I’m a big fan of Billy Hamilton. I’m a Phil Ervin guy, but honestly, Billy came first. Today’s baseball is a game ran by numbers. Statistics back up front office decisions to save payroll and to make winning games more cost effective. Billy is likely to be a casualty of analytics and that’s a total bummer.
You don’t have to dig deep into the statistics to know Hamilton is in trouble. His career batting average is .245 and he’s gotten on base less than 30 percent of the time (.298). He will still go down as one of my favorite Reds that I’ve ever watched. I first saw Billy when he was playing for Double-A Pensacola in 2012 (the team’s first year). I lived in Huntsville, Alabama and the Brewers double-a team resided there (the Huntsville Stars). Scooter Gennett played for the Stars, so I can call total hipster and say “I saw them before they were cool.”
Interestingly enough, Billy was still playing second base back then. He just got promoted from High-A Bakersfield after batting .323 and stealing 104 bases in 84 games, and was already lauded as the Reds lead-off hitter of the future. Another fun fact – Jim Riggelman was the manager of the Blue Wahoos in 2012. Cool Papa Bill was showing off his wheels in the five games the Blue Wahoos played at the Stars’ Joe Davis Stadium. I saw him do something I will never forget.
Billy, batting from the right-hand batter’s box, hit a soft, but not necessarily slow, ground ball to the second baseman, Gennett. Scooter, unfamiliar with the young Mississippian, fielded the ball fundamentally. As he transferred the ball from his glove to his throwing hand, Billy crossed first base safely. The man, the myth, the legend beat out a ground ball to the second baseman. Suffice it to say, Billy didn’t stop impressing me. I got to see all five games he played in Huntsville (tickets were $5). Those five games began a fandom that has not stopped. Sadly, logically, Billy will go down as one of the Reds all-time what-could-have-beens.
The Reds future lead-off hitter extraordinaire, the man who was supposed to steal 100 bases on the regular, maybe that guy is still in there, somewhere. He was runner-up for NL Rookie of the Year in 2014 (he lost to Jacob DeGrom). Remember that? Runner up! He hit .250, with a .292 OBP, but stole 56 bases and scored 72 runs. Kind of a microcosm of Hamilton – a player that numbers will never fully explain. I was reminded of my inability to be objective about Billy when all this talk of trading him started up this last offseason, and continued through this year’s deadline (I’m happy he remains a Red). People stated he should be a late-game defensive sub and pinch runner. Sure, that would make logical sense, but as an irrational, blinded fan, I would miss the long-running, diving catches, the scoring from first on a bloop single, or what he did on August 10th.
That’s vintage Cool Papa Bill. Nobody, but Billy, pulls that off, and that’s a scientific fact. So to wrap this biased, gushing piece up, sure, make Billy a super sub. Bring him off the bench to pinch-run for Joey Votto after he’s singled in the bottom of the ninth and there’s two outs. Hamilton will manage to score, all the way from first, win the game, and make us all wonder what life could have been, because Billy is and will always be awesome.
Fixing the MLB: A Blueprint for a Modern Commissioner
Supposing Major League Baseball were looking to make a change at commissioner, Mike Mardis has five ideas how to better the game.
Welcome to my hypothetical campaign to be the next commissioner of Major League Baseball. What follows are 5 proposed rule changes that will provide a bright future for the sport we all love so much.
- The Strike Zone
- The DH
- Home Run Celebrations
- Playoff Format
- Rookie Contracts
It’s time to bring baseball into the modern era. Technology will help us along the way, but fairness and fun will anchor our vision for the future.
1. Implement a Digital Strike Zone
I follow a frustratingly amazing Twitter account called @UmpireAuditor. The account highlights particularly egregious calls by measuring how far out of the strike zone a called strike was based on the digital overlay of the zone we see during games now. The pinned tweet on the feed of that account makes the argument for a digital strike zone very well.
Fairness is one of our foundational anchors. This is a move to make the game more fair. Here’s how:
The strike zone is very clearly defined in the MLB rule book as:
“that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap.”
