Archive for the ‘Baseball History’ category

MLB Proposes Eliminating 40+ Minor League Affiliates

October 19, 2019

As part of the negotiations between MLB and minor league teams over a new Professional Baseball Agreement set to take effect after the 2020, MLB is proposing major revisions to the current minor league system, including, most significantly, the elimination of up to 42 mostly lower minor league teams, amounting to about one-quarter of all existing affiliated minor league clubs.  Here’s a post from mlbtraderumors.com about MLB’s proposals.

MLB wants minor league facilities (i.e., ballparks) to conform to higher standards, and it wants to geographically re-organize the existing leagues in order to put minor league affiliates closer to the major league clubs, to reduce travel for minor league players and presumably to reduce travel costs, although travel costs are probably payed by the mostly independently owned minor league teams.  MLB also wants to increase minor league pay, probably to head off minimum wage violation lawsuits brought by minor league players.

MLB’s proposals are merely a starting point for negotiations, based on MLB’s desire to compel minor league teams to fund improvements to  their facilities and contribute to higher salaries for minor league players.  However, as part of the package of proposals MLB is also suggesting that the short-season rookie and low-A leagues be eliminated, and the MLB Draft be moved back to August and reduced to only 20 or 25 rounds.

Undrafted players would then have the option of playing in the Independent-A leagues or playing in a proposed “Dream League,” which would be a joint MLB-MiLB quasi-independent-A league.  All major league teams would be allowed a maximum of five minor league affilitiates in the United States and Canada, the four full-season levels and a rookie league where teams play in each organization’s Spring Training complex in Arizona or Florida.  Teams would be limited to 150 minor league contracts, plus the 40 players on the 40-man roster.

The proposed changes are the most dramatic since the minor leagues were reorganized in 1962.

The proposals are at their core clearly about MLB reducing its current player development costs.  However, they might in the long run be penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Minor league teams generate a lot of interest for both major league and professional baseball in cities without major league clubs.  The value of this good will and interest aren’t easily quantifiable, but at a time when baseball seems to be losing popularity among large segments of the American public in a way that football (at least so far) and basketball are not, dramatic cut-backs to affiliated minor league teams doesn’t sound like a good idea.  Such dramatic changes are also likely to generate large numbers of lawsuits, which may further tarnish MLB’s image.

MLB Qualifying Offer Down to $17.8 Million This Off-Season

October 11, 2019

The Qualifying Offer is down $100,000 from last year’s $17.9M.  That’s not a good sign for labor peace.

Here’s mlbtraderumors.com’s post with more details.  The salient ones are that this is the first time the QO has ever gone down, after six consecutive annual increases since the inception of the Qualifying Offer system in the 2012-2013 off-season at $13.3M.

Maybe it’s just a one-year blip, caused by the way existing multi-year player contracts are structured and the fact that teams can no longer make more than one QO to any individual player only starting with the 2017-2021 collective bargaining agreement (CBA).  If the QO makes a typical increase next off-season, then things will die down, at least to the extent that a strike is a whole lot less likely.  But if next off-season the QO is down again, there’s going to be strife between the Player’s Association and the Owners during the next CBA negotiations, IMHO.

Is It Worth Tanking to Improve Your MLB Draft Position?

September 25, 2019

My team, the SF Giants, are currently in line to get either the 13th or 14th pick in the 2020 June Draft.  Gints fans will remember that the team made deals at the trade deadline, but they were kind of push.  The team sold on a couple of relievers, but also made trades designed to help the team going forward in 2019.  The Gints still had an outside shot at making the play-offs at the trade deadline, and they play in a market large enough to make total rebuilds relatively expensive.

Is it worth tanking, at least once the team has realized it has no reasonable chance of making the post-season, in order to get a higher selection in the next MLB draft?

