Democrats and Republicans agree upon very little these days, but, luckily for Major League Baseball, protecting the national pastime seems to be one area of bi-partisanship. How else to explain a bill sponsored by a Kentucky Republican and Illinois Democrat that is designed to exempt low-income workers from protection under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)? Apparently, sports and politics make the strangest bedfellows.

In a rare show of Congressional cooperation, Reps. Brett Guthrie and Cheri Bustos have co-authored H.R. 5580, better known as the “Save America’s Pastime Act”. Who could argue with that? As it turns out, just about every professional baseball player who isn’t a member of the MLBPA because what H.R. 5580 hopes to save the American pastime from is having to pay THEM a higher wage.

The impetus for the bill stems from an existing lawsuit that has sought to apply the terms of the FLSA to minor leaguers. Led by former pitcher turned lawyer Garret Broshuis, the litigation has been winding its way through the court system since 2014, picking up dozens of plaintiffs along the way. Recent revisions to the FLSA, which upped the overtime ante for eligible employees, have only added to the potential impact of the pending case. So, instead of rolling the dice on the outcome of a trial, baseball has sought a legislative circumvention, and found a bi-partisan Congress willing to help.

Not surprisingly, news of the “Save America’s Pastime Act” has been met with near universal and justifiable derision from outside the industry. However, Reps. Guthrie and Bustos aren’t the real villains, and the Act itself isn’t the cause of injustice. Rather, what makes the current predicament faced by most minor leaguers so unfair are the antiquated binds of baseball’s labor system.

MLB has argued that its minor leaguers should be exempt from the FLSA because they are essentially apprentices who are learning on the job with the hope of earning a rare, but lucrative opportunity in the future. It’s hard to argue with that description. And yet, it fails because, at the beginning of their careers, when they are most vulnerable, professional baseball players have no say in the terms of their employment. Because of the Rule IV draft and service time confinements dictated by the vestiges of the reserve clause, a player essentially becomes property at the beginning of his career. The idea of players as apprentices sounds quaint, until you acknowledge they aren’t opting for that arrangement, but are being forced to accept it.

The exploitation of minor league players seems to cry out for intervention. However, though well-intentioned, those who argue for higher wages in the minors often overlook the potential consequences. There’s no way to deny that the application of FLSA rules to minor league salaries would significantly alter the current structure of the system. Paying players by the hour would be untenable (the cost of compliance alone could be prohibitive), and even bumping everyone up to the at least $913 per week prescribed by law would take a financial toll. Some will argue that as a nearly $10 billion industry, MLB could easily absorb the cost, but that doesn’t mean it will. So, unless one is prepared to advocate for a much more dramatic change to baseball’s labor rules, a narrow focus on monthly salary not only misses the point, but has the potential to do more harm than good.

Hypothetical Impact of Applying FLSA Rules to Rookie League Labor Cost (Pulaski Yankees)

Players Current Salary/Month Months Total
32  $1,100.00 3  $ 105,600.00
Players FLSA Salary/Week Weeks Total
32  $913.00 12  $350,592.00

Note: Salary excludes potential college scholarship funding and $25 per diem on the road.
Source: milb.com, Department of Labor

Take the Yankees, for example. The franchise currently has five rookie ball affiliations. Under the current financial structure, that might make sense, but what if FLSA rules are implemented? If so, labor costs for a single Rookie League team could more than triple (not to mention the ripple effects at higher levels), and, at that point, the Yankees might decide four teams were more than enough. Who knows, maybe the Pulsaki Yankees wouldn’t make the cut? If the Yankees pared down their rookie ball affiliations, not only could a small town in Virginia lose its team (and the seasonal jobs it creates), but those players who weren’t relocated could face a much earlier end to their big league dream. For example, does Icezack Flemming need a roster spot more than he needs a living wage at this point in his career? Although it’s a shame such players often have to pick between the two, it’s better than not having a choice at all.

Good intentions alone do not solve problems, especially when it’s the government extending a helping hand. Minor league players absolutely deserve fairer pay, but any attempt to bring about change must carefully consider the ramifications. That’s why the answer isn’t a court mandated settlement or a legislative exemption. A better way to address the current inequities would be in MLB’s upcoming collective bargaining agreement. Between millionaire players and billionaire owners, there should be a way to collectively provide for fairer compensation in the minor leaguers without jeopardizing the system that has served the game so well. Otherwise, the sport will deserve whatever solution government can inflict upon it.

The trade deadline is still six weeks away, but the Yankees are fast approaching a big decision. Or, at least they should be. Although an upcoming stretch against bad right handed pitching has thrown the Bronx Bombers a life line that will last until the end of June, the team’s decision makers should be focused on lessons learned from the last three years and two months, not the next eight games.

