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Cincinnati Reds

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.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Avatar

    Marc

    July 21, 2019 at 10:00 am

    Sorry Charlie,
    The only 1 of these I agree to is the digital strike zone.
    The rest are really bad ideas.
    The celebration clock, what if it takes longer, eject the guy?
    the DH should be banned, it started the ruining of baseball.
    Do not need to change the playoffs they are good.

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Cincinnati Reds

How a Shortened Season can Help and Hurt the Reds

step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Clay Snowden

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The world is in an obscure and unsure place. Today we were supposed to be watching a parade and cheering on the Redlegs. Instead, we are confused about the future of the 2020 season as we watch the 7th straight episode of a Netflix series, perfecting social distancing. How the 2020 season will be played has yet to be determined. I want to take a step back and attempt to look at the way the Reds can benefit from a possible shortened season and how it could hurt them.

Each day that passes without baseball is a day closer to a season without 162 games. For the sake of argument, let’s say the season is somewhere between 75-100 games. What ways can that benefit the Reds?

1. They can get healthy. Suarez, Senzel, and Galvis (amongst others) have battled some spring injuries. Extra time off only helps their recovery and could lead to a 100% healthy “Opening Day” lineup. Although Galvis is not a top ten talent at short, he is much better than the current back up options. Luckily, he should be ready to go and 100%.

2. The rotation can be a great strength. We all know how strong the current rotation is. The Reds could adjust the strategy because you won’t be worried about getting starters 32 starts and 200ish innings. With a compact season, you could let starters go deeper in games, or even go to a shorter rotation because you won’t be trying to strength out the innings over several months. Bauer and Disco are both on contract years and will be laser-focused on making the most of their fewer starts to prove their value come next offseason. If the league goes heavy on doubleheaders, Mahle and a few others could step up into the expanded rotation and stronger than many team’s depth starters.

3. How a shorten season benefits Votto? As Joey ages, he will need more days off, especially if the decline is steady. If Joey does not have to prepare himself for 162 games, it could lead to better results as he would be fresher. We all know he can get off to slow starts and avoiding that would be crucial in a shortened season.

How can the shortened season hurt the Reds?

1. David Bell is still a new manager. Fresh, unproven, inexperienced. At times in 2019, he cost the Reds some games. There is little to no margin for error in a short season. Each game means more and the lineup experimenting with playing players out of position won’t fly. Managerial experience will be extremely important in 2020 and hopefully Bell has improved after year one.

2. Lack of important experience for prospects. Tyler Stephenson, Jose Garcia, Jonathan India, and many other prospects are missing out on developmental time. This one really stings. A couple of the Reds top prospects are projected to be on the 2021 roster but needed some time in higher levels of the minors to learn and iron out a few things. You can train and work with coaches during this time, but the actual game experience cannot be overlooked.

3. Pressure. Obviously, every game counts each season. But a shortened season stresses the importance of each game. The Reds cannot afford to go on a losing streak as they did at the beginning of 2019. The expectations for 2020 remain high, and the pressure to perform is building. The adjustment to the MLB for Shogo must happen fast. Senzel has to stay healthy. The margin of error shrinks and pressure goes up. Iglesias cannot struggle to close out games or he’ll be replaced.

The 2020 season won’t be ideal. No one wants it to be this way. Watching 162 games a year is a joy and I will miss the routine of watching the Reds every night. Let’s hope this shortened season feels and plays like a playoff series where every aspect of the game is emphasized and more important. Here’s to everyone staying safe and healthy, and the Reds winning the pennant.

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Cincinnati Reds

March Mailbag

Take a look at a few thoughts before we get this 2020 season underway!

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

What is this team’s greatest weakness and how do they go about addressing it? (@GeraldSHuber)

To me, it has to be defense. (Here’s an article I wrote about it: https://bit.ly/2wft1Bs ). Tucker and Casali are fine but not spectacular, Votto is mediocre, Moose is an unknown, and the outfield defense leaves you wanting more. Galvis is great at short, but many others could be troublesome. If defense is your greatest weakness, you probably have a pretty good team.

How many years until we see Jose Garcia? (@smoffe87)

Everyone’s new favorite prospect, and he should be. The future is bright. Garcia has yet to reach AA, where he’ll likely start this season. In high A Daytona he hit .280/.343/.436 with 8 HR and 37 (!) doubles. No need to rush the 21-year-old, but he likely is the SS in 2021 if all goes according to plan. The lack of depth at SS could rush him if injuries happen or he hits the cover off the ball.

Who will lead off? What do they do with Schebler, Reed, Mahle, and other players without options? (@StachlerJames)

Shogo Akiyama should see time as the leadoff. A career .376 OBP who has been closer to .400 in recent years (NPB league) has a chance to be a real difference maker.

Schebler, I think, will end up being traded or DFA. Reed has a tough first start, but its early and he looked great in limited time last season. Another lefty in the pen not named Peralta or Duke is welcomed. Mahle has an option and likely is headed to Louisville to get regular starts. The Reds will likely need him to start at some point during the season. Sims likely earns a pen spot, Travis Jankowski could be the final spot if injuries occur. His speed and defense are useful.

Is Senzel going to be a utility player or end up getting traded? (@GerryYnciarte65)

Being a super utility is not a bad thing. Ben Zobrist was a hell of a player in that role. However, I think Senzel will be seeing plenty of time in CF splitting with Akiyama. His bat is too good to be a true bench player. I don’t think he will be traded. It feels like he would have already been moved if that was the plan.

