On this page, I'll share my thoughts, and any articles or information I think are of interest. Feel free to use the comments section to join in the discussion!
July 14, 2014
STICKING TO THE RULES
By Neil deMause
One of the weirder sidebars to the A's big trade for 40 percent of the Cubs' starting rotation has been what it meant for Tommy Milone. One of Oakland's hottest incumbent starters going into the trade, Milone found himself bumped all the way to the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats, in part because he still had options remaining.
If you're a serious baseball fan, at this point you say to yourself, Ah, of course, options. It's one of the basics of baseball's byzantine rules: Once a player makes it onto a big-league team's 40-man roster, he can be "optioned" back to the minors a limited number of times -- actually as many times as the team desires, but only during the course of three separate seasons -- without having to go through waivers, which would allow other teams to claim him for a nominal fee.
Growing up, I always accepted this as an ineffable baseball truth, like "bunting foul with two strikes is an out" or "foul poles are in fair territory." It wasn't until I read the invaluable classic baseball history trilogy by former Dodgers batboy Harold Seymour and his wife Dorothy Seymour Mills that it became clear that the option rule -- and, for that matter, the waiver rule and half a dozen other staples of the modern transaction listings -- are lessdictates handed down by Alexander Cartwright on stone tablets than surviving remnants of a slice of early baseball history: the half-century-long war between the major and minor leagues.
In baseball's formative years, one of the most contentious issues was how to decide who could play for what team. After years of players jumping from club to club, often mid-season, in search of the best deal -- something that had the dual effect of making it hard to field stable teams and driving up salaries -- in 1879 National League owners instituted the "reserve list": Each team could designate five players on their team who would be off-limits to the rest of the league.
When salaries plummeted as a result, at least in years when there was no competing major league that would pirate players away without regard to the reserve, the "reserve clause" was eventually made a standard part of the player contract. Teams would henceforth retain rights to players indefinitely, whether they wanted to sign new contracts or not, a status quo that would remain in place until Curt Flood's court challenge and the introduction of free agency in the 1970s.
Just because major-league owners agreed not to steal each others' players, of course, didn't mean that they wanted to refrain from grabbing players from minor-league rosters. After years of squabbling, in 1892 a compromise was reached: The minors could reserve players, but at the end of each season big-league squads could "draft" players from their rosters for a set fee. The minors were split into two classes, A and B, with Class A players warranting a $1,000 price, while Class B teams received a whole $500 payment.
(Before you ask, yes, this was the origin of the letter system that classifies the minor leagues to this day, with Classes C and D soon added to accommodate still lower rungs with chintzier draft prices. Multiple-letter designations didn't appear until 1911, after several A leagues groused at a potential demotion to the B level, leading baseball's leaders to instead bump the International League, American Association, and Pacific Coast League to "AA" status, with accompanying premium draft rates. That trio of leagues got an extra A appended in 1946, and the additional letters from B through whatever were all abolished in1963 -- the Green Grass League notwithstanding.)
For major-league teams, meanwhile, there remained a problem. With the invention of farm systems still decades away, if your team wanted either to stockpile promising youngsters or to keep extra players on hand as, say, backups to the one pitcher who started almost all your games, the only solution was to sign them yourself. To get around limits on how many players any one team could keep on a roster -- even then, team owners were torn between the desire to hoard all the talent themselves and the competing desire not to see their rivals do the same -- the only solution was to sign players and then find a way to stash them with an accommodating minor-league club in exchange for players, cash, or other considerations.
For years, this was done under the table and considered an evasion of the rules. For example, the 1903 National Agreement bringing peace between the then-warring National and American Leagues explicitly banned this "farming" or "covering up." But Charles Ebbets, owner of the Brooklyn Dodgers and eventual namesake of its ballpark, figured a way around the ban: He would "sell" his players to a minor-league club with an "option" to repurchase them. The major leagues finally agreed to accept this practice, with the caveat that teams could legally option only a limited number of players a limited number of times.
The minor leagues weren't crazy about this, as they preferred to sign promising youngsters themselves and then sell them to the highest big-league bidder. (Jack Dunn, owner of the then-minor-league Baltimore Orioles, was particularly adept in this regard, with his highest-profile sales including Babe Ruth and Lefty Grove.) In the ensuing battles, the precise option rules bounced around for a while, until in 1931 the major leagues exacted a new agreement, under which a maximum of 15 players (which, added to the 25-man "active" list, made for a 40-man roster) could be optioned three times and no more without having to first ask that other teams "waive" on signing him; in exchange, the minors received higher draft prices that ranged all the way up to $7,500 for a top-rank minor leaguer. And thus was Tommy Milone's fate written.
