, to serve a preexisting agenda.

This gets us to a simple point, which is this: it’s the duty of the analyst to use the tools and frameworks wisely, with humility and honesty, and to create a margin of space which allows for tolerance and ambiguity. This is decidedly antithetical to the approach found so often in many popular forums: assert a controversial opinion, get pageviews, profit. But it’s a better approach. It’s not easy, and it requires far more work than making a few clicks on Fangraphs and spouting off an opinion on “Who’s better this year”, but it’s the way to circumvent the dogmatism and unsophisticated analysis we find so distasteful when we see it anywhere else.

One of the most hair-raising parts of George Orwell’s book Animal Farm is when the animals look through the window and find that the faces of the pigs have become indistinguishable from the faces of the humans that they all worked together to overthrow. The symbolism is unmistakeable: once they achieved their goals they became what they hated. The message is of course a political one, but it has bearing in the world of baseball analysis. This movement – call it a SABR movement, a stat movement, a mouth-breathing basement-dwelling movement, whatever you like – is only gathering more and more steam. WAR is on Baseball Tonight. David Cone broadcasts the virtues of FIP to the entire YES Network audience. It’s only getting bigger and stronger.

As the movement expands it will become easier to develop a more rigid orthodoxy. This isn’t necessarily bad. In a religious sense orthodoxy maintains the purity of a belief system, prevents false doctrines from gaining root amongst believers, and roots out heretics. In the world of baseball analysis it is far less coherent, systematic or discursive. But there’s still orthodoxy. There’s still a set of rules, however loose, analysts are playing by. There’s nothing wrong with this per se, but the risk is that orthodoxy can turn into dogmatism, which will stifle the innovative and free-thinking spirit which animated the movement in the beginning. Then the movement will stop growing, and it will be dead and boring. Consider this a call to keep that spirit alive, to keep hustling and thinking outside the box, to not use single-season WAR in an irresponsible way and to be ready to set aside WAR and any other metric, state or framework as inferior when the next innovation comes along.

Kevin Goldstein’s Midseason Top 50 Prospects

Kevin Goldstein posted his midseason top 50 prospects list today (subs. req’d), and he has Jesus Montero ranked as the seventh best prospect in the game. “He has not yet put up big numbers this year,” said KG, “there is clearly a frustration factor as he has nowhere to go in New York. At some point, the Yankees just have to trade him and accept the fact that he’ll rake elsewhere.” Montero was third overall in his preseason list.

The Yankees placed three others on the list. Manny Banuelos ranked 14th (“remains a lefty with two excellent pitches in his fastball and changeup … poised for a big second half), Dellin Betances ranked 24th (“whispers about him possibly being better off as a late-inning reliever are becoming more common these days”), and Gary Sanchez ranked 39th (“shown impressive power for an 18-year-old … scouts [still] project him as an adequate defender”). The Rangers are the only other team with four top 40 prospects, the Royals the only other with four in the top 50.