Summer Articles

I will not be posting blog articles on this site for the duration of the summer. Instead, visit this link to read any articles I write this summer at my internship with USA TODAY Sports!

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MLB Pace of Play rules fall flat

The headline was published around noon E.S.T. Monday: MLB Implements New Pace of Play Rules.

Ohhhh boiiiiii, you probably said, here we go!!!!!!! Time for some d r a m a, time for some controversy right as the Free Agent Freeze story is winding down, time for some more Player’s Association showdowns.

Cracking your knuckles and stretching your neck, you click on the article, ready for Manfred’s latest attempt at How To Make Baseball Fun Again.

Here it is:

  1. Teams will be limited to six mound visits (which do not count as pitchers communicating with catchers from the mound on their own or talking to a catcher after covering a play at home plate) per nine innings, with one new visit awarded for every extra inning.
  2. New timers for breaks in between innings and pitching changes will be implemented (2:05 local, 2:25 national, 2:55 postseason/tie breaker), with the timers beginning on last out of the game or when new pitcher crosses the warning track.
  3. Slo-mo cams will be installed in all replay rooms.

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If you were waiting for more innovative new rules; if you were waiting for controversy; if you were waiting for Manfred to finally make a statement about how far he is actually going to take changing the game of baseball to appeal to new fan bases; you’re just going to have to wait until next season.

The Commissioner’s Office and Player’s Association have decided to allow players to “adjust” to these “sweeping” new rules before entertaining more controversial–and, lets face it, more effective–pace of play rules.

Frankly, the long-anticipated announcement that yielded flimsy, boring new pace of play rules illustrates the exact problem MLB has with retaining audiences and competing with other leagues in the first place: MLB continuously fails to capitalize on opportunities to market its game in such a way that previously uninterested parties will actually be drawn to.

The announcement of new rules geared at increasing the pace of play is, in it of itself, a tool that Manfred could have used to attract new fans. Announcing highly controversial, sweeping changes this season would in it of itself encourage non-baseball fans to at least watch the beginning of the season out of morbid curiosity and hopefully catch some interest from there. But MLB largely failed at this endeavor.

Take rule 3 for example: making an announcement that all replay rooms will have slo-mo in order to decrease the calls for reviews is like making an announcement to your roommates that you have decided you will finally wash your dishes within a day of using them. Important and laudable, sure–but at this day and age, shouldn’t this new rule have been implemented already?

And what’s more, if it hasn’t, why embarrass yourself and draw attention to the fact that it hasn’t been?

Many sports writers, such as Chicago Tribune’s Paul Sullivan, were shocked that slo-mo cams didn’t already exist in replay rooms to begin with. I must admit that I, too had this mistaken assumption.

I will admit that new timers between breaks and a limited number of mound visits will inevitably change at least some strategy on the field, such as new signs to communicate strategy that would normally be communicated through a mound visit or fewer warm-up pitches on the field. It is only fair that players should not be bombarded with radical changes such as a pitch clock or runners on second base for extra innings all at once.

But if the goal is to really change the game in order to fit an audience’s demands, if MLB has really decided to make changes to the game for the sole purpose of increasing ratings while discarding the wishes of the players, MLB should commit. There is no point in culminating a fierce off-season debate by announcing pace of play rules that won’t ignite debates fierce enough to draw non-fans to the game, and that will consequently irritate and inconvenience players for no reason.

If MLB’s hands are tied with the demands of the Player’s Association, they should listen to the players and not completely alter the game for the demands of fans who have no real investment in baseball. They should focus on more effectively marketing the game they have rather than trying to change a game that is fiercely resisting artificial change.

Once again, MLB had the opportunity to make a clear choice about whether to really listen to the players or deliver some real drama to a new group of fans. And once again, the sheepish MLB fell monstrously short.

 

 

Nassar’s sentencing is only the beginning

On Wednesday, former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar, a monster who sexually abused over 150 women and girls over a 30 year tenure, and who was enabled by both systems and individuals at Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, was finally sentenced to rot in prison.