The vanguards of the unwritten rules of baseball will argue that the human element provided by each umpire’s unique interpretation of the strike zone on any given day is invaluable to the sport. It’s the way it’s always been and it makes the game better somehow.
My response is that there is no mention in the rule book of “umpire discretion” when it comes to the boundaries of the strike zone. It is unambiguous.
The new digital strike zone would be the same width for every batter (the width of home plate) while being adjustable for the height of the batter. The technology exists now for AI to map a skeleton, mathematically determine the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the belt of each batter to set the top of the strike zone, and identify the knees for the bottom.
How this would work practically is as follows. Every stadium would be required to have a strike zone screen visible from home plate. This could simply be a live feed from the center field camera with a digital strike zone overlay. This way the umpire could simply glance up at the screen after each pitch to see if it touched the strike zone. We could even make it so if the outline of the ball intersects the strike zone, the box on the screen fills with a color or the word “STRIKE” for all to see.
Home plate umpires will still be needed for all other duties (fair/foul balls, plays at the plate, appeals, etc.) and for the inevitable weird outcomes baseball produces. For example, a pitcher might throw a 58 ft. curve ball that ends up bouncing through the strike zone. A human umpire would know to call that a ball while a digital strike zone might not be able to determine if the ball bounced prior to crossing the plate.
Imagine never having to watch a whiney player, manager, or fan argue and pout over getting “jobbed” by the umpire. And never seeing this stuff again:
2. Expand the DH to the NL
You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The American League introduced the Designated Hitter in 1973 in an effort to increase fan interest by increasing the amount of runs scored. While the National League doesn’t suffer a dearth of run production today sans the DH, the AL is not getting rid of it.
While it can’t be completely contributed to the DH, the AL has a statistically significant advantage in interleague play. Since being introduced in 1997, the AL holds the overall record advantage (3,032-2,732) and has won the season matchup in 15 of the 20 seasons of interleague play to date.
Because overall record dictates playoff positioning, it’s only fair that the playing field between the leagues is even. So, in addition to expanding the DH, I’m also proposing an additional roster spot so NL teams can transition to the DH with minimal impact on how they’ve built the current roster.
Spoiler: I’m proposing a change to rookie contracts that will encourage managers to fill this extra roster spot with their best young hitters. Check it out below.
This adds a new level of managerial decisions for the club – something the opponents of the DH say is missing in the AL where managers never have to pull a pitcher who is dealing in fifth or sixth inning for a DH because the offense is struggling that day. Those decisions won’t exist with a league-wide DH. The trade-off being that managers now have to decide if they want to fill their extra roster spot with a high priced free agent DH, pitching help, or a young slugger in their farm system. Teams that can’t afford to throw huge contracts at free agents now have options and fans a new debate topic.
3. Install a Celebration Clock
There are currently two kinds of MLB fans when it comest to players celebrating home runs: people who think it ads excitement and flare to an otherwise relatively boring game to watch for most people and people who are wrong. The people who are wrong are not attempting to improve the appeal of or interest in the sport. They are simply asking everyone else to adhere to their set of morally ambiguous unwritten rules that were cultivated over a long (and far too often racist) history of professional baseball. This has no place in the MLB under Commissioner Mardis.
However, celebrations need restraints like everything else in sports. So, I’m proposing a 30-second clock for celebrating your home run. Once the baseball hits the outfield seats for a home run, the batter has 30 seconds to round the bases and celebrate any way he likes. There would be caveats around props and the like. But if you want to flip your bat, go pick it up and flip it again, then do a cartwheel – as long as you cross home plate and are clear of the field of play within 30 second – go for it.
Pitchers who retaliate for this will be ejected upon the judgement of the umpire. The retaliation does not need to hit the batter. Throwing a 100 mph fastball at someone’s head from 60 feet away would be attempted murder anywhere outside of a baseball stadium. So it’s enough to get you kicked out of a game.
Give me more of this….