 

If Tucker or Casali get hurt do they let Farmer catch or Stephenson? (@OdeToRedsWS)

Catcher organizational depth is lacking. Stephenson could be the option if he is hitting well in AAA Louisville. I think we see him at some point this season. Only other catcher in the organization with MLB experience besides Casali and Tucker is Francisco Pena (190 AB .216/.249/.311). His stats are underwhelming at the plate but he’s a veteran and that carries value. Sadly, I doubt we see former Red great Ryan Lavarnway in 2020. Add Garcia and Stephenson to this lineup in 2021 and that team is very strong.

 

Over/Under….When do the Reds give up on the mix-n-match platoon ideas and have a regular lineup? Line is May 31st. (MTGPackFoils)  

The days of the “same lineup everyday” are gone. And they should be. Putting out the same lineup doesn’t always mean the results will follow. Some players hit lefties but not righties and some hit righties and not lefties. Play the best players for each situation. Platooning can lead to the best results at times. So OVER. (More on that here: https://bit.ly/38cbCXD)

 

What are your thoughts on Shogo playing mostly center or left, if Senzel is healthy? (@Win1SuperBowl)

As it stands today, the outfield is crowded. It will play itself out. Akiyama can play all three OF positions and I could see him getting at-bats in the corner OF when Senzel is in CF. There’s true competition for at-bats this season and that’s absolutely a good thing. Players will have to earn their playing time.

Who is the backup SS? (@GebzillaG)

Kyle Famer. He ‘s such a unique player who can play all over the field. He was a college SS and has worked their early this spring. Across all levels he’s seen 76 innings at SS and hasn’t recorded and error. Blandino could also be the back up SS. Blandino has 60.2 innings at short in the MLB and is a .941 fielder there. 1692 innings at short in the minors with a .951 fielding %.

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Cincinnati Reds

Life after Votto: The Future at First

Who will man first base in a few years?

Clay Snowden

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© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Spring training is a time for roster debate. Constructing Opening Day rosters and batting orders is always a fun topic on #RedsTwitter. Since 2008, one name you can write in with Sharpie has been Votto, 1B. The MVP and 6-time all-star has earned that right due to his elite hitting and plate discipline. Entering his 14th season at age 36 many start to wonder….who’s next at first? Signed through 2023 with a 2024 team option with plenty of money attached, it appears Joey will retire as a Red. Finding his eventual replacement might be harder than it looks.

Since 2015, 3 names that are still in the organization have appeared on MLB.com top 30 list.

Ibandel Isabel #30 (2019) – Acquired from the Dodgers, Isabel brought legit power to the organization. In 2018 he hit a combined 36 home runs tied for the most of any minor leaguer. Like many power hitters, he struck out a ton, 161 times to be exact. 2019 he smashed 26 home runs with 153 strikeouts and an underwhelming .307 OBP. Each of the past two seasons he has hit more than twice as many home runs than doubles. Raw power is great, but he does not stand out in other aspects and likely is a one trick pony.

Bren Spillane #25 (2018) – 3rd rounder in 2018, Spillane spent 2019 in Dayton. .207/.302/.324 with 10 2B and 5 home runs to go along with 104 strikeouts. He did see some time at 3B and corner OF but will need to cut down on strikeouts and show his power potential to have any shot at seeing time at the MLB level.

Gavin LaValley #20 (2017) – LaValley spent 2019 in AA Chattanooga where he slashed .254/.339/.396 with 22 2B 10 home runs and struck out 111 times and walked 47 times. He saw more time at third but made 13 errors there. The 25-year-old former 4th round pick is not exactly an exciting option moving forward.

Other names that saw some time at first in the system: Samir Duenez (.211/.270/.314 in AA) Bruce Yari (.255/.330/.347 A Daytona) Cameron Warren (.257/.333/.353 A Dayton) are 20 plus round picks and minor league free agents who have a long way to go. The Reds signed Cuban 1B/3B Michael Triana last February and he is somewhat of an unknown and is still very young.

So…. where do the Reds go from here? Well if the DH comes to the NL, Votto could play DH and Moustakas could move over to first as he ages out of 2B. VanMeter can play first but I doubt he is the future there. Two prospects that haven’t played first but could make the change are Jonathan India and Tyler Stephenson.

Players moving from their primary position to first base is nothing new. Many poor fielders or older players take this route. Currently, India is blocked at third and second. He’s logged 65 innings at SS, but moving to first is much easier than short. If not traded, a position change is needed. Corner outfield is possible but moving to first shouldn’t be ruled out.

Tyler Stephenson is a hell of a prospect. Now, let’s be clear…I think he will have years behind the plate in a Reds uniform. However, moving to first in the future could be possible. Stephenson stands at 6-4 and there simply aren’t a lot of 6-4 catchers. Of the 114 MLB players to log innings at catcher, 7 (6%) were 6-4 or taller with only 1 (Grayson Greiner 6-6) being taller than 6-4. While Stephenson has improved behind the plate, his bat is how he’s earned his name on prospect list. The most important thing is to find a way to get his bat in the lineup. Catching is a defense first focus for most MLB teams (example: Jeff Mathis) so making the transition to first is not out of question.

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