All of which makes for a fun ride through the history books, and helps make sense of a lot of abstruse baseball minutiae. (And I didn't even get around to the bit, also picked up from the Seymours' trilogy, about how coaching boxes were introduced to stop skippers from screaming in the ears of the opposing catcher.) But more than that, it's a valuable reminder that the entire apparatus of baseball roster moves -- from the 40-man roster to waivers to options -- had little to do with the desire to protect players' rights not to be bounced around like chattel indefinitely, even if it does create the side benefit that players who are out of options must be made available to competing clubs, occasionally giving them a new lease on life. (See Alfredo Simon.) Rather, like the reserve clause itself that continues to bind players to their original teams until they've reached six years of major-league service, they're the residue of long-ago wars among teams and leagues to determine how to best divvy up the spoils of their industry without having to share too much of them with their employees -- a battle that, needless to say, goes on today.
It's a system with huge consequences, from teams paying a premium for players still in their "control" (that is, with reserve years remaining) to the increasingly weird games teams play with their 40-man roster limits. It's all the result of a delicate compromise among teams and players, one that could easily be redrawn at any time. There's no reason why baseball couldn't, say, be run under the same rules as international soccer, where players are free to jump from team to team as soon as their contracts expire. It's just that everyone involved has decided that it's for the good of baseball to stick with some variation on the old rules, because who knows what would be unleashed if they were unraveled.
All of which is no doubt cold comfort to Milone, who A's manager said was "shocked" by his demotion, and who is currently burning up Triple-A while waiting for another shot at the majors. Which may not seem fair, but then, you know what John Lyly said about fairness in times of war.
Free Pat Venditte!
By John Sickels on Jul 10 2014
I want to see Pat Venditte in the major leagues.
As you may know, Venditte is the only ambidextrous pitcher in professional baseball. A 20th round pick by the Yankees in 2008 out of Creighton University, Venditte was sometimes dismissed as a novelty act in college, but he was good enough in the NCAA (2.86 ERA over four seasons in the high-offense metal bat era, 255/64 K/BB in 245 innings) to get drafted on his own merits.
And he's remained very effective in the minors, too, despite a torn right labrum in 2012, reaching Triple-A this year and performing decently for Scranton (4.18 ERA but 2.34 FIP, 29/9 K/BB in 28 innings).
Yeah, his best fastball is mid-80s, which will understandably make scouts extremely skeptical no matter what side you come from. But somehow, he's made it work for six years now. In 357 pro innings, he has a 2.45 ERA, a 407/95 K/BB and 284 hits allowed. His component ratios have remained steady and strong and he's still striking out a hitter-per-inning in Triple-A. He's doing something right.
Switch-pitching aside, Venditte deserves a shot in the major leagues on meritocratic terms alone. Many pitchers with similar (and worse) performance records get a cup-of-coffee as a bullpen arm at least, even some guys who don't throw hard.
Yes, of course, Freeing Pat Venditte would also be very cool. But that very coolness factor ultimately may work against him in a way, because there could be some hesitation in the average front office to promote someone unusual like this for fear of ridicule.
If you give a guy with a 97 MPH fastball but a bad track record a chance, nobody (except maybe some isolated bloggers) complains if he continues to stink because, hey, 97 MPH fastball. Baseball folk will not look askance if it doesn't work out, even if the guy has a questionable track record.
However, the guy who throws 87 (let alone 83), no matter how good his numbers, if you promote him and it doesn't work, the "I told you so, you dumb stathead" comments will flow. Nobody wants to look bad in the press or draw the criticism of colleagues. Add in extra weirdness like switch-pitching and, well, it's an uphill battle.
But it is a battle that I hope Pat Venditte wins. Maybe this will be with the Yankees; they obviously like him, they drafted him twice and didn't release him after he got hurt. Maybe it will be someone else. But even a handful of innings as a mop-up guy would be a victory, and it is one worth rooting for.
Yes, because it is cool, but mostly because baseball is allegedly a meritocracy, success should be rewarded, Venditte has simply been an effective pitcher all these years, and (most importantly) he may very well continue to get people out.
