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Murphy’s Law has nothing on the Official Baseball Rules. Only three days into the new season, two games were decided by controversial rulings that called into question both the wisdom of the rule book and the umpires who interpret it.

Rob Manfred was likely hoping for an easier test case for the new “Utley Rule“, but Jose Bautista had other ideas. With the Blue Jays trailing by a run and the bases loaded, Bautista appeared, at first glance, to successfully breakup a double play attempt. However, while the Jays thought they were taking the lead, the umpires were taking a closer look at his slide. The circumstances couldn’t have been more acute, and the verdict more dramatic. Bautista was called out for interference, and a Blue Jays’ lead suddenly turned into a victory for the Tampa Rays.

 

 

The new “Utley rule” wasn’t welcomed warmly when it was first announced, so, not surprisingly, the outcry over its first application has been loud. But, overlooked amid the furor is that what Bautista did has never been permissible. Under no iteration of the rules have runners been able to grab the legs of fielders, and that’s exactly what Bautista did at the end of his slide. In fact, this year’s rules, and the ones used prior, include the exact same general definition of interference. According to the glossary of terms, “Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play.” And, if grabbing a fielder doesn’t fall under that definition, it’s hard to imagine what would.

Rule 6.01(j) Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts

Source: Official MLB Rules Continue Reading »

The Yankees enter 2016 with enough talent to win the division, but an equal amount of uncertainty at key positions. Fortunately for the Bronx Bombers, their A.L. East competition is similarly burdened. However, whereas the Yankees’ doubts mostly revolve around health, the other teams in the division are facing questions that are more about performance. That doesn’t lessen the risk, but, perhaps, makes the Yankees a safer pick to reclaim the A.L. East crown.

The Yankees were much improved in 2015. Despite winning only three more games, the team’s overall performance was vastly better. In terms of run differential, the Bronx Bombers posted an 11-game improvement, and, if not for an aggressive push by the Toronto Blue Jays, the Yankees may have ended last year with over 90 wins and a division championship. It’s also worth noting that the Yankees’ improvement wasn’t the result of everything falling into place. The circumstances of last season fell somewhere in between the base and bull cases for 2015, so, when projecting forward, last year’s baseline doesn’t require much of a discount.

At its most basic level, the Yankees’ blueprint for success will depend on maximizing the number of innings thrown by its talented, but fragile rotation, and then protecting every late lead with a shutdown bullpen. If the Bronx Bombers are able to properly leverage the back-end trio of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman, they’ll not only improve their chances of winning more games, but perhaps lighten the load on the likes of Masahiro Tanaka, Michael Pineda and Nathan Eovaldi, thereby improving the durability of the team’s fragile rotation.

On offense, the Yankees will rely on another trio. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Beltran and Mark Teixeira may be a year older, but, if last year is any guide, they’re not slowing down too much. It might be overly optimistic to expect each veteran to remain as healthy and productive as 2015, but even if there is some regression, the upgrade of Starlin Castro over Stephen Drew, as well as a reasonable expectation of improvement from Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Chase Headley, could make up some of the difference. Had Greg Bird not been lost for the year, his presence would have provided a comforting insurance policy, but even in his absence, the Yankees should be able to rely on a younger, more talented major league bench as well as a farm system capable of yielding reinforcements.

Another potential advantage the Yankees may have this year versus last is a greater willingness by Hal Steinbrenner to spend money for a big mid-season addition. With a new CBA looming (and a likely higher luxury tax threshold), and $50 million due off the books, the Yankees may be willing to spend for an extra bat or starter should the need arise.

Following are 10 key questions outlined and answered in the context of reasonable best, base, and worst case scenarios. Also, scroll below to see how well the Captain’s Blog has predicted the Yankees’ annual win total. Continue Reading »

 

2016 Predictions

American League East

The Yankees have the most talented collection of starters in the division…as long as they can stay healthy. This balance of potential performance with risk has become a hallmark of the Bronx Bombers over the last few seasons, and extends throughout the roster. This year, however, the Yankees have structured themselves in a way to mitigate some the risk. In addition to building what could be a historically dominant bullpen, the team has also improved its athleticism. Such attributes are usually evident on teams that outperform the sum of their parts (like the Royals), and that’s why the Bronx Bombers are probably the safest pick to win the A.L. East.

