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Wednesday 24th Aug 2016

Recently, there has been a lot of concern expressed about the longer games in Major League Baseball this season. Radical and controversial “solutions” are being considered such as automatic intentional walks and raising the strike zone.

One area apparently not under pressure is regulating the explosive growth of instant replays. Like it or not, I think this has almost certainly been the biggest reason for games taking longer to complete.

The sheer numbers seem to support my contention. According to the database at Baseball Savant, there have already been 510 instant replays across the game in 2016 – with less than one-third of this season played through May 30 - 31.4 percent of all scheduled contests, to be exact.

The 510 count compares to 1360 replays all of last season and 1276 in 2014. Maintaining the current pace would lead to 1624 replays during the full 2016 season, or a whopping year-to-year increase of 19.6 percent.

I join those who are in favor of replay for the simple reason the umpires clearly need a lot of help getting plays right. The percentages of original calls overturned due to replay have been consistently between 45 and 50 percent.

Overturned rates range from 47.7 percent in 2014 to 49.2 percent last year to 45.7 so far in 2016. Rendering it specific, over the last 2 1/3 seasons, over 1500 calls initially made by umpires were wrong.

Obviously, not every one of them had a game outcome riding on the balance, but I consider the totals staggering.

The reason this subject is on my mind is a very odd occurrence that I witnessed during the St. Louis Cardinals at Milwaukee Brewers game on Tuesday night.

The umpiring crew, with the infamous Angel Hernandez behind the plate, did not distinguish itself. At one point in the contest, Hernandez lost track of the outs, rolling a baseball back toward the mound after the second out of the inning.

That isn’t the oddity, though.

In the eighth inning, facing the aptly-named Brewers right-hander David Goforth, Cardinals infielder Jedd Gyorko blasted a long, three-run home run. It turned a close 5-2 game into an 8-2 laugher.

Next, Cardinals manager Mike Matheny sent rookie outfielder Jeremy Hazelbaker to the plate to pinch hit. The rookie slammed a long ball into the second deck, which on its way out, passed in front of the mesh section of the right-field foul pole at Miller Park.

Hazelbaker clearly saw what almost everyone else saw, which was that his blast was nothing more than a most impressive 452-foot foul ball. Yet first base umpire Will Little waved his index finger in a circle, sending the obviously-confused hitter around the bases.

Once back in the dugout, it was an odd scene, as the Cardinals standard player reception line was less enthusiastic than usual in congratulating Hazelbaker. Many seemed to be looking over their shoulders. Last as always was pitcher Carlos Martinez, who threw the customary cup of water in the hitter’s face (to cool him down, I guess).

I had my most-retweeted comment of the year when I wondered out loud at that instant if when the home run call was overturned, would Hazelbaker get to douse Martinez in return?

Predictably, once the headsets were brought onto the field and the mandatory umpire discussion with New York ensued, the home run call was overturned. The damper version of Hazelbaker was returned to home plate with another strike to his credit.

The outfielder then hit a chopper to short. With Hazelbaker demonstrating impressive speed, it looked as if he had just beaten Jonathan Villar’s throw to first in a bang-bang play. The call by Little was “out,” however.

What ensued was the second umpire review - in the same at-bat.

Consulting the video also resulted in Little’s second overturned call in a five-minute span. Upon review, Hazelbaker was placed at first with an infield single.

The whole escapade was odd and it was irritating, but ultimately, they got it right.

I don’t have an answer to the problem of longer games, but I don’t want to see instant replay curtailed. On Tuesday, the first reversal actually helped Milwaukee and the second one hurt them less in a game they would have lost handily, either way.

But that isn’t the point. Everyone’s goal should be to get as many calls correct as possible.

If it ever gets to two reviews per at-bat, however, then it will be past time to address the real underlying issue here – the quality of umpiring.

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Any participant who has been involved in fantasy baseball for any considerable time is already familiar with the time-worn warning to not chase wins.