I looked at the first twelve draft picks from the June drafts starting with 1987 (the first year the June draft was the only MLB amateur draft conducted for the year) through 2009 (which is long enough ago that we should now know whether the players drafted were major league success stories).  Suffice it say, with the first 12 draft picks of each June draft, the team imagines it has drafted a future major league star in compensation for sucking ass the previous season.

In order to keep things simple, I used baseball reference’s career WAR totals to determine whether each drafted player was a major league success.  Not precise, I’ll admit, since what drafting teams really care about is the first six-plus major league seasons of control.  However, I don’t know how to create a computer program to figure out the years-of-control WAR for each drafted player, and I’m not sure I’d be willing to spend the time to do so even if I knew how.  Career WAR seems a close enough approximation.

Also, for purposes of my study, no player is considered to have lower than a 0 career WAR — you cannot convince me that a drafted player who never reaches the majors is worth more than a drafted player who played in the majors but had a negative career WAR.  A player reaches and plays in the majors 9 times out of 10 because he is the best player available at that moment to take the available roster spot.  The tenth time, he is worth trying to develop as a major league player because of his potential upside.

As a result, I did not bother with averages.  Instead, I looked at median performances (i.e., for the 23 players picked at each of the first 12 draft slots during the relevant period, 11 players had a higher career WAR and 11 players had a lower career WAR than the median player.

Also, if a player was drafted more than once in the top 12, because he didn’t sign the first time drafted, I still counted him as his career WAR for each time he was drafted.

Here we go:

1st Overall Pick.  Median player:  Ben McDonald (1989, 20.8 Career WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 1 pick: Alex Rodriguez (1993, 117.8 career WAR); Chipper Jones (1990, 85.3 WAR); Ken Griffey, Jr. (1987, 83.8 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 61%.  [Examples of 15+ WAR players are Mike Lieberthal (15.3 WAR); Gavin Floyd (15.6 WAR); Eric Hosmer (15.7+ WAR); and Phil Nevin (15.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 65%.  [Examples of 10+ WAR players are Rocco Baldelli (10.2 WAR); Shawn Estes (10.4 WAR); Todd Walker (10.5 WAR)  ; and Doug Glanville (10.9 WAR).]  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.  [Examples of 5+ WAR players are John Patterson (5.0 WAR); Mike Pelfrey (5.3 WAR); Billy Koch (5.4 WAR); and Sean Burroughs (5.5 WAR).]

2nd Overall Pick.  Median player: Dustin Ackley (2009, 8.1 WAR).  Best Players drafted with the No. 2 pick: Justin Verlander (2004, 70.8+ WAR); J.D. Drew (1997, 44.9 WAR).  Odds of drafting a 15+ WAR player = 35%.  Odds of drafting a 10+ WAR player = 43%.  Odds of drafting a 5+ WAR player = 70%.

3rd Overall Pick.  Median player:  Philip Humber (2004, 0.9 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 3: Evan Longoria (2006, 54.2+ WAR); Troy Glaus (1997, 38.0 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 22%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 43%.

4th Overall Pick.  Median player: Tim Stauffer (2003, 3.8 WAR).  Best Players drafted at No. 4: Ryan Zimmerman (2005, 37.7+ WAR); Alex Fernandez (1990, 28.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 17%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

5th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 5: Mark Teixeira (2001, 51.8 WAR); Ryan Braun (2005, 47.7+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 35%5+ WAR player = 39%.

6th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 6: Derek Jeter (1992, 72.6 WAR); Zack Greinke (2002, 71.3+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 9%10+ WAR player = 13%5+ WAR player = 26%.

7th Overall Pick.  Median player: Calvin Murray (1992, 2.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 7: Frank Thomas (1989, 73.9 WAR); Clayton Kershaw (2006, 67.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 30%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

8th Overall Pick.  Median player: zero value.  Best players drafted at No. 8: Todd Helton (1995, 61.2 WAR); Jim Abbott (1988, 19.6 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 39%.