Whereas the question about the Yankees’ rotation is can they be healthy, the Red Sox have to wonder whether their starters can be good. On Opening Day, Boston will field the best team in the A.L. East, if not all of baseball, but it’s the other four days when David Price isn’t on the mound that could scuttle their championship aspirations. Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, and Rick Porcello are not without talent, but they are each years removed from harnessing it on a consistent basis. For that reason, the division is really the Red Sox to lose, and unless two more starters (including the currently injured Eduardo Rodriguez) emerge as solid complements to Price, they probably will.

The Blue Jays shouldn’t be discounted. But, neither should the void left by David Price’s departure. Before acquiring the lefty, Toronto was basically a .500 team, so it’s hard to determine the true baseline for 2016. A healthy Marcus Stroman will help close some of the gap, but, if the 24-year old righty doesn’t immediately blossom into an ace, the rest of the rotation does not have the upside to make up for the difference. Of course, the Blue Jays lineup will hide some of the blemishes of a shaky rotation, but similar levels of health and production from the team’s big four veterans is a tall order. These concerns won’t prevent the Blue Jays from being very competitive, but it could leave them on the outside of the playoff picture.

The Rays will pitch and catch the ball, but they won’t score enough runs to win on a consistent basis. Meanwhile, the Orioles could very well lead the American League in home runs, but their own staff may allow just as many. And, when Orioles’ pitchers keep the ball in the park, catching it could be a problem. Breakeven is a reasonable goal for both teams, but it’s more likely Tampa and Baltimore will bring up the rear at below .500.

 American League Central

When the Tigers traded David Price, it looked as if Detroit was beginning a lengthy rebuild, but this winter, 86-year old owner Mike Ilitch decided “win now” was a better approach. By adding Justin Upton and Jordan Zimmermann, the Tigers re-inserted themselves into the division mix, but how far the Tigers go will still depend on the stalwarts of the team’s recent success. If Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez can stay in the lineup, the Tigers will score a lot of runs. The big question, however, is can Detroit’s pitchers prevent them? And, the answer to that question depends upon which Justin Verlander will anchor the rotation? If the end of last year and this spring are to be believed, Verlander could be closer to his Cy Young form than the struggles of 2014. Along with an improved bullpen, that should be enough to catapult the Tigers back atop the division.

The Royals play much better on the field than they look on paper. Speed, defense and a powerful bullpen has been the formula KC has used to surprise the baseball world, but can that approach continue to yield sustained success? Kansas City has proven such skepticism wrong over the last two seasons, but players like Ben Zobrist and Ryan Madson helped them do that, and it remains to be seen whether these key departures have been adequately replaced.

The Indians’ top three starters could be as strong as any team in baseball, but a lack of depth on offense and a still questionable defense are formidable enough barriers to prevent Cleveland from reaching the next level. The White Sox are improved, especially with the addition of Todd Frazier, but that’s faint praise for a team that wasn’t very good last year. The Twins, meanwhile, are headed in the opposite direction. Although Minnesota has reason for optimism, especially regarding its young outfield of Eddie Rosario, Byron Buxton, and Miguel Sano, a weak pitching staff (especially if Jose Berrios is kept in the minors) will result in one step back after the two forward steps last year.

American League West

In Carlos Correa and Dallas Keuchel, the Astros might have the best position player and pitcher in the American League, but by no means is Houston top heavy. The Astros also have good bats all around the diamond, a rotation with quality throughout, and a bullpen that was deep before the off season addition of Ken Giles. With such a well-rounded roster, Houston has the largest margin for error in the division, and, perhaps, the entire league.

The Rangers’ 2016 season could hinge on the health of returning ace Yu Darvish. If the righty can combine with Cole Hamels to form a pair of aces, Texas may hold enough cards to wrestle the division from their cross-state rivals. That’s a lot to put on the arm of one pitcher, especially an arm recovering from Tommy John surgery and not expected back until May, so a wild card is a much safer bet for the Rangers.

