February 21, 2020


John Hirschauer, National Review, February 12, 2020:
Commissioner Rob Manfred is mulling a fundamental change to Major League Baseball, a development that should not surprise anyone, given the obstinate disregard he's shown for the traditions and inheritance of the sport since succeeding Bud Selig in 2015. The latest novelty entertained by his office is a proposal that would expand the MLB playoffs from their current ten-team format ... to a field of 14. Per ESPN, the proposal would add "a reality TV-type format to determine which teams play each other in an expanded wild-card round," the perfectly farcical cherry on top of a perfectly farcical plan to further upend the game of baseball. ...

This "televised seeding showdown," in which division winners pick their opponents, is supposed to engender "excitement" among fans. Like most ventures entertained and enacted by Manfred, it is a gimmick, designed to appeal to some amorphous and never-specified group of "potential fans" whose support is, as always, yet forthcoming. ...

With an expanded playoff field and a proposed three-game-series format, luck and randomness would play an even larger role in the postseason than they already do. And even this proposed change, which threatens to turn the MLB playoffs into a low-grade goat rodeo, is but a drop in the bucket compared to the other injurious "innovations" and novelties countenanced and enacted by Manfred.

He changed the rules about hard slides into second-base to break up potential double-plays, effectively removing one the sport's precious few contact plays. ... In the name of improving the pace of play, he nixed the traditional four-pitch intentional walk — which sometimes produced unforgettable moments — and replaced it with a simple hand signal from the dugout. An impending rule change will force relief pitchers to face a minimum of three batters or finish a half-inning before teams make a pitching change, removing key strategic decisions from the game.

In short, from the moment Manfred assumed the commissionership, he has time and again imposed novelty upon a fan base that did not, and does not, want it. ...

Manfred thinks he's the captain of a sinking ship, free to do whatever he deems necessary to rescue the vessel from its ultimate demise. ... He ought to be more careful about changing it.
You don't usually see The National Review linked at this blog! Hirschauer does commit a few errors in his article, including faulting Manfred for the coming invasion of robot umpires that will Destroy The Human Element.

Jay Jaffe, FanGraphs, February 13, 2020:
Four weeks after Commissioner Rob Manfred issued his report on the Astros' illegal sign-stealing efforts ... new revelations about the scheme continue to emerge, some of which challenge his findings or call his judgment into question. So long as such information keeps coming to light, Major League Baseball can't make this scandal — or the justifiable outrage from players within the game and fans outside of it — go away. Not even a leaked report about a cockamamie 14-team playoff format will deflect attention from Houston's various schemes. ...

While Luhnow, Hinch, Cora, and Beltrán have been held accountable to a degree with the loss of their jobs, not everybody believes that they've been punished enough, and there's still widespread dissatisfaction over Manfred's inability to discipline the players involved, because their punishment would have to be collectively bargained.

Manfred traded immunity for information, but now that we know that the information he conveyed to the public wasn't complete — and that the high volume of complaints lodged against the team prior to Fiers' whistleblowing didn't prompt vigorous investigation sooner — there's a great deal of frustration over the commissioner's own lack of accountability. Given his involvement in such disparate and unpopular plans as the aforementioned expanded playoff format, the institution of the three-batter rule, and the effort to reorganize and contract the minor leagues, fans aren't exactly confident in the product they're being presented with.
Re "the product", it's Jaffe again: "Some of the New Roster Rules Are Garbage"
I'm not sure any of these additional rules is actually necessary. They're just one more way for the Manfred regime to drain a little bit of fun out of the game and to look busy while failing to address more pressing concerns.
That's exactly what I wrote two days earlier:
I suppose Manfred has to look like he's doing something about this "problem". But I'd rather his "make-work" efforts didn't destroy a key part of baseball's essential competitive structure for the last 150 years.
Craig Calcaterra, NBC Sports, February 11, 2020:
The new postseason proposal would be terrible for fans and for the game

Yesterday someone at Major League Baseball leaked a new postseason idea they have brewing for 2022. The upshot: wild cards would be eliminated, there would be seven playoff teams in each league, up from five, and from there the format of the postseason would radically change.

Since it was a leak and not some official announcement, there was no one from Major League Baseball spinning it. Thankfully for the league there is no shortage of national baseball writers who are happy to do the spinning for them. ... [T]he spin basically goes like this: "this is great as it gives more teams a shot at the postseason, which in turn will generate excitement, and of course now that the postseason is more attainable for teams, it will serve as an anti-tanking device."

Which is all wrong, of course.

To increase the value of something — to make it more special and exciting — one does not increase the supply. That's basic economics. ...

[L]et's look at ... [what] we would've gotten over the past decade if the proposed postseason system were in place:

2010: an 82-win team makes the postseason
2011: an 81-win team makes the postseason
2012: an 83-win team makes the postseason
2013: an 81-win team makes the postseason
2014: two 79-win teams tie for a postseason spot
2015: two 83-win teams make the postseason
2016: a 79-win team makes the postseason
2017: three 80-win teams tie for the postseason
2018: three 82-win teams tie for a postseason spot
2019: an 84-win team makes the postseason ...

Maybe you like that. If so, good for you. But I can tell you a group of people who should not like it: the players. This is because, contrary to what some of those national writers are saying, the new postseason format would not discourage tanking. It would encourage it.

It would allow a team that appears to be headed for about 80 wins or so — what we now call a losing team — to stand pat and say, with a straight face, that they think they're a playoff contender. It would give total license to 85-86 win teams to stand pat or even shed salary as they'd stand a very good shot at the postseason each and every season. It would create zero incentive for the 86+ win teams to turn into 90 or 95-win teams as such a thing would be pretty pointless. ...

The more pernicious aspect of tanking ... [are] teams who, by all rights, should be going for it [but] are declining to go for it in order to save money on payroll. ... If you make 80-83-win teams "playoff teams" every year, you incentivize such behavior in a pretty significant way.

Which is to say that the proposal is one aimed at depressing salaries every bit as much if not more than it's aimed at "creating excitement" or "shaking things up." Indeed, I suspect that's the real idea behind this. I suspect it's a proposal with an eye on upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.


GK said...

When your name is Rob, and your job is to rob all the good stuff from baseball, then that is what you should do.

Paul Hickman said...

Well at least this made me laugh !

" which threatens to turn the MLB playoffs into a low-grade goat rodeo "

The obvious Q is where are the high-grade goat rodeos ?

In Rob's backyard ?