No More DMC? The Yankees may soon be forced to choose between marketing and rebuilding.

No More DMC? The Yankees may soon be forced to choose between marketing and rebuilding.

If the Yankees continue to struggle against the Twins and Rockies, there should be no doubt about how the team approaches the trade deadline. However, even if the Yankees were to breeze through what is by far the easiest portion of their schedule, Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner should at least begin to lay the groundwork for a grand scale fire sale. Granted, the Yankees have never been an organization to throw in the towel so early in a season, but until recently, they weren’t the kind of team to eschew top free agents, including their own incumbents. By choice, and not necessity, the Yankees no longer operate as a franchise dedicated to winning at all costs, so, now, they must make the hard decisions that come with operating on a budget.

While the Yankees debate their deadline status, the rest of the league will be paying close attention. Perhaps no other team on the fringe of contention has as many marketable players as the Bronx Bombers. Carlos Beltran, Aroldis Chapman and Andrew Miller might arguably be the three most coveted players who could be made available in July. By trading these three players alone, the Yankees could not only bolster their farm system with high-end prospects, but, perhaps, also acquire major league ready talent and/or shed an onerous contract or two.

How would Chapman look in Flushing? You can bet the Mets would love to find out. After all, they saw firsthand how important a dominant bullpen can be in the postseason. But, would they trade Zack Wheeler to get him? What about taking on half of Chase Headley’s remaining contract to boot?

Then there’s the Texas Rangers. Despite leading the AL West by a healthy 6.5 games, Texas also sports the second worst bullpen ERA in the majors. And, although the Rangers are a good bet to make the postseason without adding a reliever, Jeff Banister would probably love to have an arm like Miller available should there be another October rematch with Jose Bautista. What price would Texas pay for such a luxury? Is Joey Gallo too much? It wouldn’t hurt for the Yankees to ask.

Because of the extra wild cards, and abundance of mediocrity, the trade deadline has become a seller’s market, and this year, the Yankees have plenty of wares. In addition to the three chips mentioned above, the Yankees could also market the likes of Dellin Betances, Ivan Nova, and Brett Gardner. Who knows, even Mark Teixeira could become a potential rental if he returns healthy and productive (and would waive his no-trade clause). Regardless of the players involved, or the teams to which they are traded, the Yankees will have plenty of opportunities to make acquisitions that could positively impact the team down the road. The only obstacle to taking that course is the Yankees’ willingness to cut its losses and rebuild for the future.

Over the last four years, the Yankees’ commitment to fielding a championship team has rightly been called into question by its systematic reduction in payroll. That lack of investment has placed the team at a crossroads. Should the Yankees continue to pursue mediocrity, and hope the illusion of contention is sufficient to stabilize business interests (i.e., attendance, ratings and other brand-related derivatives)? Or, is it time for the Yankees to tear down the facade of competitiveness, and lay the foundation for renewed success on the field? As the team’s brain trust tries to wrap its head around that conundrum, hopefully a sober view of the recent past and a realistic outlook for the future will play a larger role than how well today’s Bronx Bombers perform against the Minnesota Twins.

The Chicago Cubs are off to arguably the greatest start in MLB history. In the modern era, only nine other teams have had more victories than the Cubs after 26 games, but only two also boasted a better run differential. Can the Cubbies keep it up? If so, the north-siders could end up scoring and preventing runs at historic rates relative to the league average.

Teams with the Best Run Differential After 26 Games, 1901-Present
Best 26 game starts

Source: baseball-reference.com

Superstition will probably temper enthusiasm in Chicago, but bigger obstacles along the Cubs’ path to the World Series are the pitching staffs of the Mets and Nationals. Like the Cubs, both teams have posted historic relative rates of run prevention, and there’s every reason to expect those trends to continue.

Top-10 Best and Worst RA/G vs. League Average, 1901 to Present
RA comp
Note: Each team’s rate is compared to the average of their individual league. The baseline is 100%. A rate below represents the amount by which the team has over-performed.
Source: baseball-reference.com and proprietary calculations Continue Reading »

Over the first month of the season, the Yankees have not only been one of the worst teams in all of baseball, but they’ve also gotten off to one of the slowest starts in franchise history. How did the once proud and mighty Bronx Bombers find themselves in such a predicament? It all started when they said good bye to Robinson Cano.

Yankees Win-Loss Record of First 22 Games, 1901-2016
Yanks first 23 games
Source: Baseball-reference.com

It remains to be seen how productive Cano will be in 2023, but the immediate impact caused by his departure has been undeniable. Not only do the Yankees miss the future Hall of Fame second baseman in the middle of their lineup, but the ripple effect has resulted in a series of questionable roster moves that have seen the Yankees throw good money away on bad decisions.