If ever a team needed an organization shakeup, it was the Mariners. After a disappointing 2015, the team cleaned house at the management level, but didn’t go far enough revamping the major league roster. Stars like King Felix, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz should keep Seattle relevant, but it’s hard to win a division with bench players sprinkled throughout the starting lineup. Speaking of top heavy, the Angels have two historic offensive players in Mike Trout and Albert Pujols, but not much else, while the Athletics have surrounded an ace in Sonny Gray with similar mediocrity.

National League East

The Mets’ have the most talented starting rotation in baseball, which is a good thing because defense probably won’t be a strong suit. That’s what makes the team’s offense such a focal point. Although New York can compete based solely on the strength of its young arms, to truly be the division favorite, the Mets will need more consistent run production. At times, Yoenis Cespedes will carry the load all by himself, but he’ll also go through his share of prolonged slumps. When that happens, a healthy David Wright and Travis d’Arnaud will need to pick up the slack, while Michael Conforto and Lucas Duda supply home run power. After all, the more runs the Mets score, the less they’ll have to rely on the bullpen, which, as the World Series revealed, remains the team’s Achilles heel.

Even if the Mets live up to their potential, the Nationals are still good enough to wrestle the division away. Having Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper is a big reason why. Then again, because the Nationals rely more heavily on their best players, the bear case has more downside. Regardless of which team wins the division, both should make the playoffs by capitalizing on the weakness at the bottom of the division. The Marlins won’t lose a 100 games like the Phillies and Braves, but the Mets and Nats should fatten up with 57 games against the three.

National League Central

The Cubs didn’t take their 2015 success for granted. Instead, Chicago opened its pocket book and signed three big free agents in Jayson Heyward, Zobrist and John Lackey, the latter two who boast postseason success. The bullpen is probably the Cubs’ weakest component, but the addition of Adam Warren should help in that regard. Unless Jake Arrieta turns back into pumpkin, or the curse rears its ugly head, the Cubs are the most prohibitive favorite in baseball, which will probably cause great discomfort for the superstitious in Chicago.

With the defections of Lackey and Heyward, the Cubs’ gain was the Cardinals’ loss, but St. Louis has proven able to compensate for free agent departures by developing talent from within. Every organization reaches a breaking point, however, and this year, St. Louis could find itself a little thin. Adam Wainwright will help cushion the blow to the pitching staff, but lingering injury concerns throughout the rotation create some doubt. Randal Grichuk and Stephen Piscotty also have to validate their emergence in 2015, while the loss of Jhonny Peralta and slow recovery of Yadier Molina add more uncertainty to the mix. The Cardinals have been the National League’s most successful team over the last decade, but in 2016, they have a lot to prove.

The Pirates have been nipping at the Cardinals heels for three years, and they’ll likely be in that position again this year, except now it will be for second place. While the Cubs spent the off season adding players, the Pirates saw A.J. Burnett, Todd Walker, and J.A. Happ depart.  Those losses, as well as Jung Ho Kang‘s lingering injury, have contributed to the widening gulf between the Pirates and first place.

How bad will the Brewers be? It’s probably no consolation to fans in Milwaukee, but not as bad as the Reds. If there’s an odds on choice for next year’s number one draft pick, it’s Cincinnati. Not only are the Reds a serious threat to post the worst record in baseball, but the franchise record for most losses in one season is also within their grasp.

National League West

The Giants took a page form the Dodgers’ playbook by making a McCovey Cove-sized splash in free agency. The additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija lengthen the rotation behind Madison Bumgarner, while Denard Span fills out the lineup and strengthens the team up the middle. The Giants may not have the star power of their rivals in Los Angeles, but the roster is well rounded and deep. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s an even year.

Zack Greinke’s departure was a big blow, but injuries to Brett Anderson and Hyun-Jin Ryu have accentuated the loss. If Kenta Maeda can pitch as well as he has this spring, the Dodgers might able make up some of the difference, but history suggests a transition period for Japanese pitchers. If the Dodgers find themselves hurting for arms, two of the best pitching prospects of the game are within the organization. With Julio Urias and Jose De Leon waiting in the wings, the Dodgers have the ability to supply their pitching deficiency, but any delay in their arrival would lessen the impact. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers are a lost cause in 2016. By adding talented young position players like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager to a productive mix of veterans, the Dodgers should boast a formidable offense to help offset potential pitch woes. Oh…and then there’s Clayton Kershaw.

