Brewers' pitcher Will Smith and Orioles' pitcher Brian Matusz were both ejected this past week for having a foreign substance on their arms. Smith was suspended--and has since appealed--eight games, while Matusz is still waiting on a verdict.
Major League Baseball rule 8.01(a)(4) states that, "The pitcher shall not...apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball...PENALTY: For violation...the pitcher shall be ejected immediately from the game and shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games."
Foreign substances include mixes of sunscreen and rosin, pine tar, and anything else for pitchers to get a tacky ball, something that will allow them to grip it better.
The worst part of all these suspensions and ejections is that hitters tend to not care if pitchers are using these substances. If a pitcher can grip a ball better, they are able to throw it more accurately, meaning less hit batsmen and overall a safer game.
Orioles' manager Buck Showalter understands the rule, but is also a main proponent in instituting tackier balls for a safer overall game.
"Why is the rosin on the field? Why is it there," asked Orioles manager Buck Showalter, via The Baltimore Sun. "It's a deeper issue than that. You've all heard me talk about the crux of the problem. Same reason hitters have pine tar. We all understand the crux of the problem is gripping the ball; it's not trying to [doctor the ball]."
The "foreign substance rule" was implemented to outlaw certain advantages pitchers were gaining through throwing spitballs or, as Showalter mentioned, doctoring the baseball.
But when a pitcher's intent is to just grip the ball a little easier, don't you think that they should be allowed to use these substances?
Absolutely. But to keep pitchers from doctoring the baseball or using spitballs, MLB cannot get rid of the rule altogether. They would need to tweak it.
"I would like to see an approved substance pitchers can use," Red Sox manager John Farrell was quoted as saying via ESPN. "I think anytime a game loses players for eight to 10 games, I think it makes us as an industry look within."
ESPN's Baseball Tonight had an interesting segment regarding foreign substances, including an appearance from ex-Athletics pitcher Dallas Braden.
Braden said that, during Spring Training, the Athletics would have an "application" station, where pitchers would learn to use these substances, including a mixture of rosin and BullFrog sunscreen. Braden said that he would reapply the mixture after every inning.
Braden suggested that they should put a pine tar rag behind the mound, similar to how there is a rosin bag behind the mound. He argues that hitters have weighted donuts, batting gloves, pine tar, and other things to give them an advantage, so why are pitchers limited so much?
Even though they may be at a disadvantage, pitchers are still technically cheating. Now, isn't cheating wrong? Is there a little bit of guilt involved?
"No. Absolutely not," Braden said. "I've got outs to get."
Oakland Athletics' left-hander Scott Kazmir is not Cole Hamels.
Yet, at the Trade Deadline in two months, Kazmir could be the biggest bargain for any team in desperate need of some starting pitching help.
Kazmir has had a solid start to this season, going 2-3 with a 3.09 ERA (3.93 FIP) and a 53 to 22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 55.1 innings pitched. With all the need out there for an extra starting pitcher, Kazmir's stock could increase in the coming months.
The Athletics' season has not started out hot, going 15-30 in their first 45 games. Knowing Billy Beane, the team is going to move some players in July. Kazmir is bound to be one of them.
Oakland inked Kazmir to a two-year, $22 million deal prior to the 2014 season, and the deal has gone exactly how they hoped, with Kazmir pitching to a mid-3 ERA including an All-Star season last year. With Kazmir becoming a free agent this winter, it does not make sense for the Athletics to keep him.
Possible suitors for Kazmir include the Dodgers, Blue Jays, Orioles, and even the Red Sox (if they can't get Cole Hamels). In my mind, all four of those clubs would be willing to give Beane the fair prospect price for Kazmir, which would probably be one or perhaps two intriguing lower-level prospects, similar to the Franklin Barreto addition in the Josh Donaldson deal.
With every good start he makes, Kazmir becomes more valuable in a trade. His first start, against the Rangers, showed exactly what he is capable of. He threw seven innings, allowing one hit and no runs, striking out ten and walking just two.
If that can't help the Blue Jays rotation with their 5.15 ERA, the Red Sox rotation with their 5.08 ERA, or the Dodgers with all the injuries to their rotation in Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy, I don't know what does.
His name isn't Cole Hamels, but instead it's Scott Kazmir. And he's looking to help a struggling rotation today (or in July).
Oakland Athletics starter Jon Lester is a free agent this offseason. He was not eligible for a qualifying offer, due to the fact that he pitched for both the Athletics and Red Sox this season. Players who spent time with more than one team are not eligible for a qualifying offer.
The 30-year-old Lester has never hit the open market over his career, as the Red Sox bought out some of his free agent years with a six-year, $42.75 million extension that covered from 2009 to 2014. He has pitched with them since the beginning of his career and now will take the next step.