From a practical perspective, what is suggested is to avoid the temptation to pick up mediocre starting pitchers with the hopes of increasing win totals. The pitfall is the very likely hit on ERA and WHIP, essentially cratering two categories while taking a lower-odds shot to improve in one.

This advice is valid, but is not the only related pitfall.

When you have a pitching roster opening, and you do the right thing by resisting the urge to chase wins, what is left?

Adding a reliever who can at least help your ratios, right?

Proven setup men like Tony Watson of Pittsburgh, Tyler Clippard of Arizona and Kevin Siegrist of St. Louis are good enough that they were taken on draft day in NL-only leagues. Same for a number of closers-in-waiting – or at least those suspected to be.

The next tier down in relievers may be equally known, but carry risks. As such, they can become almost invisible on your roster while sucking life out of your ratios.

As you may guess, I speak from experience. Shut out of closers in the NL Tout Wars draft this spring, coupled with purposely taking an injured player in Zack Wheeler and a still-in-the minors prospect in Lucas Giolito, followed by the early loss of Tyson Ross to the DL, I needed several fill-ins.

Off to the waiver wire I went.

After a week of temporary insanity, chasing wins by adding Williams Perez of Atlanta, I came to my senses. I jettisoned Perez and went looking for known bullpen quantities.

The first reliever who caught my eye was Arquimedes Caminero from Pittsburgh, a player I had rostered in 2015 and from whom I received good results. Despite his rough spring in 2016, the Pirates took Caminero north as he is out of options, but the right-hander had continued to struggle in the early going. I went with the track record and added the reliever for $11 FAAB (on a $1000 base).

My second addition was Milwaukee’s former closer Jim Henderson ($10), now with the Mets. While neither Caminero nor Henderson appeared to be in their respective clubs’ closer hierarchy, they had enough of a track record that I felt OK with rostering them.

Heading into May, Caminero lugged a 5.40 ERA, 1.886 WHIP and an 11-to-10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 2/3 innings. I knew he had to go.

I held onto Henderson, even as he quietly eroded my results each week in May. Only after I awoke from my coma and saw his month to date results – 5.40 ERA – did I give him the heave-ho this past weekend.

The temptation to chase wins came back over me – but only mildly. The subject was another pitcher who is less than he used to be in San Francisco’s Matt Cain. After seven starts that translated to a 7.84 ERA, the right-hander, still just 31 years of age, has crafted three consecutive outings that looked more like the Matt Cain of old. That says a lot since his last good season was 2012.

Still, looking ahead at the coming week’s schedule, I couldn’t get past the fact that Cain’s next outing was to be at Coors Field this Friday. To top it off, just last month, Cain was pounded by the Rockies there, to the tune of six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

I ended up making a tiny bid of $3, fully expecting to lose Cain – and being fine with that. The players I really wanted to add were two relievers in the closing hierarchy – though playing for two of the weakest teams in the NL. My acquisition was reliever Ross Ohlendorf of Cincinnati, as I was outbid on Tyler Thornburg of Milwaukee.

The other day, in NL LABR, I received a trade inquiry offering speed for pitching and went to look at my competitor’s roster to make an evaluation. To my amazement, there was Caminero in his active lineup, despite a 5.74 ERA and an amazingly-bloated WHIP of 2.106 here in 2016.

(Literally as I am typing this, Caminero made his first career plate appearance before hitting two batters within 11 pitches and being ejected late in a 12-1 blowout over Arizona on Tuesday evening.)

As I realized my fellow league owner was likely guilty of the same crime as me – ignoring Caminero’s drain on his pitching stats while focusing on his past successes – I decided to share my warning. After all, if the two of us did it in our high-visibility industry leagues, you may, too.

So go and check your rosters for those disposable players trying to suck the life out of your ratios. Get rid of them for more dependable alternatives, and if those players do not work, keep trying. Avoid roster complacency!

