The Changing Face of Baseball

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You know already that Javier Baez made the All-Star roster, but now he and Cubs buddy Kyle Schwarber are also going to be blasting some taters next Monday:

I don’t think this will mess up their swing and it has the very likely probability of entertaining the heck out of us. Manager Joe Maddon is supportive of it, too, so perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much:

The only weird thing about the Home Run Derby this year is that there is only one representative for the American League in Alex Bregman. Usually they’re split equally between the two leagues, and it’s not like the AL is lacking in big boppers. However, a few big stars have chosen to bow out, so I guess they needed some volunteers to fill in the field. At least Schwarber will get a free meal or two!

Anyway, as the Cubs head into the off day, I wanted to take a look at some of the fun things I’ve seen regarding baseball as we know it now. Firstly, the fact that MLB has already used over 1200 players so far this season and it’s not even the All-Star Break yet:

I agree with the reasoning from Joel Sherman here. As the Cubs have already shown, they were happy using the disabled list to make sure Kris Bryant was okay before bringing him back into the fold, and Bryant was able to smack a home run to reward their patience. There are other instances of using the now 10-day disabled list as well to get guys right and not aggravate injuries, where in the past you may have seen them try to tough out and play through because it was a 15-day minimum. Also, with increased specialization especially in the bullpen, it makes sense to take advantage of a taxi squad and employ creative roster shuffling. Craig Calcaterra does make a good point about the rosters being so fluid, though:

While a lot of fans will own up to “rooting for laundry” (i.e. supporting a team no matter who is playing for it) fans unquestionably have a far greater attachment to a team which has players they know and recognize. Players whose development they can track and whose performance they can follow over time. With a much larger portion of the roster turning over constantly, the players increasingly become unknown quantities for whom feelings run comparatively shallow. That diminishes the fan experience, I suspect, and over time diminishes a fan’s loyalty and enthusiasm for a team.

I unfortunately don’t see how MLB can bring an easy fix to this problem. General managers are in it to win it within the constraints of the roster rules and budgets, and if you have heard Theo Epstein or Jed Hoyer talk, they don’t actually care all that much about what fans think as long as the team is winning. I imagine there may be some push from the Commissioner’s Office to streamline the game, but I don’t know if that would come with a constraint on roster fluidity. Anyway, this is something to keep an eye on, as we all are aware that despite having tons of talented players, MLB has a marketing problem compared to other sports leagues.

Something else that we have discussed before but is now actually quantifiable is how relatively stale the game has become if you are a fan of balls in play:

It’s not hard to understand why hitters are having issues with balls in play, because the game has shifted heavily to the pitchers’ favor. Take Carl Edwards Jr., as an example:

Consider that the hitter has a very brief window of opportunity to decide whether to swing or not, and to ensure that the bat can meet the ball to inflict maximum damage. Now consider that a pitch arsenal like Carl’s uses the same “tunnel” up until after the decision to swing and the action towards the plate has begun. It’s not hard to understand why the strikeouts have gone way up. There is another consideration, of course:

“If I’m not mistaken, the level of production goes: strikeout, popup, ground ball, fly ball, line drive. The production comes mostly from fly balls and line drives, so that’s what we want. I’m trying to hit a line drive first. And if I miss, I hit a fly ball. Ground balls, popups and strikeouts aren’t going to give you anything. It’s not necessarily rocket science.

Daniel Murphy is very astute about why shifts are effective and why it is now necessary to try to drive the in the air, which could lead to more outs, but could also lead to home runs (which do not count as balls in play). Home runs are great for the most part, but while they are awesome feats of strength and skill, they don’t actually lead to a lot of baseball-related action, because the defenders can’t even get to the ball most of the time (the occasional home run robbery attempt notwithstanding). I don’t know how you can ask players to try to go the other way more often without also hitting into outs, since pitchers are usually good at locating their pitches to take advantage of the shifts behind them (unless they’re Tyler Chatwood, lulz). I also don’t think banning shifts is a good idea, because that would change the language such that you couldn’t have four-man outfields or five-man infields anymore. It seems to go against the spirit of the game, which is for the defense to record as many outs as possible. How else do you do that than to use data to aid in positioning?

I think the solution may lie in altering the placement or height of the mound again, somewhat like what they did after the dominating days of Bob Gibson. That may give hitters more time to react to the increased velocity and line baseballs all over the place rather than swinging and missing or hitting weak ground balls into the shift. It may also be a good idea to dejuice the baseball some and keep the ball in play more to generate more action from the defense. Doubles and triples into the gap are exciting! But for the time being, we’re stuck with this current version of baseball, so let’s make the most of it and enjoy Javy’s magic among other great plays that still happen, albeit not as often as we’d like.

And as a fond farewell to this post, a classic from friend and former colleague Mauricio in advance of trade season:

You’ll see names from Manny Machado to Jacob DeGrom to any big name target on a crappy team linked to the Cubs these days, so this month is going to be a load of fun.

 

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About Rice Cube

Rice Cube is the executive vice president of snark at World Series Dreaming. He loves all things Cubs, with notable exceptions (specifically, the part of Cubs fandom that pisses him off). Follow on Twitter at cubicsnarkonia

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