Would you rather take over the Astros or the Rangers?
The two Texas teams are at a crossroads. Which one would you rather helm for the foreseeable future?
Every year. By July, we're used to a new reality that we would have scoffed at in April. Remember when the Phillies were good? The Phillies were so good. Then one year, right around July, we were used to them being bad. Every danged year, there's one of these teams.
This year, we have the Texas Rangers, winner of pennants, divisional stalwarts, and current debacle. In February, the team seemed to have one of the strongest 25-man rosters in the game. It's July, and Carlos Pena is the starting first baseman. Either Dan Robertson or Dan Robinson is the DH. Unless it's Don Robinson, who could always hit. Colby Lewis, signed for depth and emergency uses only, is nominally the #2 starter. Phil Irwin is temporarily in the rotation, despite being a golf pro.
Yu Darvish was hit in the head with a line drive on Tuesday, and before we know he was okay, the responses on Twitter mostly ranged from "of course" to "oh, of course." The good news is that he was fine. The bad news is that he's been roughed up in each of his last two starts, the last of which allowed the Astros to climb ahead of the Rangers in the standings.
Also, that's what we call "burying the lede." The Astros are ahead of the Rangers in the standings, even if only by percentage points. It's July 10, and the Astros are ahead of the Rangers.
Which brings us to the I-swear-I'm-not-trolling question of the day. You are highly desirable general manager looking for a job. Jeff Luhnow and Jon Daniels have left their jobs to start Krangle (makers of an app that matches fans up with ballpark hot dogs less than two hours old). Two GM spots are open now.
Would you rather be the GM of the Astros or the Rangers right now?
You were about to yell an opinion. But before the words left your mouth, you thought, "Wait a sec." It's a tougher question than you might originally have guessed. We're past the point of giggling at the hapless Astros. They appear to have hap now. The Rangers have slowly lost hap.
The case for the Astros
They're going to win the World Series in 2017, for one. Once you realize that, you start to get less nervous.
More realistically, the Astros have a 1-2 combination of factors that make them a fascinating team for the future. The first one is obvious: The farm system is loaded. They have prospects like George Springer already doing well in the majors, with others like Jonathan Singleton and Jared Cosart adjusting to the majors already. They have a host of younger prospects, like Carlos Correa, Delino DeShields, and Rio Ruiz. They also have Jose Altuve locked up, and he's young enough to be a prospect.
The second factor might not get you excited just yet, but it's just as important: They have hardly any long-term commitments. They're a blank slate. They have $5.5 million committed to 2016, and that's to Altuve and Singleton. They could sign Giancarlo Stanton to a deal worth an annual salary of $30 million and still have enough left over for Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. That might put them above $100 million, but not necessarily.
This is the sort of flexibility that allowed the Mariners to sign Robinson Cano to a crazy contract, while not caring that it was crazy. The Astros will be that kind of menace if they want to hop into the free agent market in the future. Even though they're having issues with their TV deal, they still play in the sixth-largest metropolitan area in the country, and they have a newer, desirable ballpark.
There is so much potential with Houston right now, and it isn't all in the minor leagues.
The case for the Rangers
The Rangers have just as much, if not more, young talent as the Astros. Rougned Odor, Jurickson Profar, and Joey Gallo might be the most desirable young troika in baseball. They have Yu Darvish, on a short list of the most valuable pitchers in baseball, and he's on something of a team-friendly contract. They're similar to the Yankees in that the losses are stacking up as quickly as the bodies, but they don't have a similarly bleak future. There's young, affordable talent that should be around for years. It's a head start that's still the envy of most organizations.
The flexibility, though, isn't close to what the Astros have. It's a highly leveraged organization, with big commitments to Prince Fielder (broken), Elvis Andrus (merely okay), and Shin-Soo Choo (over 30). They also inked speculative deals with Matt Harrison and Derek Holland that looked great at the time, but aren't exactly gimmes right now. They certainly don't help with the flexibility to build a good team for 2015, and it's hard to assume they're going to be viable options (Harrison especially, thanks to his multiple back surgeries).
They have a much better TV deal already in place, so the money is coming in. That helps mitigate those concerns. And they don't have to spend time rebuilding their #brand like the Astros do. Even if the roster-melting of the Astros over the last three years was necessary and smart, it still didn't exactly make them more popular. They have to do a lot of convincing.