 

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Heading into my two industry National League-only drafts this spring – LABR and Tout Wars – I had decided to allocate one reserve roster spot for a “stash and hold” top prospect pitcher. The hopes are for a mid-season bump while recognizing that I could not wait to try to pay FAAB for top talents later. My industry brethren are too knowledgeable for a waiting strategy to work.

My top choices were Lucas Giolito of the Washington Nationals and Tyler Glasnow from the Pittsburgh Pirates. I think both should contribute this season, but I feel Giolito will deliver the greatest value in 2016.

To that end, I spent $4 to roster Giolito in LABR, but had to go $2 higher to get my man in Tout two weeks later. Glasnow went for $4 in both drafts. Along with the two - plus Dodgers lefty Julio Urias - the fourth pitcher in Baseball America’s top 11 prospects coming into the 2016 season is a player with some question marks, Alex Reyes of the St. Louis Cardinals.

A lot has changed since those drafts, however, as I will explain. My bottom line is that if you are in an NL League or any format in which you can stash prospects, I urge you to go get Reyes now. Do not wait.

As many reading this already know, Reyes, 21, has been the victim of bad judgment off the field, currently under suspension due to a second failed drug test for marijuana.

I have just returned from St. Louis Cardinals extended spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida. There, Reyes is competing against players his own age, but of a lower ability level. He is prohibited from competing in games for which admission is charged, so he's toiling on the back fields with players yet unable to make a full-season minor league club.

Though I was told he touched 100 mph on his prior outing, the right-hander was primarily working in the 91-94 range, topping out at 96 when he needed a strikeout. Reyes also threw changeups at around 85 mph and a 76 mph curve, both of which he could get over for strikes. He still can at times issue too many walks, however, being one of his few weaknesses.

Though the Cardinals could have dodged Reyes’ suspension by simply adding him to their 40-man roster, the organization wisely did not let their talented youngster take the easy way out of his troubles. (Marijuana use is not tested for, nor is it a punishable offense at the Major League level.)

After watching Reyes dominate against these much-less experienced hitters, he looks ready to go when eligible to be activated around May 20. I say “around” because it is unclear at what level Reyes will return. He finished 2015 with eight starts at Double-A before heading to the Arizona Fall League, yet this spring, the Cardinals surprisingly placed him on the Triple-A roster to serve his suspension.

My gut feeling all along has been that Reyes would be given a few starts in the Texas League to get his feet on the ground before being challenged in the Pacific Coast League.

In reality, that matters less given what has happened to starters above him in the Cardinals system over the last 60 days. Soon after Reyes shows he is ready, he could find himself in St. Louis.

This is very different from my reading coming into the year. At that time, I thought Reyes would probably be given a spot start or two in September and maybe a handful of relief appearances, keeping his 2016 fantasy value relatively low.

Here is why that is now out the window. It is that old friend called “opportunity.”

This spring, the Cardinals’ vaunted depth in their starting pitching took a major hit, opening the door for Reyes to potentially quickly position himself as the unofficial sixth starter in waiting.

Two of the system’s three talented left-handed starters, all with MLB experience, are on the shelf. This spring, Marco Gonzales’ elbow gave out, leading to Tommy John surgery. Tim Cooney is suffering from shoulder problems that have him on hold indefinitely. Obviously, there is concern. Before the injuries struck, the two were expected to co-anchor the Triple-A rotation, jockeying to be the first call-up.

That leaves Tyler Lyons, who threw seven scoreless innings at Pittsburgh to clinch the division for St. Louis last fall. Out of minor league options, Lyons was moved to relief in 2016 to keep him on the Major League roster, but he has been uneven in that role. Lyons could make a spot start or two in an emergency but does not seem positioned to fill a regular rotation spot, should one open up.

