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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.

Mike Mardis

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© Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

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.

  1. The Strike Zone
  2. The DH
  3. Home Run Celebrations
  4. Playoff Format
  5. 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.

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Cincinnati Reds

What’s Wrong With the Reds Trading Luis Castillo

Luis Castillo trade rumors got you worried? Here’s the fatal flaw in the reports that will ease your mind.

Jeff

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Rumors have flared up, from some varying sources all stemming back to Jim Bowden spitballing on a radio show, that the New York Yankees and Cincinnati Reds are seriously discussing a swap that would send Luis Castillo to the Bronx. Before we get to the “What the…?” part, check out friend of the podcast Doug Gray’s thoughts as to why we shouldn’t worry about the Reds doing this, too much. 

Now then…what in the world? Why would the Reds be considering the trade of an ace-caliber pitcher who makes less than half of their other ace-caliber pitcher who will make less than half of what Trevor Bauer is likely to sign a free agent contract for? Yeah, that’s a long question, but the fact that reports surged out of a passing comment by Jim Bowden on MLB Network Radio leads me to agree with Doug that there isn’t much to worry about here.

The weirdest part has been the reported return that the Reds require: 

Or maybe this is more extrapolating by Yankees-focused sources that are looking at something small. Both of those players make little sense for the Reds. Andujar is woeful in the field. If he were to put on a glove, it would be in the outfield. Frazier is also an outfielder. The Reds have Shogo Akiyama, Nicholas Castellanos, Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, and even Aristides Aquino already on the roster. Why on earth would key return pieces be outfielders? That helps the Reds very little, if at all.

To expound on the inequity of these trade rumors, we have this beautiful website Baseball Trade Values (shout out to Obscure Former Reds for introducing me to this site). I find that I am extremely biased in matters of evaluating Reds players’ trade values, so a site that does math and applies objectivity to such an endeavor is very intriguing. Let’s take a look at how this website values Castillo and then how it values the rumored return.

I get how reported returns work. When a report says “key pieces” that means there are more pieces. But if you look at that value discrepancy, there is going to need to be lots more value in the remaining pieces, which means the reported “key pieces” don’t objectively move the needle.

Per Baseball Trade Values, Luis Castillo is the ninth-most valuable player in all of baseball. Yup, you read that right, Castillo is top-10 in all of Major League Baseball in trade value. They figure that out by taking what they call “adjusted field value,” which takes several performance factors into account, and subtracts the salary from that to come up with the trade value. They explain it more, here.

The most valuable player on the Yankees, per Baseball Trade Values, is Gleybar Torres at 69.2. In other words, the most valuable Yankee is still little more than half as valuable as Castillo. Now, it’s not as if these numbers drive every trade discussion. In fact, the folks at Baseball Trade Values admit this is just them creating formulas and basing values on their formulas…but it’s better than a Reds fan and a Yankees fan screaming at each other.

Overall, this website shows the herculean task that Nick Krall would have of getting back even comparable value for Luis Castillo, if he even thought of actually trading the talented La Piedra. It’s not being overly biased to say the Yankees can’t put together a trade that keeps them contending and meets the Reds demands, at the same time. So why is it even being talked about? For that, I invite you to take a look at the rabid Yankee fan base on Twitter that is beside themselves that the Bombers have only resigned Dj Lemahieu and added Corey Kluber. They’re pining for more and they’re stretching to find any rumor that brings more to New York, no matter how farfetched.

 

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds Bounce Back & Break Out: Infield

Who will bounce back in the Cincinnati Reds infield, and who will break out?

Clay Snowden

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As it stands today, 1/11/2021, the Reds infield situation looks very similar to their 2020 situation. Galvis and Casali are gone, but most everyone else is back. Votto is a year older while Stephenson and Garcia headline the youth movement. Veterans Eugenio Suarez and Mike Moustakas look to rebound after average seasons. Although I think another MLB caliber middle infielder will be added, we will work with what is currently on the roster.

 

Bounce Back: Eugenio Suarez (.202/.312/.470 15 HR 102 OPS+)

The Alfredo Simon trade (lol), the HR record, the team friendly deal, the huge smile and big bubble gum bubbles are a few of the many reasons we all love Suarez. With HR numbers increasing year after year big things were in store for Geno in 2020. Sadly, I think the offseason shoulder injury played into his slow 2020.

The batting average and on base % took a dive. Around .270 avg and .360 OBP was the standard in previous years but an absolutely terrible start to the season really set things back. However, he improved his average and OBP and Slugging every month of the season.

July: .080/.258/.120

August: .213/.315/.489

September: .228/.326/.557

An entire offseason to get healthy and get right should lead to more of what we expect from the star third baseman. Getting his shoulder back to where it needs to be is crucial. He’s still only 29 years old and is in his prime. Strikeout numbers are something we’ll probably just have to live with (the case for many HR hitters). A bounce back year would help this Reds team add to what was a lackluster offense at times.