This. Will. Make. The. Game. So. Much. More. Fun.
4. Fixing the MLB Playoffs
The playoffs seedings and home field will be completely based on regular season records. This is why it’s important to level the playing field in regards to the DH – one league shouldn’t have an advantage in interleague play.
Here’s how the playoffs will work:
The 5 teams from each League to make the playoffs will be re-seeded for the playoff bracket. The 2 worst records from each league play in the one-game wildcard. If a Division Champion plays in the Wild Card game, they get home field advantage regardless of record. If two Division Champions play in the Wild Card game, home field advantage goes to the team holding the better record. Regular season records determine home field advantage through the rest of the playoffs.
This format makes it imperative for all teams to compete to win every game of the season. Even if you’ve clinched your division, you may have to play in the Wild Card game if your record isn’t better than three of the other playoff teams in your league.
The rule also means that a team that doesn’t win their division, but has the second or third best record in their league, will not have to play in the Wild Card game simply because they didn’t win their division. Why punish a team that won 100 games in the regular season by making them play an elimination game against a team that won 85 games that season? I won’t.
Case in point, here’s the 2018 playoff bracket:
In the new format, based on their regular season records, the Yankees would have been the 3-seed and Cleveland would have played in the Wild Card game instead. Same thing with the Cubs – moving the Braves into the Wild Card game.
This makes the playoff structure more fair. It still rewards Division Champions while encouraging every team in the playoff race to win as many regular season games as possible right up to the last day of the season.
5. Rookie Contracts Based on Player Age, Not Service Time
The way rookie contracts are structured now, players who sign them are giving exclusive rights to the team until he accrues six years of MLB service time. Until then, he can only seek contracts from the team that signed him originally. MLB rules define a full season of play as spending at least 172 days of the 187-day season on the MLB roster. The issue here becomes teams that monitor those days spent on the MLB roster and send players to Triple-A just before the 172-day mark so it doesn’t count as a full season played at that level. Thus extending the time they have control over the player.
This dynamic leads to fanbases being deprived of potential superstar young players helping teams reach their full potential (e.g. Nick Senzel, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Kris Bryant, etc.)
My solution is to use player age to structure rookie deals and remove the service time rules that dictate free agency eligibility. The rule is simple: A rookie contract can be no longer than six years and must end by the season the player turns 26.
Under this rule, an 18-year-old player could sign a six-year deal that would end when he’s 24 years old, at which time he could seek free agent contracts. This would give the team who signed him incentive to develop him and get him to the MLB as soon as possible to take advantage of the cheap contract. Fans would get to see the best young players at the big league level and the young players would be more willing to sign long-term deals prior to hitting free agency knowing the team is building around them.
On the flip side, a college Senior who signs a rookie contract at 22 years old can only be signed for four years on a rookie deal. This makes sense as players who developed for four years in college should be ready to play at the MLB level much sooner than younger players who have not.
Also, let’s be honest, if a team doesn’t know if a player is worth a long-term deal by the time he’s 26, it’s time to let him explore other teams/options.
This set-up ensures players are not handcuffed by their rookie deals or late development. It also incentivizes front offices to call these players up when they’re big-league ready instead of manipulating service time to ensure an extra year of control. Major League Baseball teams are massive companies with contract experts and attorneys at their disposal. Placing strict protections for young players trying to negotiate their professional career is in everyone’s best interest.
Let me know what you think about my platform to become the next MLB Commissioner in the comments below.
Creating A Winning Culture
The future is bright, for the Redlegs, and here’s why
I had relatively reasonable expectations for the 2019 Reds season. I predicted and still expect them to finish 81-81. I felt like the ceiling for this team was getting a Wild Card spot with near 87 wins. The floor being at least fourth place in the NL Central. Since 2015 I have not expected much from this Reds team in the way of wins but more so in player development. That narrative no longer fits this organization, or even die hard Reds fans expectations, even though the team hasn’t posted a competitive season since 2013.