9th Overall Pick.  Median player: Aaron Crow (2008, 2.6 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 9:  Kevin Appier (1987, 54.5 WAR); Barry Zito (1999, 31.9 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 26%5+ WAR player = 48%.

10th Overall Pick.  Median player: Michael Tucker (1992, 8.1 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 10: Robin Ventura (1988, 56.1 WAR); Eric Chavez (1996, 37.5 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 39%10+ WAR player = 48%5+ WAR player = 52%.

11th Overall Pick.  Median player: Lee Tinsley (1987, 1.7 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 11: Max Scherzer (2006, 60.5+ WAR); Andrew McCutchen (2005, 43.6+ WAR).  15+ WAR player = 13%10+ WAR player = 17%5+ WAR player = 22%.

12th Overall Pick.  Median player: Bobby Seay (1996, 3.0 WAR).  Best players drafted at No. 12: Nomar Garciaparra (1994, 44.2 WAR); Jared Weaver (2004, 34.4 WAR).  15+ WAR player = 26%10+ WAR player = 39%5+ WAR player = 48%.

What do I conclude from all of the above number-crunching and name-dropping (and my cursory review of the Nos. 13-15 draft picks during the relevant period)?  It’s worth tanking to get the first or second pick in the June Draft or to get one of the top ten picks.  Since teams bad enough at the trade deadline to have a reasonable shot to get the No. 1 or 2 picks will be tanking no matter what, the only real lesson is that teams that have the 11th to 15th worst record in MLB approaching the trade deadline and realize they have no reasonable shot to make the post-season should SELL, SELL, SELL in order to get one of the top ten draft picks the next June.

The second lesson I take from my study is that teams should ALWAYS draft the player they think to be the best available/remaining if they have a top 12 or 15 draft pick and PAY what it takes to sign the player, unless the potential draftee has made it clear he will not sign with the team under any circumstances.  After the two best players in any given draft, there is too much uncertainty for teams not to draft the player they think is the best available.  Drafting a player the team thinks is a lesser player in order to save $2 million to throw at a high school player drafted in the 11th round is going to be a bad decision in most cases, particularly in the current regime where teams get a finite budget to sign their first ten draft picks, and the draftees know the cap amounts.

I see no obvious difference in the results for the third through tenth rounds, because, I assume, after the first two consensus best players in any given draft, teams have different opinions about the merits of the next, larger group of potential draftees, to the point where it more or less becomes a crap shoot.  After the first two rounds, and with the notable exception of the 10th round, the median player drafted with the third through 12th pick isn’t really worth a damn, and the odds of selecting a 15+ WAR player, a true star, are considerably less than one in three.

As a final note, I don’t like the fact that post-trade-deadline waiver deals can no longer be made.  I don’t see the downside in allowing losing teams to dump their over-paid veterans after the trade deadline (but before the Sept. 1st play-off eligibility deadline) in exchange for some, usually limited, salary relief and prospects, while play-off bound teams get to add veterans so they can put the best possible team on the field come play-off time.  I hope MLB can find a way for these deals to resume in the future.

Is Adam Wainwright a Hall of Famer?

September 24, 2019

I saw a post on mlbtraderumors.com today about Adam Wainwright earning all or most of the performance incentives ($8M, compared to only $2M guaranteed).  I looked at Wainwright’s career stats, and it got me thinking about his Hall of Fame chances.

Wainwright is currently 161-94 for his career, giving him a terrific .631 career winning percentage.  He’s never won a Cy Young Award, but he’s finished 2nd or 3rd four times (2009, 2010, 2013 and 2014).  He’s earned one World Series ring (he didn’t pitch in the 2011 Cardinals Championship season as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery) and played on two pennant winners.

Wainwright led his league in wins twice (with 19 in each of 2009 and 2013) and won 20 in a third season, he led the Senior Circuit in innings pitched twice, in shutouts twice and complete games once.  He struck out at least 200 in a season three times.