Even before Gonzales and Cooney went down, the Cardinals made the unusual (for them) move this winter to bring in three Triple-A starters from outside the organization for depth. All three are currently in the Memphis rotation – Deck McGuire, J.C. Sulbaran and Jeremy Hefner. You may recognize the latter as a former starter for the Mets whose career was sidetracked by a pair of Tommy John surgeries.

While St. Louis has one of the better starting rotations in MLB from one to five, four have dealt with physical problems in the recent past – Adam Wainwright, Michael Wacha, Carlos Martinez and Jaime Garcia. The fifth, free agent signee Mike Leake, like ace Wainwright, has been surprisingly ineffective in his first season with the Cardinals.

Bottom line, it is unclear who the Cardinals would call upon when they need another starter. The current options are less than compelling. However, Reyes will answer that question – if he can assert himself quickly once off suspension – and he has all the talent to do just that.

Again, my advice to you is to not wait. If you are willing to stash and hold Giolito or Glasnow, you should be doing the same with Reyes – right now. You will thank me later.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

Every winter, a segment of baseball fans obsess over the percentage that vote deserving players receive from the sportswriters who cast votes for the Hall of Fame. Yet, far fewer pay attention to two other groups of candidates whose only way to Cooperstown is via a committee nomination and far more exclusive voting process.

The latter populations include players who missed the Hall the first time around as well as non-playing personnel, split by the time period during which they were active in the game.

The process received exceptional attention in December 2013 when three of baseball’s winningest managers ever, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox, were unanimously voted into the Hall in their first year of eligibility by the 16-member Expansion Era Committee.

Like most others, I applauded the selections. Yet in the 2 ½ years since, I continue to think about key figures who were instrumental to these managers’ long-term success who remain on the outside looking in.

This most recently came to light during Tuesday night’s FOX Sports Midwest St. Louis Cardinals telecast when former Cardinals outfielder and current radio commentator Chris Duncan joined play-by-play man Dan McLaughlin for an inning of discussion.

McLaughlin’s on-air remarks included his view that Chris’ father Dave, long-time Cardinals pitching coach under La Russa, should be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

I think that is a worthy topic, as it would be trail-blazing, since no coaches have yet been inducted in Cooperstown. In fact, none have even made the committee ballots, so of course, none could be voted in.

I think Duncan and contemporary Leo Mazzone, the guru behind the Braves’ standout rotations of the 1990s and 2000s, deserve serious consideration. Yankees fans probably feel the same way about Mel Stottlemyre, New York’s pitching coach during Torre’s successful years, but I feel his portfolio is less competitive.

A former MLB All-Star catcher, Duncan served as pitching coach for the Indians and Mariners before joining La Russa in 1983 for a journey that lasted three decades, first with the White Sox, then Athletics and finally Cardinals.

Duncan guided four Cy Young Award winners - LaMarr Hoyt, Bob Welch, Dennis Eckersley and Chris Carpenter - while three of his clubs won World Series. Getting more from less seemed a Duncan trademark. For example, of the four Cy winners, only Eckersley is in the Hall, primarily due to a career-saving shift from starting to closing that was engineered by Duncan and La Russa.

Mazzone’s success was with one organization – the Atlanta Braves – who employed him from 1979 through 2005. Especially during the 1990s, their pitching staff was baseball’s best. In fact, it was arguably the best rotation from top to bottom in baseball history, though they achieved just one World Championship together.

The big three from Atlanta won a total of six Cy Young Awards among them – Greg Maddux with three, Tom Glavine with two and John Smoltz with one. All three, along with their manager Cox, have been enshrined in Cooperstown.

I would like to see the accomplishments of Mazzone and Duncan recognized by those who assemble the committee ballots with the hope they could one day be voted in to join their manager partners in the Hall of Fame.

 Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

One of the most tragic stories of this past off-season was the passing of 29-year-old Tommy Hanson. The former Atlanta Braves pitcher died from "delayed complications of cocaine and alcohol toxicity," per his autopsy report.

