Talk baseball all season long with SI.com's Jacob Luft in Baseball Chatter, a journal for hot topic debates, Sabermetric ramblings and reader-driven discussions.
5/11/2007 11:56:00 AM
Say "No" to Instant Replay
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
I applauded when Major League Baseball expanded its postseason field from four to eight and added the wild cards. Interleague play? Even though it takes away from the All-Star Game and the World Series and creates unfair advantages in scheduling, as a whole the idea has grown on me over the years. It is what it is, as they say.
MLB in recent years even had a team switch leagues, bringing the Milwaukee Brewers to the NL from the AL, where they had played since their inception as the Seattle Pilots in 1969. As a longtime NL fan, that was probably the toughest one to swallow, but at least the Brewers look like they are shedding their perennial mantle of mediocrity.
There is perhaps another fundamental change to the game in store for us, one that may challenge even the most progressive of longtime baseball fans to balk at its inception: instant replay.
The mere mention of the words "instant replay" makes me shudder, and I wouldn't bring it up if not for the fact that earlier this week Rockies manager Clint Hurdle, upset over a couple of calls that took home runs away from his ballclub, stumped for the adoption of a replay system. He went so far as to talk with league officials about his support for replay, a move that says a lot more about why he has failed to post a winning record during his five-plus years as Colorado manager than it does about the state of the game.
Though it's been discussed in offseason meetings by MLB brass, no implementation of instant replay appears imminent. But you know it's coming. If not sooner than later, perhaps after the retirement of commissioner Bud Selig, who is on record as being anti-replay, or maybe on the heels of a critical blown call in a postseason game. It's only a matter of time. At first it may just be for home runs, and then it will extend to basestealing plays and so on. Just imagine how silly managers will look when they have to throw those little red flags onto the field to signal they want to challenge a ruling.
To answer your question, no I did not ride a horse and buggy to work today. (They haven't allowed those in the Lincoln Tunnel since the last FDR administration.) So then why am I so opposed to instant replay? Because baseball doesn't need it. Do umpires make mistakes? Yes, on occasion, they do. But as SI's Tom Verducci pointed out after his stint as an umpire this spring, umpires at the major-league level do an incredibly fine job. Calls are rarely missed, and even then you only know they were missed because you saw a super-slow motion replay of the play in question. Controversy and human error don't detract from the game; they add to the drama unfolding before our eyes. Besides, what is more human than making mistakes?
Moreover, replay systems often drain the emotion out of the most pivotal moments of a sporting event. In hoops, a buzzer-beater isn't a buzzer-beater until it's been reviewed by replay, and a 3-pointer isn't a 3-pointer until the referee double-checks the monitor to make sure the shooter's toe wasn't touching the line. In the NFL, your team may have just scored the game-winning touchdown ... or maybe it didn't. Find out after four more minutes of commercials.
But as far as baseball is concerned, it's not about replay adding to the length of games. As Rockies blogger Mark T.R. Donohue pointed out in Bad Altitude recently, it takes just as much time -- or longer -- for the manager to get done having his hissy fit over the controversial call than it does for the umpire to take a peek at the replay. But managers throwing a tantrum happens to be something I like to see. Lou Piniella having something to gripe about makes the game more colorful and fun, and that's more than can be said for having to watch an umpire stare into a replay screen.
Hanley Ramirez is proving his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2006 was no fluke.
Richard C. Lewis/WireImage.com
The Marlins shocked the baseball world last season by winning 78 games with a cast of rookies and no-names and a payroll south of Alex Rodriguez's annual salary. They are playing well again this season, with a record of 13-14, which isn't all that surprising. But the way Florida is winning is once again turning heads around the league.
The Marlins are mashing. They lead the National League in runs scored per game at 5.59. In the DH-assisted American League, only the juggernaut Yankees (5.77) and Indians (5.60) have been more productive.
This early in the season, it's tempting to write off the Fish's offensive prowess as a small sample-size fluke. But a closer look at some key stats reveal otherwise.
