New replay system isn’t helping MLB see what we’re seeing
I can tolerate the growing pains of expanded replay, the flaws in the challenge system, the awkward delays as managers decide whether to seek reviews, the debates over what constitutes a proper transfer, a proper catch.
But no one should tolerate calls that are blatantly incorrect after review — not now, not with a system that supposedly was designed to help baseball avoid egregious mistakes.
Something is terribly wrong when television viewers are getting better access to conclusive angles than the umpires at the $30 million Replay Operations Center in New York. And it happened twice Saturday, first in a game between the Yankees and Red Sox, then in one between the Braves and Nationals.
If it’s any consolation to Red Sox manager John Farrell, I spent Sunday trying to get a better explanation for Anna-gate from Major League Baseball, and none was forthcoming.
Farrell became the first manager to receive an automatic ejection for arguing a replay decision later that night, contending that the out call on the Yankees’ Francisco Cervelli at first base should not have been overturned because the replays were inconclusive.
The essence of Farrell’s argument is that the ball needed simply to enter first baseman Mike Napoli’s glove, not hit the back of it. The confusion alone over what qualifies as an out is embarrassing to baseball, but Farrell would not have been nearly as hot if not for the shenanigans of the day before.
Clearly, Farrell was still seething over the missed call Saturday — the one in which replay conclusively showed the Yankees’ Dean Anna had his foot off second base when he was tagged by Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with one out in the eighth inning.
At least, the replay on FOX Sports 1 and other networks broadcasting the game conclusively showed that. No one is quite sure what the umpires at the Replay Operations Center were quite watching, but evidently their 12 feeds were not good enough.
Moments after Farrell came out of the dugout to question the play, FOX Sports 1 analyst Tom Verducci noted that Bogaerts had alertly kept the tag on Anna, thinking his foot might come off the bag.
"Watch this," Verducci said as FOX Sports 1 showed its first replay. "(He’s) keeping (the tag) on him. Did he come off the base? Yes, he did!"
"It looks like he did with his right foot," play-by-play man Kenny Albert said.
"I think this is going to go Boston’s way," Verducci continued. "And, hopefully by now, someone in New York already has looked at the replay we’ve seen and possibly other angles and can tell the umpires right now what they have."
Well, that’s not what happened — Anna was ruled safe and allowed to remain at second. The play did not figure in the game’s outcome, but Farrell later questioned the "validity" of the replay system, and justifiably so.
A spokesman for MLB quickly acknowledged after the game that the conclusive angle was not immediately available and that the call should have been made differently.
On Sunday, when asked for an additional explanation, the spokesman said: "We understand the curiosity and scrutiny that accompany the expansion of instant replay. The eighth-inning play in the Red Sox-Yankees game was missed, and we will continue to improve on the replay process as the season moves on."
Not good enough.
Not when there actually was another blown review Saturday night, when the Nationals’ Nate McLouth was called out at first after trying to bunt for a hit.
A freeze frame of the sequence on the Nationals’ Mid-Atlantic Sports Network clearly showed the ball was not in the glove of Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman when McLouth’s foot hit the bag, but the umpires in New York deemed the replays inconclusive and allowed the call to stand. Nationals manager Matt Williams reacted by tossing his gum and shouting an expletive.
We all get it. Mistakes happen. Baseball never promised perfection. In fact, former Braves general manager John Schuerholz — one of the architects of the system — repeatedly described the process as a three-year rollout.
Fair enough. Patience is indeed warranted. Just don’t expect fans, players and managers to show faith in the system when viewers at home can make better judgments than the umpires in the Replay Operations Center.
Snakes not so alive
The Diamondbacks are 4-11, making Kirk Gibson the early leader in the "first manager to get fired" derby. But really, it’s difficult to imagine how Gibson could be held responsible for the D-backs’ shoddy rotation.
Through 15 games, the team’s 7.18 rotation ERA is the worst in the majors. The starters are averaging fewer than 5 1/3 innings, increasingly the likelihood that the bullpen will wear down.
Gibson distributes the bullpen innings, and at times a manager must extend his starter to save his ‘pen. Bullpen management, though, isn’t Gibson’s strength. Some scouts say he manages every game as if it were his last, even though this is his fourth full season and he recently received a contract extension of undetermined length.
Then again, general manager Kevin Towers chose the personnel, not Gibson.
