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Problems and promise midseason


07/12/18



 We’re at the All-Star break and with attendance down around much of baseball, some are saying the sky is falling. This is in part because of the numbskulls giving far too much value to the pretentiously titled “advanced” analytics and pace of play. 

I will agree the pace had been slowed further by micro-managers in every dugout, who change pitchers at the hint of any trouble from the fifth inning on. But that’s evolved to new guys mostly coming in to start innings from (even) the sixth inning on now, so how does it slow it down? Yes, there are more strikeouts, but the relay race pitching of today brings in a lot of high-90s-throwing fresh young bucks and amps up the strikeout rate. Just part of the game. I’ll also point out baseball has always been slow and boring.
I think two larger contributors to all that are prices and competition. It costs $50 just to park at Fenway. Then comes the onslaught of ticket prices, concessions, merchandise, etc. That has to cut down on the times people return after getting fleeced the first time. As for competition, it’s like when cable TV completely changed the notion of what a hit TV show was. In the days when you only had three networks, a hit show had 40 million viewers. Today it’s more like 10 million. That’s how the “declining” NBA went from having its finals on tape delay at 11:30 p.m. in 1980 to now being “red hot” and all prime-time games even when the audience numbers really didn’t change. What changed was what the notion of what a hit show was, as the same 10 million per the NBA draws today is now gold. 
Also contributing to a below the radar first half was a month of crappy weather brought on by starting the season in March, as well as unending competition into June from the NBA and NHL playoffs, the Masters and U.S. Open each grabbing a week’s worth of attention, and now soccer’s World Cup. That’s a boatload of stuff to watch. Besides, baseball’s biggest draw is the day-by-day aspect of a building pennant race, which begins after the All-Star game.
Here are a few more thoughts on what’s gone down and what lies ahead.
I see Jackie Bradley make a great catch almost every night. Athleticism in the field today is off the charts compared to back in the day.
Thank goodness for tight races in the East and West, because with the AL playoffs looking close to wrapped up already, division races to avoid the one-and-done wild card game should still keep things interesting. 
Though that points to its meager competitive depth. How did Baltimore and KC get so bad so fast? The Royals won 95 and the 2015 World Series, while the O’s were in the 2016 playoffs. Two years later they’re both on pace to lose 115 plus.
The all-time record is 120 by the 1962 New York Mets. A major losing streak for either puts that in danger. Hopefully that doesn’t happen. Casey Stengel’s Mets were so lovably bad they should always have that record.   
In alumni news, Jed Lowrie is sixth in baseball with 62 RBI. He’s also hitting .290 with 16 homers, while Jon Lester is 11-2 with a 2.45 ERA.
I pick on Theo a lot about his miserable record with free agents, which have been to him what kryptonite is to Superman. But Lester is 54-27 with the Cubs. Just think, the Sox could have spent $60 million less to keep him than on his replacement David Price. 
Baseball’s Santa Claus did give Yu Darvish $126 million over six years last winter. Eight starts in he’s 1-3 with a 4.95 before going to the DL. Admittedly a small sample size, but giving that much to a guy who was 10-12 last year and awful in the playoffs does follow Theo’s pattern. 
As the trade deadline approaches get ready for the auctioning of the overrated Manny Machado, who is finally on pace for his first 100-RBI season. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes. But he’s a two-month rental. If they wanted a haul, they should have traded him last winter.  
Conversely, I don’t see Washington selling off free agent-to-be Bryce Harper, who also has never driven in 100 runs. Sorry, I ain’t paying $300 million for guys who’ve never driven in 100. The Sox got J.D. Martinez, who’s better than both, for less than half that.
The dumbest trend now going on in baseball is batting your best hitter second, as the Yankees do with Aaron Judge because of his OBP, instead of behind guys who get on base. Alex Cora takes it further with Mookie Betts leading off and hitting after the rarely on base duo of Christian Vasquez and Bradley. Hard to argue with Cora’s success, but, while it changes the lefty righty thing, I’d hit Andrew Benintendi lead-off, with Mookie third and Martinez fourth. 
But the one I can’t wrap my head around is Mike Trout batting second, behind lead-off man Ian Kinsler, with Red Sox alum Chris Young and some guy named Mike Hermosillo at 8 and 9. Will the stat geeks explain how it makes sense to have the three guys with averages of .217, .176 and .112 batting in front of baseball’s best hitter when behind him are .300 hitters Andrelton Simmons and David Fletcher? That just defies logic. 
Finally, if you want one reason I get turned off to baseball, it was seeing 60 Minutes showing the clip of Alex Rodriguez lying to Katie Couric that he never used steroids right before flipping to the Sox and Yanks two Sundays ago. There in the ESPN booth was A-Rod to call the game. How does a two-time steroid cheat, two-time steroid liar and one-time suspended player walk out of all that into a plum retirement job as the broadcast face of baseball? 
Sorry, Rob Manfred, that’s a disgrace. 
Email Dave Long at dlong@hippopress.com.  





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