The Rangers aren't in the same pickle. If they start winning next year, everyone will assume this season was a fever dream and forget about it. If the Astros get lost in the land of the permanent rebuilt -- and prospects are jerks, remember -- there will be no such patience.
Peter Gammons: Inexperienced Red Sox moving forward
July 10, 2014
The Red Sox were behind 4-0 in the eighth inning Wednesday, five outs away from yet another woebegotten loss, albeit to a great pitcher named Chris Sale, when that small spark flashed. Mookie Betts hit a roller towards shortstop, beat it out, and seeing that no one could have been covering second base kept running into second.
Exit Sale. Three outs later, Brock Holt singled in Daniel Nava for a walkoff win, Boston’s second on the second to last game of a ten game homestand. On a night when Jackie Bradley, Jr., who happens to have the most defensive runs saved of any center fielder in the major leagues, made an Inside Pitch highlight of the morning with a diving catch in right-center.
Maybe it wasn’t a spark, only a firefly. Releasing A.J. Pierzynski is not going to take the Red Sox from worst to first, again. He clearly sensed his time in Boston was closing in, as Grady Sizemore, the team’s other off-season positional addition to the 2013 world champions, had two weeks earlier. But this team that clawed with such tenacity last season and saw the Red Sox Sea parted by acts sometimes inexplicable had become stagnant. Veteran players cruised out of the box and ended up thrown out at second base on balls off The Monster. When John Farrell decreed that because Betts and Brock Holt have to take balls live off the bat in the outfield during batting practice, players’ kids could no longer roam the outfield during BP, some veterans groused, and one texted a former teammate that “now we have rules.”
They are in last place with the worst offense in the American League, and there was a sense of entitlement for their great year, when, in fact, the Duck Boats are now in the barn. So Pierzynski is gone and replaced by a catcher who in time may be Jonathan Lucroy. The Red Sox have scouts out scouring other teams’ systems in case they come to the point where they consider trading Jon Lester or (even less likely) Koji Uehara or Stephen Drew, Jake Peavy, John Lackey or Felix Doubront.
And, most of all, they have to concentrate on the development of Brock Holt, Betts, Christian Vazquez, Xander Bogaerts and anywhere from three to six young pitchers, eyeing the soft underbelly that is the American League East but realistically treating the remainder of 2014 as the overture to 2015, by which time they hope to have found a way to acquire a power hitter, or two. They can also eye the organization they most respect, the Cardinals, who are similarly last in the National League in runs and home runs. Fans have been impatient with their young players like Kolten Wong and Oscar Taveras, and while they have begun to get their rotation in order, GM John Mozeliak has talked to his staff about “the difficult process of trying to learn and win at the same time.”
And last night, when asked about finding power, Mozeliak said, “just how hard it is can be defined by this statistic—in the last 30 years, the Cardinals have signed and developed two players who have hit 30 homers in a season—Albert Pujols and Ray Lankford.” So no one in New England should wonder why Ben Cherington isn’t giving up on a way to get Will Middlebrooks healthy, continue his development and try to make use of his power.
Cherington and the Red Sox deny that they have moved ahead in time. Dustin Pedroia, who has played with a number of hand injuries, has started to hit, his slash line is up to .282/.350/.384, and rising. Most important, he remains the soul of what they want this team to be. Buck Showalter continually says, “I just ask that before I retire, I get to manage Pedroia for three games.” When the Red Sox were in Oakland, Billy Beane called and said, “Pedroia is really a great player. You absolutely have to see him to understand what makes him great.”
Mike Napoli has fought through a broken finger and assorted ailments and has a slight downturn in homers (10), but he has been getting on base, but Boston’s lineup is so thin their production out of the six hole is .196/.275/.350. So Napoli doesn’t get a lot of pitches. Ortiz doesn’t think he gets pitches, either, despite Napoli behind him; Big Papi’s .259/.359/.486 line has been streaky. Stephen Drew was supposed to be a veteran presence, but has hit .131. Pierzynski went six weeks without a home run, and had one RBI in 15 games when released.