The D-backs thinned out their rotation depth by trading lefty Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and David Holmberg to the Reds in deals that landed them left fielder Mark Trumbo and financial relief.
The team then signed free-agent right-hander Bronson Arroyo to a two-year deal, but the loss of lefty Patrick Corbin to Tommy John surgery in spring training created a gaping hole.
Meanwhile, righty Trevor Cahill is a mess and is owed $20 million from 2014-15. The D-backs acquired Cahill and lefty Craig Breslow for right-handers Jarrod Parker and Ryan Cook and outfielder Collin Cowgill in December 2011.
So, how long will Towers wait to promote right-hander Archie Bradley, one of the game’s top pitching prospects?
Bradley has a 1.50 ERA after two starts at Triple-A.
Drawing a market for Drew
An executive had an interesting thought on free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew, one that Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, surely has considered.
Assuming Drew waits to sign until after the June draft, an American League contender with a need would have the added incentive of blocking him from going to the Tigers.
Let’s face it, the Tigers eventually will need to make a move at short; Alex Gonzalez, 37, is batting .208 with a .532 OPS and is playing below-average defense, to boot.
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, meanwhile, already is dealing with physical issues, and after this season the Yanks could have openings at second, short and third, depending upon what they do with Alex Rodriguez.
For now, Drew could play shortstop for the Yankees on days when Jeter is unavailable and third on other days. One exec says Drew is so even-tempered, "I don’t know if he even would notice" if he had to play third.
The Pirates, who look offensively challenged, are another team with a potential need for Drew, as I mentioned Saturday in my Full Count video. By June, other teams also could enter the mix, without fear of losing a draft pick.
White Sox’s Abreu wasn’t a mystery
Five teams bid more than $60 million for White Sox rookie first baseman Jose Abreu, as I reported Saturday on the FOX Sports 1 pregame show. The other four, according to major league sources, were the Astros, Brewers, Rockies and Red Sox.
The Red Sox, who came within $5 million of the White Sox’s winning $68 million bid, would have tried to re-sign first baseman Mike Napoli even if they had landed Abreu. And if they had succeeded in getting both, Abreu — ahem — might have started the season at Triple-A.
Why were so many clubs willing to offer big money to Abreu? One executive who had interest in the player detailed a few of the reasons:
* Abreu had a lengthy performance history in international competition, including the 2011 Pan American Games and 2013 World Baseball Classic.
* At 26 (and now 27), he came off as humble and mature in private meetings with clubs — an adult.
* A six-year, $68 million contract works out to about $11.33 million per season — reasonable money if Abreu becomes only a slightly above-average first baseman, and a bargain if he becomes a star.
Wake up, the season has started!
It’s early, but teams are scoring at a slightly higher rate than last season, averaging 4.22 runs per game, according to STATS LLC. Of course, last season’s average of 4.17 was the lowest since 1992.
The White Sox, Angels and Twins are the three highest-scoring clubs, so perhaps none of this should be taken seriously. Still, it’s remarkable how many teams already are scrambling to generate runs:
* Reds: New manager Bryan Price tinkered with his lineup Saturday, and the team scored 12 runs Sunday with Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in the 2-3 spots. Still, leadoff man Billy Hamilton is batting only .154 with a .426 OPS. He figures to get at least a month, but if he fails to produce, then what?
* Blue Jays: Another struggling club that broke out Sunday, scoring 11 runs against the Orioles. First baseman Edwin Encarnacion remains without a homer but had two doubles and his first two runs batted in of the season. Shortstop Jose Reyes is expected to return from his left hamstring injury Friday.
* Braves: Yet another team that broke out Sunday, scoring 10 runs against the Nationals. The Braves’ 8-4 record is stunning considering the depleted state of their Opening Day rotation — and the fact right fielder Jason Heyward, center fielder B.J. Upton and second baseman Dan Uggla got off to miserable starts. Upton, at least, has produced back-to-back two-hit games.
* Royals: They can’t get much worse, can they? Everyone’s fashionable pick to win the AL Central (including mine) scored only five runs in three games while getting swept by the Twins at Target Field. Designated hitter Billy Butler and third baseman Mike Moustakas (again) are the worst offenders, but as a team, the Royals are not even averaging three runs per game.
* Padres: Their lineup is long on decent hitters but short on potency. Perhaps the only game-changer is outfielder Carlos Quentin, who is on the DL with left knee soreness. Second baseman Jedd Gyorko and third baseman Chase Headley are starting to rebound from awful starts, and catcher Yasmani Grandal is developing into a Headley type — a tough out, if not an outright slugger.