Wainwright’s strong 2019 campaign means it’s likely he’ll pitch in 2020.  I wouldn’t put it past him to still be pitching in 2022, his age 40 season.  It does not hurt his chances that he will be remembered as one of the best hitting pitchers of his era.

In my mind, 191 wins is the magic number for starting pitchers who started their careers after 2000, at least so long as they have a career winning percentage over .600.  It’s no guarantee that Wainwright will reach 191 wins, but if he reaches 175, his career is going to look pretty good to Hall of Fame voters between 2025 and 2040.

Right now, I would put Wainwright on the bubble.  His chances are certainly a lot better than Tim Lincecum or Jake Peavy, both of whom have at least some arguments in their favor as HOFers.

What Could He Possibly Have Been Thinking?

September 19, 2019

The news today out of Pittsburgh is that Felipe Vazquez has confessed to police his attempt to have sex with a then 13 year old girl and to sending her pornographic photos and videos of himself having sex with someone else.  What could he possibly have been thinking to mess around with a girl that young?

Is it simply that some successful professional athletes feel so entitled that they think can get away with anything?  Is he just incredibly stupid?  Does he have some deep personality flaw or episode from his past that made him think that screwing around with a girl that young was a good idea?

Now, I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck — I know that some men well over the age of 21 screw around with under-age girls.  Hell, I remember that a few girls when I was in middle school and high school (8th, 9th and 10th graders) were dating men well over 20.  The girls I remember were 13 or 14 or 15, but looked like they were going on 19 or 20.  However, the latest reporting suggests that Vazquez knew this girl was well under-age the first time he spoke with her at a Pirates game and initially told her she was too young, but then apparently changed his mind.

The thing that is different between Vazquez and your average 25+ year old jail bate chaser/predator is that Vazquez has a job in the public eye for which he is paid millions of dollars a year, a job where public relations is incredibly important to the gravy train the players and management all enjoy.

However, I also remember that once upon a time, it simply wasn’t that big a deal when ball players fooled around with under-age girls.  For example, Luis Polonia got in trouble back in 1989 for having sex with a 15 year old girl he picked up at a game in Milwaukee, back in his hotel room.  It got media attention at the time, but it didn’t impact his professional future in any significant way.

“Nutsy,” which is what one of my college friends (an A’s fan) called him even before the rape charge, was sentenced to 60 days in jail for statutory rape (or some lesser pleaded-to charge), paid a $1,500 fine and was ordered make a $10,000 contribution to a sexual assault treatment center in Milwaukee.  Luis earned $182,500 that year and was probably able to take the ordered charitable contribution as a tax deduction.

The judge in Polonia’s case allowed him to serve the brief sentence during the off-season, and at the start of the 1990, Polonia resumed his major league career as if nothing had happened, making most of career earnings in subsequent seasons.

Vazquez was 26 when his crimes occurred, only a year older than Polonia was in 1989.  Also, Vazquez apparently did not actually succeed in having sex with his 13 year old, although it sounds like he certainly tried.

However, times have sure changed since 1989.  Today, Vazquez will be seen as a sexual predator in a way that Polonia, during the boys-will-be-boys 1980’s, was not.  I will be very surprised if Vazquez receives only a 60-day sentence or something reasonably close to 60 days today.

My guess is that once Vazquez is formally charged, the Pirates will seek to void the remaining $14.5 million guarantee on his current contract, and that in spite of his exceptional baseball abilities, no other major league team will be eager to sign him, even at a bargain price.  I don’t see that MLB will be able to permanently ban Vazquez and make it stick in the face of a union grievance hearing, based on the limited discipline Polonia and other players received in the past for similar crimes.  Still, that may not prevent teams from effectively black-listing Vazquez if no one is willing to deal with the incredibly bad publicity that such a future signing would generate in today’s America.

I, for one, won’t feel sorry Vazquez if his criminal and professional punishments are significantly greater than those suffered by Polonia 30 years ago.  Times have indeed changed with respect to society’s attitudes about the sexual exploitation of girls and women, and it has long since been time for knuckleheads like Vazquez to get what is rightfully coming to them, particularly if it sends a message to every over age 21 male in America about the possible consequences of sexually exploiting 13 to 15 year olds.