The 2007 Marlins are essentially the same cast that ranked eighth in runs scored in the NL last season, but the way they are being used is quite different. First-year manager Fredi Gonzalez isn't nearly as devoted to smallball as his predecessor, Joe Girardi. Gonzalez has toned down a running game that resulted in 58 caught stealings last season, the second-highest total in the league, compared to 110 successful attempts. This year the Fish have only been caught four times (out of 16 attempts). How damaging are caught stealings? They are near-disastrous. A successful stolen base adds .24 runs; a caught stealing costs .68 runs. All that running they did last year actually cost the team about 13 runs. This year they are breaking even.
Also, Gonzalez doesn't kill promising rallies by having his key hitters sacrifice bunt the way Girardi often did. The Marlins had 40 sacrifice hits by non-pitchers last season; 12 of those came from NL Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez and All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla. This year the club only has only five such sacrifices, and three of those came from bench players. Sac bunting with your best hitters is a sure way to prevent your team from putting up a crooked number. (There's a sobering thought for Yankees fans who may have to cope with YES broadcaster Girardi as the club's next manager.)
The Hardball Times keeps a nifty stat called Gross Production Average (GPA for short), which is a variation of OPS except that it is park-adjusted and scaled down to resemble a regular batting average, with .200 being lousy, .265 about average and .300 outstanding. The Marlins' GPA is .273, just a shade behind the Phillies and Braves (.274 each) and the Mets (.276). Why is this important? Because it shows the Marlins' impressive run total isn't out of whack with the performances of its individual hitters.
The Marlins are batting .282 with runners in scoring position, which is high but not abnormally so; the Cubs (.285) and the Padres (.283) rank higher in the NL. Plus, the Fish are batting only .235 with runners in scoring position and two outs, which is usually another flukey stat that tends to inflate a team's run total.
Because it's a young lineup with players who are still on the upswing of their careers, it's difficult to say that any of these hitters are playing significantly over their heads. Perhaps first baseman Mike Jacobs, who is batting .307, will cool down, but it wouldn't be all that surprising if Miguel Cabrera finished the season at his current OPS of 1.075 or if Ramirez batted close to .327 all season. Even if there is some regression, part of that may be offset by increased production from Uggla (he's currently hitting .223) and catcher Miguel Olivo (.219).
The bench is strong. With outfielders Alejandro De Aza and Jeremy Hermida injured, reserves Alfredo Amezaga (.423 SLG) and Joe Borchard (.327 OBP) have proven to be solid replacements. And Cody Ross and Aaron Boone have combined to drive in 19 runs.
Is this an offense that can lead the NL in runs all season? Possibly, depending on when slow-starting Mets sluggers David Wright and Carlos Delgado break out of their slumps (Wright hit a three-run blast on Thursday night) or if Braves second baseman Kelly Johnson is going to be Joe Morgan all season. It's not a stretch to state the Marlins have an upper-tier offense, one that could finish in the top four in the league and one that should be feared.
Francisco Rodriguez is working on a third consecutive 40-plus save season.
Closers are like shooting stars. With rare exceptions, they shine brightly for a short while before burning out. Every few years, the top tier of closers resets with a new cast. Must be something about coming out of the bullpen every day and throwing as hard as you can for 20 pitches that isn't conducive to long-term success, though it does keep orthopedic surgeons gainfully employed.
Just five years ago, the top 10 saves leaders consisted of John Smoltz, Eric Gagne, Mike Williams, Eddie Guardado, Jose Mesa, Billy Koch, Robb Nen, Jose Jimenez, Troy Percival and Ugueth Urbina. Among that group, Gagne and Guardado are the only ones currently employed as a closer, and they are both injured. (Though for all I know Urbina may be leading the Venezuela Penal League in saves.)