The first and most direct response to the loss of Cano was the signing of Jacoby Ellsbury. After reaching an impasse with Cano, the Yankees simply pulled their offer and handed it to Ellsbury. Instead of trying to meet Cano somewhere in the middle of the wide gulf that separated their offer from the Mariners’, the Yankees ultimately decided that what they paid was more important than to whom they paid it. The result was the Bronx Bombers ended up with an inferior offensive players whose value was predicated on the fleeting skill of speed. And, by doing so, they forfeited an enormous relative strength at a weak position, while duplicating the skill set of a player, Brett Gardner, they already had at nearly half the price.

As it turned out, the AAV on Cano’s deal was only $2 million more than Ellsbury’s, and that’s assuming a compromise couldn’t have been reached. Unfortunately, the Yankees then spent exactly that amount on Brian Roberts, the first of many ill-fated replacements for the consistent excellence of Cano. Not surprisingly, Roberts wasn’t able to fill Cano’s shoes, and Ellsbury wasn’t able to make up for the lost offense. In fact, the Yankees probably anticipated this. Why else would they sign Carlos Beltran to a three year deal lasting until about the same age that caused so much concern with Cano?

While the Yankees were busy collecting outfielders on long-term deals to make up for the one they didn’t want to give Cano, Nelson Cruz was practically begging for a job. The slugging righty would have fit like a glove on a team that had lost Alex Rodriguez to a year suspension, but the Yankees had no room in the outfield. The Bronx Bombers’ loss was the Orioles’ gain. Similar situations would play out in the following two off seasons, as productive outfielders like Colby Rasmus and Dexter Fowler were also forced to take bargain contracts. Could the Yankees have known these players would be available so cheaply in each season? Perhaps not, but that outfield would be an easier void to fill should have been obvious. Continue Reading »

What happened to the Yankees offense? How could a team that scored the second most runs in baseball last year look so anemic this season, especially after making an obvious upgrade at second base? These have been common questions surrounding the Bronx Bombers in April, but is the bemusement warranted?

Yankees Relative Offensive Production, wRC+ and R/G vs. A.L. Average, 1901-2016
Runs vs Lg

Source: baseball-reference.com, fangraphs and proprietary calculation

The Yankees’ offense rebounded well in 2015, reversing two seasons of production that rivaled franchise lows. However, the team’s number two ranking in terms of runs scored exaggerates the improvement. As show in the chart above (see red markers), although the Bronx Bombers runs per game vs. the AL average and wRC+ were both above the baseline, they weren’t nearly as high as a typical high-powered Yankees’ offense. What’s more, the gap between relative run production and wRC+ was also greater than usual, suggesting that the Yankees may have out punched their weight. So, not only was the Bronx Bombers’ run total less impressive on a relative basis than its ranking would indicate, but it may not have accurately represented the team’s true offensive prowess. In fact, with early 2016 returns looking much like 2013 and 2014, if there’s an outlier, it might be last season.

How did the Yankees’ offense outproduce the sum of its parts? By being in the right place at the right time. Last season, the Bronx Bombers belted 47 home runs with two or more runners on base, the most in franchise history since at least 1974 (the period from which play-by-play data is complete). These multi-home run blasts accounted for nearly 20% of all round trippers and 22% of all runs scored, rates that were at or among franchise highs and which easily trumped the MLB aggregates of 13% and 10%, respectively. Even compared to the team’s historic proclivity for hitting the long ball, the number of runs generated from homers with more two or men on base was abnormally high.

Allocation of Yankees’ Home Runs by Men on Base, 1996-2016
HR Dist
Source: baseball-reference.com data and proprietary calculation

Multi-HRs and Related Runs Scored as a Percentage of Total, 1996-2016

runs from multi homers

Source: baseball-reference.com data and proprietary calculation

Continue Reading »

Who needs the DH? While the run-starved American League continues to experience a scoring drought, the National League has seen an early surge in offense. It’s still very early, but if the over one-half run per game gap between the two leagues is maintained, the senior circuit will outscore the junior for only the second time in the designated hitter era.

Runs/Game, NL vs. AL: 1973-2016YTD


Note: The DH was instituted in 1973.
Source: baseball-reference.com

It can be misleading to compare full season run output to only two weeks, especially considering the cold temperatures in early April. However, even on a month over (abbreviated) month basis, the same relationship is observed. While OPS and runs/game are up significantly in the N.L., both measures show a steep decline to long-time lows in the A.L.

Runs/Game and OPS in April, NL vs. AL: 1973-2016YTD

AprilOPS AprilRG

Source: baseball-reference.com Continue Reading »

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 »

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