Nassar’s sentencing is only the beginning of a conversation about the systematic sexual abuse of women. Justice has been served for one man, but there are a hundreds of others who were never punished for their crimes, and hundreds of survivors who were never heard like the survivors of Nassar. While the sentencing is a time to applaud the survivors, their families, the journalists who broke the story and judge Rosemarie Aquilina for the fearless and honest atmosphere she created in her courtroom, the sentencing is not a time to celebrate, feel self-righteous, or be satisfied. Rather, it is a time to ask how to lock up more abusers like Nassar, and how we can prevent more abusers from ever committing these heinous crimes in the future.

Nassar’s sentencing hearing was a week-long affair in which over 100 women bravely and eloquently testified, explaining to the world how Nassar had violated, abused and manipulated them, how these events have affected their lives, and even who they believed had enabled and protected Nassar for so many years.

The American public responded to these testimonies with shock, surprise and disbelief. This reaction alone illustrates the problem our country, and even our world, faces on the issue of sexual assault: how is sexual abuse so prevalent and yet so shocking to the public? According to RAINN, an American is sexually assaulted every 98 seconds. The number of women who are harassed on a daily basis — accosted on the street, harassed at work/school/home by strangers or trusted friends or loved ones — is unquantifiable. With RAINN’s statistics alone, it is easy to comprehend how Nassar was able to rape so many women. And it is even easier to comprehend how none of the systems in place around him were strong enough to stop him.

The sentencing hearing also drew attention to those at Michigan State University, the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics, all of which had a hand in covering up Nassar’s crimes and silencing the women he abused. A number of MSU officials, including MSU President Lou Anna Simon who released a widely-distributed resignation letter Tuesday evening, have stepped down since the words of the survivors have pierced their reputations.

Rather than taking responsibility for the (at best) ineptitude and (at worst) criminal coverup of Nassar’s crimes, MSU President Simon’s resignation letter childishly cited “media politicization” as the reason for public scrutiny, rather than her own personal shortcomings in her role as president. Simon wrote, “As tragedies are politicized, blame is inevitable.  As president, it is only natural that I am the focus of this anger.”

Simon’s refusal to admit that there was anything more she could have done to prevent or end Nassar’s crimes, whether or not she was informed of them at the time, is a textbook example of the very attitude that has allowed sexual abusers to go unpunished for so long.

Bystanders who choose not to intervene are guilty. So are those in positions of power who do not act because they claim to not have known about these crimes. Ignorance does not absolve those such as Simon of guilt.

All of us — from girls who tell our friends not to wear short skirts for fear of them “attracting unwanted attention,” to “male feminists” like Aziz Ansari who still do not understand sexual power dynamics, to Michigan State presidents who claim they are blameless for the 30 years of sexual assault that took place on their watch — have fed into the culture of sexual abuse.

We all need to change. Larry Nassar’s sentencing can only be the beginning.

 

PERSONAL ANNOUNCEMENT!

This is a quick post to let you know that I will be studying abroad this fall for the remainder of September until late December, and will be unable to post regular articles. I may, however, post from time to time on The Hoya; if and when I do, I will post links here. As always, fill out the contact form or contact me via Twitter/LinkedIn with any questions or comments!

Why Applegate is the best thing to happen to MLB all season

Hey, Mr. Belichick, would you mind scooching over for a quick second there? Thanks.

Who, you might be asking, would ever want to sit next to Bill Belichick? Why, the other Boston coach caught illegally surveilling players, of course–the Boston Red Sox trainer who used illegal technology to steal the Yankees’ signs.

And for clarification, I am not talking about real signs; Hanley Ramirez isn’t running away with Yankee Stadium’s right field Casio billboard. I’m referring to the hand signals that ballplayers and coaches use to communicate on-field strategy, such as which pitches to throw, when to steal, when to swing, etc.

Earlier this week, a formal complaint was filed by Yankees GM Brian Cashman and the New York Yankees with the Commissioner’s Office accusing the Boston Red Sox of using a combination of instant replay footage and Apple Watches to steal their signs. Major League Baseball corroborated these claims shortly after, and the Red Sox have since admitted to having their instant replay guys text sign info to a trainer in the dugout via Apple Watch to be relayed to players before they stepped in the batters’ box.