The Diamondbacks’ hope of making the NL West a three-team race took a big hit with the loss of centerfielder A.J. Pollock. Aside from Paul Goldschmidt, Pollock was the only reliable bat in the Dbacks’ lineup, so even with an improved pitching staff, it will be hard for Arizona to thrust itself into the division race. They should, however, remain well head of the bottom feeders in San Diego and Colorado. Keeping with the National League theme, the Rockies and Padres are not only battling for last place in the division, but positioning in the 2017 draft as well.

Playoff Scenarios

Nationals beat Dodgers in Wild Card game.
Red Sox beat Rangers in Wild Card game.

Giants beat Mets in NLDS.
Cubs beat Nationals in NLDS.

Yankees beat Tigers in ALDS.
Astros beat Red Sox in ALDS

Cubs beat Giants in NLCS.
Astros beat Yankees in ALCS.

Cubs beat Astros in World Series

Regular Season Awards

NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
NL ROY: Corey Seager
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale
AL MVP: Carlos Correa
AL ROY: Byron Buxton

Three Bold Prediction

  1. At the deadline, Ryan Braun will be traded to the Nationals for Jayson Werth.
  2. Run production in major league baseball will increase to its highest level since at least 2007 (4.8 R/G).
  3. After a difficult start to the season, a stint on the D.L, and facing a demotion to the bullpen, C.C. Sabathia will opt for a buyout of his 2017 option, and retire from baseball.

Click link for past predictions: 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Forbes has released its annual study of MLB’s financial landscape, and the results indicate the sport is enjoying many more fiscal peaks than valleys. According to the data, MLB added approximately 7% to net revenue and almost 10% in operating profit, while the league’s 30 franchises topped a combined valuation of $38 billion, or more than double just four years ago. Cable TV and the internet continue to be drivers of the league’s financial strength, but branding expansion has also played a role. Between increasing rights fees, the success of MLBAM, and brand leverage, the prospects for future growth are as bright as ever, assuming, of course, the players and owners are smart enough to peacefully negotiate a new CBA after the 2016 season.

MLB Financial Snapshot, 2003-2015
Forbes Snapshot
Note: Revenue for each team is net of stadium debt and revenue sharing.
Source: Forbes.com

Every team has participated in MLB’s decade-long expansion, but in 2015, the biggest benefactor was the Houston Astros, which led all franchises in terms of valuation, revenue and EBITDA growth. The Mets also posted impressive growth in all three categories, thanks in large part to their World Series run, which could translate to an even bigger financial bonanza in the year to come. Although the Dodgers once again ranked second in terms of franchise valuation and revenue, the team’s status as the game’s biggest spender took its toll on profit. Los Angeles’ EBITDA plummeted to a $73 million operating loss, which easily ranked as the lowest in the game, placing the Dodgers at the opposite end of the rival Giants’ profit of nearly the same.

Top-5 and Bottom-5 Teams By Valuation, Net Revenue, EBITDA
Forbes MLB charts
Note: Revenue for each team is net of stadium debt and revenue sharing.
Source: Forbes.com Continue Reading »

(This updated post was originally published on February 16, 2011)

For 20 years, Tampa has been the Yankees’ spring training home, but it still seems like just yesterday when the team’s camp was located down the coast in Ft. Lauderdale. I am sure most fans who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s still reflexively harken back to those days of yore, while the real old timers’ memories take them all the way back to St. Petersburg, where Yankees’ legends from Ruth to Mantle toiled under the Florida sun.

Over the years, spring training has evolved significantly. Once upon a time, it was a pre-season retreat designed to help out-of-shape ballplayers shed the pounds added over the winter. In the early part of the last century, before even reporting to camp, players would often attend spas in places like Hot Springs, where they would purge their bodies of the iniquities from the offseason. Then, games would either be played among split squads (in the old days, the camps would be split into teams of veterans and hopeful rookies, the latter often called Yannigans) or against local minor league and college ball clubs. Finally, the teams would barnstorm their way back up north before finally kicking off the regular season.