* Astros: Five of their nine hitters in Sunday’s lineup finished the day with batting averages of .190 or below. The Astros actually are getting decent starting pitching — four straight starts of seven innings — but their prospects can’t arrive soon enough. Don’t tell the service-time police, but first baseman Jonathan Singleton has four homers and 15 RBI in 10 games at Triple-A.
Kuroda nearly didn’t come back
Yankees right-hander Ivan Nova said that Hiroki Kuroda mentioned to him the final weekend of last season that he might retire. Nova thought Kuroda might be kidding, but it turns out that the Japanese right-hander wasn’t kidding at all.
Kuroda, 39, told me through his interpreter that he has thought about retiring for the past few years but never more seriously than last offseason.
The pitcher’s wife and three young daughters live in Los Angeles, but friends say it wasn’t the separation so much that bothered him; his family joins him in New York in the summer, after school lets out. It’s simply that Kuroda loves and misses Japan.
Kuroda, who has a 3.41 career ERA in the majors, is on his fourth straight one-year contract, his third with the Yankees. He continues to leave open the possibility of finishing his career in his native land.
He rejected a pay cut . . . and accepted an even bigger one
For all the talk of players earning big money, it’s easy to forget that those with less than three years of service time are subject to the whims of their clubs, with occasionally odd results.
Consider reliever Neil Wagner, who signed with the Blue Jays as a minor league free agent on Nov. 15, 2012. The major league portion of that deal was worth $525,000, and Wagner spent nearly four months last season with the Jays, getting paid at that rate.
Wagner, 30, performed reasonably well, stranding 18 of 24 runners and producing a 3.79 ERA in 38 innings. He figured that he was due for a raise this season, but according to his agent, Jim Munsey, the Jays didn’t view it that way.
The Jays, like many clubs, use a pay scale for 0-to-3 players. Their scale is based on service time and playing time, not performance. Wagner merited an offer of $506,250 according to the scale, Munsey said.
The agent contended that Wagner was different because he had initially signed with the club as a minor-league free agent at a higher salary. The Jays disagreed, taking the same approach that they did with right-hander Brandon Morrow after acquiring him from the Mariners in Dec. 2009 (the Mariners had a higher scale). Rather than accept the team’s offer, Wagner allowed the Jays to renew him for the major-league minimum, $500,000.
"It’s, obviously, disappointing that they cut Neil’s pay after such a good season last year," Munsey said. "And when we didn’t agree to the pay cut, they cut it further in renewing him. Hard to cheer for that. Perhaps someday, things will even out.
"The rules allow the Jays to reduce his pay. They also allow us to talk about that at arbitration."
Some clubs, however, have done studies showing that renewals have little bearing in the arbitration process; Morrow never went to a hearing, and ultimately signed a three-year, $21 million deal with the Jays.
Wagner will not be eligible for arbitration until after the 2015 or ’16 season.
Around the horn
* The Athletics will gauge trade possibilities for outfielder Sam Fuld, whom they designated for assignment Saturday. Both the Angels and Twins showed interest in Fuld last offseason, and both have a need for an outfielder. Josh Hamilton is on the disabled list for the Angels, Oswaldo Arcia and Josh Willingham for the Twins.
* The Rays’ rotation depth obviously is being tested because of the injuries to left-hander Matt Moore and righties Alex Cobb and Jeremy Hellickson, but the team is likely to rely upon internal options rather than pursue outside help.
* It’s not surprising that the Red Sox are struggling to find their offensive identity, and not merely because they also are missing right fielder Shane Victorino and now second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Jacoby Ellsbury gave the Sox the highest on-base percentage in the AL out of the leadoff spot last season. Drew and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia also helped wear down opposing starters. Drew averaged 4.09 pitches per plate appearance, Saltalamacchia 4.03 and Ellsbury 3.86 — all above the major league average.
* One rival executive says that the increased number of interleague games will make it easier for the Dodgers to find enough at-bats for their four outfielders, easing the pressure at various points of the season. Not sure Matt Kemp will buy into such logic, but it’s true that the Dodgers will play 10 games with a DH — three in Minnesota from April 29-May 1, three in Kansas City from June 23-25, two in Detroit from July 8-9 and two in Anaheim from Aug. 6-7.