The front office appears to be taking this team in the right direction with it’s aggressive offseason. I believe the coming month, as well as the upcoming offseason, will see how serious they are about creating a winning culture. I use this term loosely as the definition of a winning season is posting a record .500 or better. For die hards, band wagon, and new fans this has been a difficult team to follow for the most part for the last generation.
What would I define as a winning culture organization? The St. Louis Cardinals. Many of us, including myself, have despised them ever since the big brawl in 2010. I think that resentment has passed now especially with the Pirates and Cubs antics of recent memory. The Cardinals are THE definition of “Winning Culture”. Since 2000 they have had 18 winning seasons, four pennants, nine division titles, three wild card appearances, and most importantly two World Series titles. The Reds since 2000 have had only four winning seasons, two division titles, one wild card appearance, and ZERO playoff series wins. By no means am I expecting the Reds to live up to the Cardinals resume of winning. However, I do expect this organization to no longer accept losing, like it has in the past 20 years. The Reds can do this by investing in player development, knowing when to trade, opening up the payroll, and being aggressive in the trade and free agent markets.
For the past decade the Reds player development has been some of the worst in the league. According to Driveline Baseball, the Cincinnati Reds were 28th in player development from 2012-2019 for value generated from prospects signed and acquired in that time. Generating a whopping -$182 million.
Again that’s NEGATIVE 182 million dollars.
The Reds picks have either been total busts, slow to develop, or are still struggling in the minors. Outside of Winker and Senzel, not really a whole lot has been proven in the majors from this group. Until this offseason the Reds minor league organizations did not seemed to be synchronized with the front office into developing there best prospects. The Reds organization, as a whole, now appears to be striving towards the same goals of development. That couldnt’ have been made more apparent with all the new hires within the front office as well as new jobs created specifically for player development. The Reds farm system is still rated as one of the better systems in baseball with Trammell, Greene, India, and Lodolo on the horizon. The future looks promising. Hopefully now with the Reds investing more in player development we can see more success with the draft picks in coming years.
When it comes to trading, I’m gonna start with some of the good news. They did acquire Gray, Roark, Puig, and Farmer while giving away nothing (by nothing I mean Homer Bailey and some lesser known prospects). They were able to trade for Castillo, Disco, and Suarez all for players who’s best days were behind them. However, when the rebuild started this team held out way too long to have a fire sale. One that should have begun during the 2014 trade deadline but instead start until after the 2015 All-Star game, hosted by Cincinnati. The Reds would ultimately trade Cueto, Chapman, Leake, Fraizer, Bruce and Phillips. The only players that are even still some what relevant from these trades are Peraza, Schebler, and Reed. Most of those acquired have flunked out of the majors by now. None of which are making a substantial production for this team right now. They were also kind enough to hold onto Cozart long enough to make the All-Star team but failed to trade at the deadline. Hamilton and Harvey were also, at one point last year, announced traded through waivers until that deal fell through. However, that apathy towards the trade market changed this offseason. The front office proved to be one of, if not the most aggressive this offseason. I hope to see that near the trade deadline. That goes for both if they are buyers or sellers. I really hope any one of the players in contract years that they decide to hold past the break is at least offered a contract for next season or beyond. They can no longer afford to sit on there hands while the rest of the NL Central continues to build competitive teams. I hope this past offseason of aggressiveness is a sign of things to come before the deadline.
This year was the Reds highest payroll in the teams history. Dick Williams has even said they are entering a period where they expect to win and that the payroll will at least be as much as it was this year. What makes this offseason an incredible opportunity for the Reds going into the free agent market is they’ll have lots of dough to spend. As of now the Reds are only committed to $60 million for the 2020 season. Puig, Roark, Wood, Scooter, Iglesias, and Hernandez are all free agents who walk at the end of this year.
Some of the current players on the roster are eligible for arbitration. I doubt the Reds are interested in keeping all of those eligible. If Dick Williams and Nick Krall have proven anything over these past few seasons it’s that they are some of the best at getting the biggest bang for your buck through free agency. I fully expect them to blow us away with some of there acquisitions this offseason.
