Is It Time For A Rule Change In Baseball?

Photo courtesy of Getty Images/http://www.economist.com/ Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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In a recent article for Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci made a convincing case for the abolition of extreme defensive shifts in baseball, and by “made a convincing case” I of course mean that he rambled on like an idiot for far too long. (Of course, I read the whole article, so what does that say?) The long and the short of it is that Verducci is half advocating for a rule that would make it illegal for a shortstop or second baseman to line up on the opposite side of second base from where they normally would stand. (That’s right Tribe fans, no more of the Santana shift.) Yeah…stupid right?

At any rate, Verducci presented quite a few facts and even a few nifty tables to help illustrate how this defensive shift is contributing to the gradual demise of the left-handed power-hitter with no speed. You know, guys like Adam Dunn, Ryan Howard, David Ortiz, Adrian Gonzalez, and a whole host of aging players who have lost a step or two as they’ve gained some grey hair.

I guess it just goes to show you that you can’t teach old dogs new tricks. Like I said the other night, the whole point of baseball is to “hit ‘em where they ain’t”…but apparently that responsibility fades with age and eventually the game is supposed to change for you.

I get it, I really do. Verducci is trying to protect the game that he loves by making sure that offense reigns supreme and that the fans are entertained. But where were all these baseball writers when Major League Baseball was cracking down on the offensive production and entertainment value that accompanied the steroid era? The majority of them were calling for the heads of guys like Rafael Palmeiro and Barry Bonds…also power hitting left-handers with no speed…Tom Verducci included. They still vow to keep these guys out of the hall of fame…again…Tom Verducci included.

Now, all that hypocrisy aside, Verducci did point out that changing the rules of the game to help out the offense is not a new thing. Who remembers a little thing called the dead ball era? That went away as home runs became more profitable for owners. Similarly, the mound has been lowered, the DH has been brought about…all in an effort to help the offense. But these past changes were made to help the offense as a whole, not just one group of players whose production is decreasing due to age and a declining skill set.

Now, what I’m about to suggest will sound crazy, especially since my baseball career went oh so far (that’s sarcasm in case you didn’t know). But what if these guys started trying to hit to the opposite field? I’m not talking about just slapping one to the other side every now and then like some beer league softball player. I’m talking about practicing in such a way as to change the way that they play the game. Do you suppose that if David Ortiz started consistently hitting to left field or hitting hard grounders down the third base line, that this nasty shift would eventually go away? I sure do! I mean come on! The only reason the shift came about in the first place is because these guys consistently hit to the right side of the field. The numbers don’t lie.

So why aren’t these guys doing drills, doing tee work, and intentionally hitting every ball to opposite field in batting practice daily to overcome this evil shift? Last I checked, every organization is chocked full of farm system players who are more than willing to be the next man in line if given the chance. If I were these old farts, I’d worry a little bit more about protecting my job than crying about some rule change to help them out. If they don’t care enough about their own jobs to work harder, then why should baseball?

Baseball won’t be doing itself or this group of players any favors by changing the rules to help them out in the short run. It will only be perpetuating a problem. As for myself, I’m not willing to change the rules of the game forever just to help out a few players who only have a couple years left in the tank anyways.

How Good is Miguel Cabrera?

Photo by Orlin Wagner/AP/http://www.washingtonpost.com/ Written by: JP Lococo (@jp_lococo)

Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

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It has been an up an down year for Cleveland Indians fans. I would know as I am a big supporter of all Cleveland sports teams just like many of our followers. But for me, it hasn't been frustrating because we have been inconsistent or are not able to score runs when needed. That would be too easy. For me, my frustration lies behind our inability to beat the Detroit Tigers in 2013 and how we can’t stop Miguel Cabrera. If you haven't been keeping track Tribe fans, the Indians are 4-14 against the Tigers and 28-13 against the rest of the AL Central. The constant struggle to play well against the Tigers has kept the Indians from making any serious run at the divisional race. Maybe the final playoff spot is still in contention, but with the Indians just narrowly avoiding a sweep in Detroit, they need to begin stringing some wins together.

As I watched the Indians and Tigers play a couple innings the other night with some family, my dad made an interesting statement about Miguel Cabrera that got me thinking. He said, "I can't watch Cabrera anymore. All he does is kill the Tribe when he comes up to bat. I think he is juicing, but regardless if he is or isn't, this guy is the best hitter in baseball and we can't stop him." I thought about what he said for a while and it really made me wonder. How good is Miggy?

I think we have all heard over the past couple of weeks and months that Miguel Cabrera is on one of those all-time great hitting streaks. But numbers and history suggest that this may be way more than a streak. He really might be THAT good. Cabrera is leading the league in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging by posting a .358/.449/.681 slash line this season. He is also second in the league in home runs with 43, which is 4 behind leader Chris Davis of Baltimore with 47. If he continues this pace, and manages to catch Davis in home runs, he should win his second straight Triple Crown and will then have even achieved winning the Sextuple Crown. To put this into perspective for everyone, no one has ever won the Triple Crown two years in a row. Let that marinate for a couple of seconds. Then to go a step further, Nap Lajoie, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Chuck Klein and Carl Yastrzemski are the only other players to ever win the Sextuple Crown, and all five of them are in the Hall of Fame.