Honorable Mention: Every other starter 

Just look at the stats 

 

Breakout: Tyler Stephenson (.294/.400/.647 2 HR 17 AB 170 OPS+)

We all know the Tyler Stephenson story. His big homerun on his debut was a moment we will not forget. A 2015 first round selection, the fans have been waiting patiently for Stephenson to contribute. It always takes catchers longer and his injuries did not help. The glimpse that we saw in 2020 has us excited for what the future holds.

The Reds moving on from Curt Casali leaves the door open for Stephenson to be on the roster. Tucker is back after adding his second gold glove to the collection, but I don’t think that holds Stephenson to a reserve role. Tyler will get plenty of chances to start. His bat is something that Tucker simply cannot match and this Reds team needs more offense from the catching position. Prepare yourself for some growing pains. Not necessarily like what we saw from Jose Garcia, but Stephenson has very little experience and will take some time to adjust. We haven’t seen enough of his defense to make too strong of judgement but working with Tucker daily should help immensely.

Honorable Mention: Jose Garcia 

The talent is there, but his youth and lack of experience showed. Hopefully, another offseason under his belt will help. The Reds likely will add a veteran to help ease him along. 


Several Reds infielders had a down 2020. Hell, most of us had a down 2020. This team is better than what they showed in the shortened season. If a few of them can get back to the numbers on the back of their baseball cards, I think the Reds will be fine.

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Cincinnati Reds

Cincinnati Reds Bounce Back and Break Out: Starters

Who will impress us on the mound this year for the Reds that we don’t necessarily expect?

Clay Snowden

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I started this series, “A Bounce Back and a Breakout”, last season. It will be a four part series including outfielders, infielders (with catchers), starters, and bullpen. It is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I will pick a player to break out and a player who had a down year to bounce back.

 

Let’s get things started with, well, the starters.

 

Bounce Back: Wade Miley ( 0-3 5.65 EERA 14.1 innings 86 ERA+ )

For most of his career, Miley was a *fine* pitcher. About league average. Then in 2018, at 31, he had a breakout year with Milwaukee and pitching coach Derek Johnson. This caught the eyes of many and landed him a deal with Houston in 2019 where he pitched pretty well, but nowhere near is 2018 form. Last season (his first with the Reds) was injury plagued but even when he did pitch it wasn’t very pretty. A veteran lefty could really help the rotation. His fastball velocity in 2020 was atrocious, while his fastball spin and curve spin where around average.

The hope is being reunited with Derek Johnson could help him get back to his 2018 numbers. While that didn’t happen in 2020, a healthy 2021 still leaves a glimmer of hope. At 34 years old and more mediocre baseball than good baseball shown in his career, I am not expecting Miley to fill a hole Bauer left or anything close to it. I expect him to battle for the fifth starter spot, or even a bullpen spot. Regardless of his role, he is a better pitcher than 2020 showed.

Honorable Mention: Jose De Leon (0-0 18.00 ERA 6 innings)

Once a top prospect, De Leon has struggled with injuries and consistency leading to a lackluster career so far. He wasn’t given much of an opportunity last season, but his winter ball performances this year are showing promise. 3.18 ERA in 17 innings 31 K’s and 10 BB. Walk numbers are still high, but De Leon is a long shot but someone who qualifies as a bounce back due to his poor numbers in the past.

 

Break Out: Tyler Mahle (2-2 3.59 ERA 47.2 innings 60 K’s 133 ERA+)

I know Mahle might not be thought of as a candidate for a breakout considering his success. However, I think there is an even higher level for Tyler to reach. Bauer most likely being gone hurts. Anytime you have a Cy Young walk out the door there will be big shoes to fill. Mahle has all of the talent and finally will have a chance to be a top 3 guy.

Some good numbers, and some elite numbers. I think so many people, myself included, wrote Mahle off at times. He was still so young when he was brought up and then his usage was kind of funky. He is 26 now and ready to take over a bigger role and I cannot wait to see what 2021 has in store for him.

Honorable Mention: Tejay Antone

To be honest, I would have had Antone has the breakout player for 2021, but I am not 100% sure what his role would be. I want him to be in the rotion, but we will wait and see. Either way, what we all saw in 2020 left our jaws on the floor. Antone’s spin rates are off the charts. The former 5th round pick from 2014 will have a big role with the Reds team, but what exactly that role will be is unknown.

 

In conclusion, the Reds are still looking like they will have a good rotation even without Bauer. If they keep Gray and Castillo that leaves Mahle, Miley, Antone, De Leon, Hoffman, Greene, Lodolo, Lorenzen (?) and others to fill out the 5 spots. These things always work their way out, but I like the options this team has.

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