I still remember vividly seeing the then-22-year-old pitch in person for the first time as he totally dominated the 2008 Arizona Fall League. Hanson compiled a 5–0 record with a 0.63 ERA while striking out 49 in just 28 2/3 innings. That earned the Oklahoma native the AFL’s MVP Award, as the first-ever pitcher to achieve that honor.

Due to some strange rules that have since been changed for the better, by having finished sixth in the Xperts Fantasy League (or XFL) in 2008, I owned the first pick in the league’s auxiliary draft in April 2009.

Though it had been six months since I had been wowed by Hanson’s performances in the desert, I felt certain that the 6-foot-6 right-hander could be an anchor for my keeper league roster for the next six to eight seasons at least. (Future salaries of XFL players acquired while still minor leaguers only grow by $3 per season compared to $5 for all other players, increasing their keeper value.)

I had a dilemma, however. The legend of San Diego State pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg - who struck out 23 batters in one game and was hitting 100 mph on scouts’ guns – was already growing. At the time of our April 2009 draft, Strasburg was nearly through his junior year, during which he went 13-1 with a 1.32 ERA and 195 strikeouts in 109 innings.

In a few months, the Scott Boras client would become the number one selection in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. After a very delicate negotiating period that ended less than two minutes before the signing deadline, Strasburg agreed to terms with the Washington Nationals.

But on that day in April, I had to make a decision. Do I take the seemingly surer thing in Hanson and hope he can help power my sixth-place squad in the 15-team league to the top in 2009, or gamble that the college kid Strasburg would really become a “generational talent” in the Major Leagues?

I ended up taking Hanson with the first pick. Surprisingly, Strasburg fell to number three, with the second pick used on Nelson Cruz. Though he was traded twice in the XFL in the seven years since, Strasburg remains on his original contract in our league, currently at just $19.

Fast forward to 2015, when I came in fourth in the XFL. (Strasburg’s team was third.) With a revised set of rules that make far more sense, that finish presented me with the third selection in our April auxiliary draft.

I felt I had another Hanson-Strasburg type of looming ahead between two very different players from different continents.

Newly-signed Korean first baseman Byung-ho Park had a solid spring with his new club, the Minnesota Twins, suggesting the difficult-to-predict transition from baseball in the East to baseball in the West would prove to be ok in his case. Because he had no prior MLB experience, Park was even more appealing as a “+3” player in the XFL.

On the downside, Park was still unproven in MLB games that count. His age, 29, was not ideal and with Joe Mauer entrenched at first base for the Twins, Park may end up being a DH-only player for the remainder of his career. Of course, that limits fantasy roster flexibility and value.

The other player most prominently on my radar screen was slugging Cuban third baseman Yulieski Gurriel. Like Strasburg in spring 2009, Gurriel was not even yet under contract with an MLB club. While his hitting pedigree is impeccable, his age (32 in June) is a concern – especially given my intention of continuing to compete for a title in the XFL this season and for the foreseeable future.

When push came to shove, I was willing to give up results this season in return for greater upside, albeit for a potentially shorter period of time. If I had the choice, I decided I would pass on Park and take the elder Gurriel.

As often occurs in drafts, it did not begin as I expected. The first pick was Dodgers rookie starter Kenta Maeda. Pick number two went to a traditional prospect, hurler Blake Snell, soon to be ready to join the Rays. Both are solid picks as +3 players, but not my first choices.

That meant my field was still wide open. I stuck to my plan and took Gurriel while Park remained on the board until nabbed by a delighted but surprised Ron Shandler with the fifth overall pick.

Early returns are clearly in Shandler’s favor as Park swatted his seventh long ball of the season Tuesday night, putting him on a full-season pace for 42. Still unsigned, Gurriel has not been in the news for weeks.

Only time will tell if my Gurriel gambit proves to be more successful than my decision to pass on Strasburg in favor of Hanson seven years ago. Either way, here is hoping I don’t remember it as vividly, for multiple reasons.

 Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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