Today, spring training is more big business than quaint tradition. Thanks to the growing competition between cities in Arizona and Florida (each state now hosts 15 major league clubs), teams have been able to extract sweetheart stadium deals, allowing them to turn the exhibition season into a significant profit center. Still, at the heart of spring training is hope and renewal as teams begin the long journey that is the baseball season.

The Yankees’ spring history has been a journey all its own. Below is an outline of some significant mileposts along the way.

Yankees’ Spring Training Homes Since 1901
yankees-st

Continue Reading »

Aroldis Chapman has been officially named the new Yankees’ closer, replacing Andrew Miller, who just so happened to be last year’s top fireman in the American League. Of course, a strong argument could be made that Dellin Betances is the best of them all, which bodes well for a Bronx Bombers’ bullpen that will feature three of the most dominant relievers in the game today. Clearly, relief pitching will be a relative strength for the 2016 Yankees, but where does the team’s dynamic trio rank all time?

Before jumping into the exercise, it’s important to remember that the philosophy of bullpen usage has changed significantly over the years. Before the emergence of stoppers like Mike Marshall, Rich Gossage, and Rollie Fingers, it was rare for teams to have one dominant reliever, much less three.  For that matter, many earlier teams didn’t even have three pitchers perform a regular relief role. So, having a dominant trio relievers is really a more modern phenomenon, and any ranking should be understood in that context.

Since 1901, there have been over 9,000 relief seasons of 30 or more innings, with nearly two-thirds coming during the division era (1969 to present). In the same time span, there have been 1,655 teams who have had at least three relievers meet the 30-inning threshold. It is from among these teams that the following rankings have been derived.

In order to put Chapman, Miller and Betances in historical context, it was first assumed that each reliever would replicate their 2015 performance. Then, the projected output was compared to the three best relievers on every team in terms of ERA, hits per nine innings (H/9) and strike outs per nine innings (K/9). The rankings for each category appear below.

Top-10 MLB Bullpen Trios, Ranked by ERA, 1901-2015
top10bullpentrioERA
*2016 Yankees figures are based on 2015 performance of each pitcher. The cumulative ERA of 1.70 would rank 18th among all trios, as defined below.
Note: Includes all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched in relief. Teams without three relievers meeting that threshold were excluded, even if their innings totals were comparable to those in the ranking. The top-three relievers for each team were based on ERA (i.e., the three relievers with the lowest ERA were included in the trio).

Source: Baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

The 2016 Hall of Fame election was a case of less being more as the smaller BBWAA electorate helped boost support for just about every nominee. However, only two players were enshrined, leaving several deserving candidates unfulfilled amid an increasingly crowded ballot.

Headlining the results was Ken Griffey Jr., who not only earned a widely anticipated first ballot induction, but did so with the highest vote percentage aside from Lou Gehrig’s unanimous enshrinement via special election. Only three out of 440 voters left Junior off their ballot, giving him a 99.3% stamp of approval. As a result, Griffey surpassed Tom Seaver’s top mark of 98.8%, which had withstood all comers since 1992. Interestingly, that election had a similar number of participating voters (430), suggesting that the relatively smaller electorate probably had a significant impact on Griffey’s close call with unanimity. Would Griffey had been just as popular without the Hall of Fame culling the BBWAA flock? Perhaps, but with over 100 fewer ballots, running the gauntlet this year was undoubtedly an easier task. Viewed in that light, the most impressive vote total probably belongs to another Junior. In 2007, Cal Ripken Jr. received 98.5% of a whopping 545 ballots cast, giving him the second highest raw vote total in BBWAA voting history.

Top-10 Hall of Fame Vote Percentages, Since 1966
Top Vote Getters
Note: Data is as of 1966, when BBWAA started conducting annual ballots.
Source: baseball-reference.com and BBWAA

Mike Piazza’s election was also numerically historic, but in a much more trivial way. Despite seeing a 13% jump in his vote percentage, the slugging catcher become the first Hall of Famer to get inducted with a lower vote total than he had received the year before. Once again, this footnote was the result of the smaller electorate, which allowed Piazza to earn enshrinement despite losing 19 votes.

Year-over-Year Voting Comparison, 2015 vs. 2016
YY HOF VOTE
Source: baseball-reference.com and BBWAA Continue Reading »

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