Finally something that is probably the most common complaint among many Reds fans is that they are small market team with a small market budget. I don’t really buy into that. For example, the Astros had a payroll of just $54 million in 2012. Their payroll now is $162 million with the 8th highest payroll in baseball. Even more important, they still have one of the most loaded minor league systems in baseball. How’d they do it? Check out the book The MVP Machine. It’s the new Moneyball.
I won’t delve into a whole lot of detail about it. Essentially they did by pouring money into there enhancing player development. Using the analytics to not just build better teams but develop better players. They used slow motion cameras to allow batters to adjust there swing better and pitchers to develop pitches or fix mechanics. Developing their youth while acquiring big name talent as well like Verlander and Cole. They have given themselves a 10 year window to be competitive while reinventing the game. The Reds have already shown they know how to work the free agency and trade markets. Now if they can open up there pocket books for a big free agency or contract extention they could finally make a serious leap forward next year. As well as all of the new front office people they have added to developing young talent they could be setting themselves up for a good window for the future to develop a winning culture in Cincinnati. Fans will welcome it with open arms.
Should the Reds Sign or Trade Puig?
With the way he has struggled, and the Reds’ current pace, we may see Puig on the move before the trade deadline.
Yasiel Puig gave this team energy in December. The Cincinnati Reds haven’t had excitement in December in years. Acquired in a blockbuster trade with the Dodgers, Puig came to town with a lot of buzz. You may remember him parading around town posting on social media about how much he loved Cincinnati and how excited he was to be a Red. I was thrilled. The talks of 30+ home runs and reaping the benefits of GABP had many fans following the Reds once again. Fast forward to mid- June and no one is too excited about the .213 hitter. The Reds’ chances at making the playoffs seems slim and it might be time to move some rentals. With an expiring contract the question is this: should the Reds look to trade Puig at the deadline?
One thing we all know about Puig is that he’s an emotional player and a big personality. This season, hitting and getting on base has been a struggle for the Wild Horse. A .213 average and a *squints* .256 on-base percentage are awful. 62 K’s to 13 walks is not pretty, either. Sitting at a -0.3 WAR you wonder what’s going on. 11 home runs and 9 stolen bases are positives. He has a strong arm in the outfield as well. While a walk off hit and “I am going to fight an entire Pirates’ team” were memorable moments of the season and, fun as hell, I am not sure if he’ll have a chance to make many more moments like these. So what teams are looking for a corner outfielder who is struggling and is maybe “a bit too much of a personality” for some? That might be the problem. The first corner outfielder off the market was Jay Bruce (name sounds familiar) to the Phillies. The amount of contending teams needing a corner outfield bat is not high and honestly there are simply better options available.
On paper, you would not see a larger return for a player with his stats. Look at his track record, a career .273 hitter that is no doubt a talented player. It might take an injury on a contending team to get his value up. A trade of “we lost a player and need to replace him” not a “let’s see if we can upgrade from our current player” type of trade. When the Reds traded Bruce to the Mets they took a flyer on an injured former high prospect Dilson Herrera. Sometimes taking a flyer on a prospect who might need a change of scenery can pay off big time. Someone did mention they could trade him and try to sign him back in the offseason. While true, I think the Reds would not trade him if they plan to sign him to an extension.
Signing Puig to an extension would pretty much set the outfield for a few years. Winker, Senzel (assuming he stays there), Puig. But with Taylor Trammell approaching quickly where would that put him? Ervin, Schebler, Sirri, Siani, and others could play a role in the future. Puig is not going to be cheap, either. What he does from here on out will give us a better idea but at only 28 years old he has many years left in him. Plenty of expiring contracts will need to be resigned and, well, the Reds don’t have Yankees-type money.
The trade deadline is coming soon and the Reds making the playoffs is very unlikely. Look for the front office to move some players for prospects and for Puig to be a prominently rumored player on the move.