Fast forward to April 2007, a month during which established closers performed so badly as a whole that it makes me wonder if we are in the midst of another major shift in the closer ranks. Here is how I would break down the current crop of closers into tiers with some comments tacked on below:
Light up a stogie
Joe Nathan, Twins Jonathan Papelbon, Red Sox Francisco Rodriguez, Angels Billy Wagner, Mets
Comments: As I write this, Papelbon gets taken deep by A's rookie Travis Buck for his first blown save of the season in nine opportunities. No matter. Papelbon still belongs among the elite. ... K-Rod's small frame and wicked mechanics always have critics ready to pounce, but he hasn't broken down yet. And it doesn't hurt to have two of the best setup men in the game (Scot Shields, Justin Speier) softening up the lineup for you, either. ... Wagner and Nathan just keep chugging along, year after year.
On the way up
Chad Cordero, Nationals Francisco Cordero, Brewers Brian Fuentes, Rockies Bobby Jenks, White Sox J.J. Putz, Mariners Chris Ray, Orioles Takashi Saito, Dodgers Huston Street, A's
Comments: The Nationals trailed in nearly every ballgame they played in April, so opportunities were few and far between for Chad Cordero, who is still only 25 and should have a few more good years ahead of him. ... Francisco Cordero has been rock solid since being traded to the Brewers, and his 0.00 ERA in 12 games is a huge reason for their hot start this season. ... Fuentes is working on his third straight 30-save season. He deserves hazardous duty pay for getting the job done at Coors Field, where he saved 15 games last season. ... For sheer dominance, Putz is probably the best of this group. ... At 25, Ray also has a bright future in store. ... All Saito has done since coming over from Japan last season is blow hitters away. The 37-year-old Dodgers closer has struck out 122 batters in 92 innings while issuing only 24 walks. ... You'll know when Street will start to slip -- when Billy Beane pawns him off on an unsuspecting fellow GM.
On the way down
Armando Benitez, Giants Joe Borowski, Indians Ryan Dempster, Cubs Tom Gordon, Phillies Trevor Hoffman, Padres Jason Isringhausen, Cardinals Todd Jones, Tigers Brad Lidge, Astros Mariano Rivera, Yankees B.J. Ryan, Blue Jays Bob Wickman, Braves
Comments: It's safe to say that for all these guys, their best days are behind them. Hoffman and Rivera have such magnificent track records that a sudden turnaround to their slow starts wouldn't shock anybody. But they have to start declining sometime, don't they? For Rivera in particular, it's not a good sign that his manager feels like he has to treat him like a China doll. His days of getting more than three outs in an outing are over. ... Ryan is on the shelf with an ominous elbow injury. He's always had herky-jerky mechanics but somehow they never slowed him down -- until now. ... Jones overpowered hitters while with the Marlins in 2005, striking out 62 batters in 73 innings, but he's only whiffed 30 batters since signing with Detroit before '06. Jones is further proof that closing is more about moxie than stuff. Sooner or later, though, his inability to miss bats will catch up to him (see Kolb, Dan). ... Dempster is coming off a poor season (nine blown saves in '06) and I expect more of the same once the opportunities become more frequent.
Wait and see
Henry Owens, Marlins Al Reyes, Devil Rays Joakim Soria, Royals Salomon Torres, Pirates Jose Valverde, Diamondbacks David Weathers, Reds Dan Wheeler, Astros
Comments: Some of you fantasy leaguers have probably picked up Reyes without ever watching him pitch, though the truth is that the guy is such a journeyman (seven teams over 12 years) that you probably have seen him at some point. He's 36 and spent 2006 recovering from Tommy John surgery, so enjoy the ride while it lasts. ... Valverde is off to a nice start but it's tough to be a successful closer over the long-term if you have control problems. ... Soria is a rookie filling in for the injured Octavio Dotel and has shown flashes of dominance (e.g. four Ks in two innings against Detroit on April 18). ... Owens just notched consecutive saves against the Mets, so the Marlins' closer job is his for the foreseeable future. He's got a nice fastball that rides in the low-to-mid 90s and tails away from left-handed hitters. If he remains aggressive in the strike zone he might prove to be serviceable. ... Wheeler's peripherals have been outstanding in setup duty. Now let's see if he can do it in the pressure spot.