Sunday, March 8, 2015

How Much Should Baseball Worry?

Yesterday was supposed to be just Day 16 of my baseball preview, and I'm pooped already. (I have no idea how Jesus made it through those 40 days in the desert.) I didn't have access to a computer so I couldn't write; today's post makes up for it. 

Here's another of my e-mails, this one from Episode 608 of Effectively Wild:

Hey guys,

Last night we New Yorkers went to bed expecting a tremendous overnight blizzard, but we woke up to a Brien Taylor-level disappointment. As a teacher, I was hoping for multiple days off, but now it's clear that I'll be returning to work tomorrow. 

What current issues in baseball are we making way too big of a deal about? It feels like we might be treating the rise of defensive shifts as a blizzard now, but it'll correct itself and turn into no more than a six-inch snowfall in the long run. 

Thanks,
Francis 
The Bronx, NY
Via morehardball.blogspot.com
My Brien Taylor reference drew a chuckle from Lindbergh as he read the question. Baseball nerds have a unique sense of humor. Lindbergh agreed that shifting is a huge topic that many have written about since Rob Manfred's comments in January. He added that pace of play* is another important issue.

*If you're wondering whether people are treating pace of play like a blizzard, Tuesday afternoon's SportsCenter Yankees segment featured two highlights of the pitch clock and zero highlights or mentions of Aaron Judge's ninth-inning home run. I know it's just Spring Training, but that should give you a good idea of many people's priorities right now.

Sam Miller disagreed with his co-host, saying that neither shifting nor pace of play matters too much to him. Neither subject is a "blizzard" like PEDs were several years ago. He said that pitcher health is a critical issue, especially the recent abundance of Tommy John surgeries. Lindbergh concurred but argued that pitcher arm injuries have always been a big deal.

The two writers then discussed, with the benefit of retrospect, whether outlawing PEDs was actually a blizzard or a six-inch snowfall. They agreed that drug bans have had more of an effect than statheads would have predicted several years ago. Even though there is no definitive evidence that PEDs were more impactful than other factors like juiced balls and legal supplements, they concluded that new drug policies have had significant influence on the game.

Miller posed one more question, extending my winter weather analogy. Are line drives that hit pitchers in the face a potential blizzard that's being treated like a six-inch snowfall? He then mentioned headhunting and batter head health as similar issues. "Are we not doing enough for the inevitability that somebody is going to die on our TV screen?" Miller asked. Lindbergh responded that it's a tough issue to address because it hasn't occurred yet, at least to a pitcher. However, it just needs to happen once for us to see it as a blizzard in retrospect. Lindbergh also mentioned the argument that all players know the risks, an unsatisfying yet logical defense of baseball's inherent dangers. It's easy for us to say that players should wear more protective equipment, but most of them don't seem to agree.

I might add one more issue that is barely even registering as a cumulonimbus cloud at this point: the possibility of a shortened regular season. Since baseball has expanded its playoffs to resemble those of America's other pro leagues, the regular season is not as important as it once was. (Look no further than last year's World Series representatives.)  Just like the NBA, MLB should at least explore the possibility of shortening the slog teams endure before the playoffs. It might add importance to the games, eliminate some injuries and fatigue, and provide us with the same playoff field anyways. (Then again, maybe not.)  It's at least worth taking out a shovel to uncover whether this issue might be a snow shower worthy of our attention.




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