Of course, the scandal here is not sign stealing, as attempting to steal opposing teams’ signs has been both legal and commonplace since practically the inception of Major League Baseball. The scandal here lies in the technologically based method the Red Sox used to steal these signs–having a runner on second base pick up a sign using his view of the catcher is fair game; relaying external instant replay footage in between swings is not.

So far, the Commissioner’s Office has not issued any formal statement or repercussions to the Red Sox. The delay is most likely a result of the fact that this situation falls in a baseball grey area–there are no clear guidelines about how far a team can go to steal another team’s signs. Technically, no outside resources are allowed in this practice; but because sign stealing is a legal practice to begin with, just how wrong the Red Sox were is up for debate.

Media reaction has been mixed, from writers joking about the incident to expressing genuine outrage. The Ringer’s Michael Baumann believes the Yankees themselves are “suckers” for allowing the Red Sox to steal their signs, while Fanrags columnist John Heyman asserted that the Red Sox should forfeit all games where they used the Apple Watch technique.

Applegate invokes the question of how baseball’s gamesmanship will evolve in the face of today’s technologically savvy world. After all, technology has already infiltrated the field; from the birth of baseball’s instant replay to computerized data dictating defensive shifts, baseball is hardly immune to technological advances. Yankees’ Didi Gregorius tweets highlights in an emoji language, for crying out loud! If that isn’t technology infiltrating baseball, I don’t know what is.

The Commissioner’s Office could go two ways with this situation: either stay silent and set a precedent that other teams can follow the Red Sox example; or punish the Red Sox, which would uphold the no-technology tradition of the sign stealing practice.

But before we all jump to the greater implications of Applegate for the future of baseball, can we all just take a second to laugh at it? Because I, for one, cannot stop laughing at the imaginary image of Belichick, Farrell and their assistant coaches sitting at Sunday dinner discussing all of the ways in which New England teams can cheat. Whatever you think about the situation, you have to admit–it’s hilarious. If you don’t agree, just watch The Ringer’s modified rendition of Sweet Caroline, which changes the words of the song to chronicles the Applegate scandal.

Perhaps, when considering punishments for the Red Sox, the Commissioner’s Office should consider just how funny–and how marketable–the situation is. They should consider that non-baseball fans find Applegate outrageous, hilarious, and everything in between. With this scandal, baseball can connect with the NFL base by referencing Belichick’s Spygate, and with the NBA base because, well, NBA fans are used to drama.

Morals be damned. The MLB should capitalize on Applegate because it can help Make Baseball Fun Again.

In drafting a statement and punishments, the Commissioner’s Office should attempt to walk the fine line between fairly punishing the Red Sox–because they definitely deserve some form of punishment–and upholding the general hilarity of the situation. The biggest mistake they could make is to treat this situation too seriously. The Commissioner’s Office would benefit from exercising a sense of humor–reprimand the Red Sox as quietly as possible and with the least amount of fanfare. Don’t turn the punishment into a saga. Give the Red Sox exactly what most people think they deserve and move on. Besides, the social suicide of having to wear an Apple Watch was already half the punishment.

Illegal or not, Applegate is the funniest thing to happen to baseball since Yogi Berra’s pizza cutting joke. Let’s not ruin the fun, okay?

 

Sabermetrics: FIP

In honor of last week’s almost perfect game by Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, I decided to dedicate this week’s sabermetrics post to FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), which was created in order to predict the ability of a pitcher to prevent runs independent of the actuality of his team’s fielding. The stat bases itself on league averages of balls in play–or the average potential of a fielder to make an out on a ball that should be an out–as pitchers have no control over the abilities of their fielders, and can sometimes be  penalized by shortcomings of their defense. FIP attempts, in one statistic, to rectify that fact.

I’ll allow the FanGraphs graphic to illustrate the specific formula used to calculate FIP:

fip-flash-card-7-11-15-e1436629435119

FIP looks like ERA, and can even be measured on the same scale–though there is some controversy over whether or not FIP should have been manufactured to use the same scale as ERA in the first place. Often, a given pitcher’s ERA and FIP are similar; or at least, they start out that way at the beginning of the season. Variance occurs between the statistics–a.k.a. ERA begins to climb–depending on luck of where the ball lands, or luck of the talent of fielders behind the pitcher. Variance can also occur depending on how good a pitcher is in the stretch–that is, depending on the pitcher’s capability of preventing successful stolen bases while he is on the mound. Even generating more easily-catchable pop-flys than line drives or grounders can cause variance, as pop-flys are easier outs than these other types of hits.