Tyler Skaggs Died of a Drug Over-Dose

August 31, 2019

Well, we finally know why Tyler Skaggs died in a hotel room at age 27.  He choked to death on his vomit after drinking too much alcohol while loaded up on opiates.  That’s right up there among the top reasons why otherwise healthy 27 year olds suddenly die under mysterious circumstances, so I can’t say I’m surprised.

Skaggs had both oxycodone and fentanyl in his system in high doses, plus he apparently also tested positive for oxymorphone, another highly addictive opioid pain-killer that it’s major manufacturer took off the market in June 2017 at the request from the federal government.  MLB considers oxycodone to be a banned substance of abuse, and no one takes fentanyl legally outside of a hospital setting, so it’s safe to assume that Skaggs got all of his opioids on the black market.

The family statement suggests strongly that Skaggs may have gotten his illegal opioids from an Anaheim Angels’ “team employee.”  We’ll see about that, but if it’s true, it’s going to be a big, big deal with lawsuits and news stories a plenty.

It’s also no surprise that professional athletes use opioids to deal with pain so they can keep playing.  You hear about it mostly with football and hockey players, but all other professional athletes have to deal with pain and injuries for which it is likely they are prescribed opioids.

I wonder if Skaggs first started using opioids when he blew out his elbow tendon and had Tommy John surgery back in 2014.  There is probably considerable elbow pain in coming back from Tommy John surgery.  Skaggs also missed time during his comeback from the elbow surgery with adductor muscle strains.  Big, tall athletes like Skaggs also frequently have lower back problems, which is a major reason for lawful opioid prescriptions.

Something good can come from Skaggs’ untimely and ignominious death.  It’s a reminder that anyone, not just poor people in rural areas, can become addicted to opioids if their mental health, body chemistry and life circumstances make them susceptible to opioid addiction.  Skaggs was earning $3.7 million this year and had access to the best health care available, but he still got hooked to the point where he was taking powerful illegal opioids from not necessarily trust-worthy sources.

We’ve heard an awful lot about the opioid epidemic in America, but we’ve heard a lot less about a national plan for dealing with it.  I don’t know if that’s a product of the current administration’s lack of competence or focus or a reluctance to cut down on the profits pharmaceutical companies are still making on opioid prescriptions.  The information that Skaggs died of an opioid misadventure may be something that brings new focus on finding nation-wide solutions to this problem.

Kansas City Royals to Be Sold for a Reported $1Billion

August 31, 2019

The Royals’ current owner David Glass has reportedly reached a deal to sell the team for a cool $1B to John Sherman, who currently has a small ownership interest in the Cleveland Indians.  The reported amount of the sale, if accurate, means that Glass will be making more than ten times the $96 million he paid for the team back in 2000.

The Royals are almost certainly one of the six least valuable franchises in MLB.  Kansas City is a small metro market with limited revenue streams, although the franchise does draw from a fairly large section of the western Mid-West.

What the $1B sales price says to me is that two new expansion teams could probably command expansion fees of $900M each.  For two new teams, that would mean each of the 30 current teams would get $60M apiece.  That isn’t chump change, particularly when you don’t have to share that money with the players.

Of course, part of the reason that the Royals proved to be worth $1B is because there is more demand for major league teams among rich men than there are teams to purchase.  The real money in MLB is made when teams change hands, and the fewer major league teams potentially for sale, the higher the value.

Even so, two new times would not dilute the value of the other 30 teams all that much.  It has now been 21 years since the last expansion, by far the longest of the expansion era which started in 1961.  Growth is almost always good for industries, and I see no reason why MLB should be one of the exceptions.  If anything, MLB needs to expand into new markets to make up for the relative loss of interest in MLB baseball in recent years.