Photo is courtesy of the Associated Press/http://sports.yahoo.com/

Cabrera is also in the prime of his career. He is currently 30 years-old and should be reaching the peak of his physical abilities. Cabrera hit 37 home runs at age 25 so we should have expected him to at least improve on those numbers, but maybe not to this extent. I read an article by Dave Schoenfield of ESPN.com that noted in a recent post that avoided players from the "steroid era", Cabrera has the best OPS+ (205) since Willie McCovey in 1969 (209) and is the first player since Barry Bonds in 1992 (his final season in Pittsburgh) to have an OPS+ over 200. I suggest taking a moment to remember how great of a baseball player Barry Bonds was and then you will understand how good of a hitter Cabrera is in 2013. It wasn’t long ago that Barry Bonds was being talked about as one of the best hitters of all time.

I love looking into the advanced metrics of athletics and baseball is the prime sport for digging deep into the stats behind the play on the field. Sabermetrics is the term for the empirical analysis of baseball, especially baseball statistics that measure in-game activity. In other words, Sabermetrics tries to answer the objective questions about baseball. Recently, I found a stat on Cabrera that I felt explained his offensive game in a nut-shell and we have Sabermetrics to thank for it. Miguel Cabrera is setting a new standard for himself in the weighted runs created plus (wRC+) column, which shows a player's ability to create runs compared to the average player. He currently has a wRC+ of 210 where 80-100 is the league average. Basically this means he is 110 percent better than the average player in the AL.

I am no baseball expert or scout but it is obvious that we are watching someone making history. I sort of feel like I am watching Jordan in his prime when I am watching Cabrera now-a-days. At age 30, Jordan recorded 32 PPG, over 6 RPG and 5.5 APG and completely dominated everyone he played. MJ literally retired because he had nothing else to prove in the NBA and he had only played in the league for 9 seasons. Cabrera has shown us glimpses of his ability in the past, but he has taken all of our expectations to another level these past two years. I wanted to write a piece on Miggy not because I like him as a player, athlete or person, but because I think he deserves our respect. As sports fans, we need to truly understand when we are witnessing greatness because it just doesn’t happen every year. At least not like this. Cabrera is making the case to become one of the best hitters in this generation and if he manages to win a second consecutive Triple Crown, then we may be witnessing one of the greatest hitters of all-time.

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Panic Enhancing Drugs in Baseball

Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon SMI/http://mlb.si.com/ Written by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)

Edited by: Tommy Parrill (@DearTommy)

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For about the last month, the black cloud of the Biogenesis/PED scandal has been hovering over the game of baseball. Over the last two weeks, the cloud has become even darker as the scrutiny increased on Ryan Braun and Major League Baseball had a one-on-one meeting with Alex Rodriguez. Throughout all of that shame and hardship, there has been a tiny ray of hope.

 

First baseman for the Baltimore Orioles and top vote-getter for this year's All-Star game, Chris Davis, has so far set the baseball world on fire. At the All-Star break, Davis ranks in the Top 10 in many of baseball's offensive categories and above all else, he leads the league with 37 home runs. Most people would receive praise for these accomplishments, but Davis has been questioned for his statistics and many fans and media members have raised an eyebrow to his outstanding home run total.  While his spike in numbers may have the “experts” questioning his career year, it is in no way Davis’ fault for receiving the scrutiny that he has.

 

The one thing that performance-enhancing drugs has done to the game is caution players from being too good.  Due to the outrageous home run totals that Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez have put up while later being connected to PED’s, it has put a damper on the rest of baseball.  As soon as a player starts smoking the ball out of and around the ballpark, especially one that isn’t yet a “big name”, people instantly become skeptical.  Some may say that 37 home runs and 93 RBI’s are not common numbers for a man with a common name.  Even though Davis’ numbers are a bit inflated, the sweet-swinging lefty still recorded 33 home runs and 85 RBI’s in 2012.  Don’t get me wrong, I can understand why people are skeptical of what Davis has been able to do in the first half, but it looks a little sad that just because the kid is having a good year, people assume that it can’t be natural.

 

Maybe I am crazy and Davis will be the next name linked to performance-enhancing drugs, but there is no need to point the finger just yet. Davis has announced to the public and the media many times that he is in no way using any sort of PED’s.  I have always been a guy that trusts people, but after the golden boy of baseball, Alex Rodriguez, lied to all of us on many occasions, it has been hard to let our guard down again.  Trust me folks, I’m not saying that Davis is the next Rodriguez, but until he gives us reasonable doubt, Davis should be congratulated for his accomplishments and not questioned.

 

As I mentioned in a previous post, you all know that I believe Major League Baseball should either make PED’s 100% legal for a level playing field, or install a two strike policy before banning them from the game.  Both of those options may never come true but since everything surrounding Biogenesis and PED’s is still under investigation, let’s take this time as baseball fans to embrace Chris Davis for what he has done for the game, and not for what we think he has done.