It is important to remember that, unlike ERA, which is a measure of the past, FIP is a good indicator of how a pitcher will fare in the future, because it takes approximately an entire season for FIP to be accurate measure of performance. Therefore, FIP isn’t always the best indicator of a pitcher’s performance early in the season or their career.

Like ERA, an excellent FIP is considered to fall around 3.20, with the league average around 4.20. Rich Hill’s FIP, for example, is currently 3.94 for the 2017 season, with a slightly lower ERA of 3.71. His career average FIP is 3.95. So in theory, an event like the third base error that cost Hill his perfect game last week, should not factor into FIP. However, because the Dodgers currently have one of the top 10 defenses in the Major Leagues–at least in terms of fielding percentage, or how often the defense successfully makes an out–it is understandable that Hills’ FIP as a Dodger would be slightly lower.

It is unlikely that any pitching statistic completely overrides ERA; ERA will always be the easiest and most common way to introduce and assess a pitcher. But in the age of sabermetrics, it is also important to consider other stats, such as FIP, that are better indicators of performance unaffected by factors that may be out of the pitcher’s control.

Even though, of course, those isolated performances exist in an alternate universe–the same universe where Rich Hill was able to pitch that perfect game.

 

What Ken Rosenthal joining The Athletic means for the future of sportswriting

Shortly after turbulent changes rocked the sports journalism world this summer, MLB writer/broadcaster Ken Rosenthal announced yesterday that he would be writing exclusively for a smaller startup sports blog, The Athletic. 

Rosenthal’s announcement came about a month after his home publication, FoxSports.com, dumped its entire writing staff—the website is now completely devoid of written content, and features exclusively hot-take videos featuring Fox Sports broadcasters.

This change meant that Rosenthal, one of the most prominent baseball writers of today, had to resort to posting articles on his own Facebook page. The situation was extremely discouraging; if even Ken Rosenthal couldn’t find a place to publish his writing, how could anyone else (especially an aspiring sportswriter) expect a future in the business?

To make matters worse, Fox Sports was not the only sports media outlet to carry out drastic layoffs–ESPN laid off a number of its employees in May, including NFL reporter/commentator John Clayton; Time Inc., which houses Sports Illustrated, laid off about 300 positions in mid-June.

This summer, the future of sports writing looked bleak.

Written sports content is no longer a leading source for straight sports news; Twitter, mobile notifications and other social media cover that. Now, the draw to read a piece of sports writing is for reading in-depth analysis and respected opinions, often that accompany other forms of digital content such as videos or podcasts.

In addition, digital news outlets must be mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. Publications oozing analysis and entertaining hot takes such as The Ringer and sites filled with bite-sized content such as Bleacher Report seem to be the writing-based publications to look up to.

That is, until Ken Rosenthal joined The Athletic.

The Athletic lacks sponsored content or ads; it is a sleek, clean reading experience focused on delivering aesthetically pleasing images and quality content. The site, which began with a number of regionally-based sections for all sports and that now includes national coverage, is subscription only. The Athletic is wagering that traditional, high-quality content based in good, rich reporting presented in an aesthetically pleasing way is a service that sports fans will pay for.

Maybe The Athletic is right. Maybe subscription-based publications really are the future of digital sports writing. Maybe everyone is so sick of ads and popups that they would pay to have a cleaner reading experience. Maybe writers like Ken Rosenthal are so valuable that masses will pay to read his thoughts, a concept that the bigger sports media companies never believed possible.

Whether The Athletic remains a unique publication or becomes a benchmark for many sports websites, one thing is clear: Ken Rosenthal joining a smaller startup publication with a writing focus is a bright spot in the unstable future of sportswriters.

By joining The Athletic, one of the biggest names in sports journalism asserted two very important principles: first, that written content still matters, and second, that smaller sports media outlets can and will rival the previous traditional giants.

In his new home publication, Rosenthal is restoring faith in the business of sports writing. Yesterday was a good day to be a sportswriter.