All of which has further pressured their young players, most notably Bogaerts. In April and May, he had OBP and OPS numbers of .382 and .750 in April, .407 and .897 in May. Then came the move to third to make room for Drew; at the time of the move, he was batting .296 with an .816 OPS. Since, .136, .400. One thing the Red Sox have learned is that Bogaerts may be overly accountable. On Marathon Day, he made a late baserunning mistake, and when Farrell defended him, Bogaerts told the media, “it was entirely my fault.” When he was complimented the next day for his accountability, he said, “no one asked me about a poor throw that cost us a double play that would have kept us out of the situation.”
When he doesn’t hit in big situations, he clearly beats himself up. When he made a throwing error behind John Lackey Saturday, he looked as if he’d kicked someone’s golden retriever. “No doubt, he takes it very hard,” says one coach. “But we forget how crude the baseball background is. He and Mookie are the two youngest players in the league, but Mookie has a far different baseball background.”
“Most superstars are arrogant,” says one Red Sox official. “Xander has no arrogance. Just the opposite.” Chase Utley would say that level of confidence that he or Evan Longoria carries is better described as “being comfortable.”
“The thing about Xander is that he is so well-liked in the clubhouse,” says the club official. “They know how much he cares, how hard he works, how accountable he is, and they have his back.”
This past week, hitting coaches Greg Colbrunn, Tim Hyers and Victor Rodriguez made significant progress getting Jackie Bradley, Jr. back to the swing that got him to the major leagues, and are trying to get him to laying off balls up and out of the zone. They’re trying to get Bogaerts back to his normal approach, which is taking balls the other way and crushing fastballs; it has been shocking how many fastballs he normally would hit that he’s swung through.
Now Betts is in the equation with Holt, who has been the find of the year. Now there is Vazquez, who will have David Ross as the perfect mentor. Before the end of the season, they want to see where they stand with Middlebrooks and the oft-injured Bryce Brentz, who has immense power, especially against lefthanded pitchers. Maybe infielder Sean Coyle, who some of their hitting coaches believe is the best pure hitter of this group. They may look in September at Deven Marrero, a superb defender and, in the mind of one coach, “the best leader of any of the young players.” And they have to sort through Brandon Workman, Rubby De La Rosa, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Anthony Ranaudo, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Steven Wright to see who is a keeper, and who might be tradeable, as they try to re-engage Jon Lester in contract negotiations.
This is what the Red Sox have. They’re not going to be able to trade for a .900 OPS outfielder; none are available. They’re not going to be able to trade veterans and get a Kris Bryant or a Joey Gallo in a deal. They can keep monitoring the Cubans as they try out in Haiti, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They can scour for an undervalued bat, someone like Justin Maxwell.
Meanwhile, July, August and September become Summer Training, which leads to Spring Training, and by the time they get back to Fort Myers, Betts, Holt, Vazquez, Bogaerts, et al will have the experience they so clearly lacked the first half of this 2014 season.
Census: 74% of STEM grads don't get STEM jobs
Census: Most with bachelor's degrees in science, technology and math don't get STEM jobs.
Amid a U.S. push to get more students interested in science, technology and math, often called STEM, the Census Bureau reported Thursday that 74% of those with a bachelor's degree in these subjects don't work in STEM jobs.
The likelihood of landing a STEM job varies by major, ranging from half of those who focused on engineering, computers, math and statistics to only 26% of those who concentrated on physical science, 10% who majored in psychology and 7% who studied social science, according to data from the Census' 2012 American Community Survey.
"STEM graduates have relatively low unemployment; however, these graduates are not necessarily employed in STEM occupations," said Census sociologist Liana Christin Landivar.
Those with engineering degrees have the highest earnings, $92,900, and they're mostly men. Despite a push to get more women in the field, only 14% of engineers are women — the lowest share of any STEM major.
Women are better represented among mathematicians and statisticians (45%), life scientists (47%) and social scientists (47%), according to the Census. They're even more common among computer professionals, accounting for 24%.
Many engineering-focused colleges have dramatically boosted their enrollment of women by admitting them at higher rates. For example, 15% of women but 7% of men are admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and 20% of women but 9% of men are admitted to the California Institute of Technology, according to the website collegedata.com.
Women now make up about half of incoming students at several premier STEM schools, including Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, Calif., and the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass.
Census data show that the states with the largest share of STEM workers are Maryland (19%), Washington (18%) and Virginia (17%). The most popular college major is business, drawing 9.1 million graduates, while the lowest-paying major was visual and performing arts, earning an annual salary of $50,700.