Lester, a Tacoma, Washington, native was drafted by the Red Sox in the 2nd round of the 2002 MLB Draft. He worked quickly through the minor leagues, even netting him as the 22nd best prospect prior to the 2006 season as ranked by Baseball America. Lester came up to the bigs that year and has never looked back, appearing in the major leagues every year since.
The three-time All-Star Lester has a ton of big game experience. Lester was a part of two World Series runs, in 2007 and 2013, and played an instrumental part in the Red Sox last title, posting a 1.56 ERA in 34 2/3 innings pitched during the postseason (not quite Bumgarner numbers, but Bumgarner isn't human). Over his career, Lester has logged 1596 innings and posted a 3.58 ERA.
Lester spent his first time outside Boston this past season, being traded to the Athletics midseason for Yoenis Cespedes and others. He made 32 starts with the two clubs, going 16-11 with a 2.46 ERA and a 2.80 FIP. He was a 6.1 fWAR player, the second-highest mark of his career.
Lester still has a lot left in the tank. He's been one of baseball's best starters since breaking on to the scene in 2008. He logged over 200 innings his first three seasons beginning in 2008, then worked 191 2/3 in 2011, and has worked over 200 every year since. But he is still only 30. Lester is the true workhorse in this free agent class, which will net him a big contract over many seasons.
I'm not sure the Athletics can afford to bring Lester back, but I know the Red Sox would love a reunion. After being dealt, Lester felt "no hard feelings" towards Boston, and would be interested in coming back in the offseason. I'm not buying it now though. The Red Sox have $90.3 million committed to eight players already in 2015 and have $22.5 million committed to two in 2016. I'm not sure they can take on another $20 million per year by bringing back Lester.
I do think the Cubs are going to busy this offseason. Chicago is this close to contention next year and has a lot of payroll flexibility to get them there. They have $24 million guaranteed to four players next season. That's it. With that in my mind, and the fact that they are reportedly going all out for pitching this offseason, I have them signing Lester to a five-year, $120 million contract.
From 1995 to 2012, the New York Yankees missed the playoffs just once. They made the playoffs in seventeen of those eighteen years and won five World Series championships. The Yankees were, and still are, big spenders, and their money was able to keep them winning.
Since 2012, the Yankees strategy has built them two above-average teams (by record, at least). In 2012, the MLB postseason featured the Rays, Indians, Pirates, Athletics, and Braves, but not the Phillies, Angels, Rangers, and Yankees. Younger talent has become more of a necessity, while free agents are just additions to your nucleus, not the nucleus itself.
What really led me to writing this post was the Dodgers hiring Andrew Friedman to be their President of Baseball Operations, even after a season where they won 94 games and won the National League West division. The Dodgers hiring of Friedman speaks volumes on how they're willing to make a culture change in order to catch up with sabermetrics, something that has become very important.
The Yankees, Phillies, and Rangers have not yet to do something like that. Brian Cashman was extended as Yankees GM, Ruben Amaro Jr. is still running the Phillies further into the ground, and Jon Daniels continues to throw money at free agents that still haven't helped. And yet Billy Beane (Athletics), Chris Antonetti (Indians), and Dayton Moore (Royals) are building winning teams with a minimal payroll.
Has the window closed for big market teams?
I don't know. On one hand, you still have the Dodgers winning plenty of games with the highest payroll in baseball. They didn't go anywhere in the playoffs, but still were able to get there. However, on the contrary, the Red Sox won the World Series in 2013. I don't think it is truly a question of having the money, but what you do with the money that you have.
The Dodgers are big in the international market. They signed Yasiel Puig, Hyun-jin Ryu, and Erisbel Arruebarrena to extravagant deals and still have been able to create homegrown talent in Clayton Kershaw, Matt Kemp, Dee Gordon, and others to help take this team far. But they have been able to keep those guys with their big market (See: Kershaw's seven-year, $215 million extension).
I think the window has closed for teams that have built their team around pricey free agents. The game of baseball has turned into one of trades, prospects, and analytics, not free agents that are either on the downfall of their career or are injury prone (See: 2014 Rangers lineup). Since about 2010, teams have been better at signing guys to longterm deals during the prime of their career, rather as they get closer to reaching free agency. While this can only buy out a few free agent years, it will likely be the years that the team did not buy out when the player begins to decline or become hampered by injuries.
Take a look at Ryan Howard. Based on my calculations, through the arbitration process, Howard would have become a free agent following either the 2011 or 2012 seasons. Instead of extending Howard to a five-year deal in say, 2009, after Howard had already been one of the league's most prolific sluggers for a few seasons, the Phillies decided to wait until after the 2011 season.
Put that into prospective. Had Howard been signed to his five-year, $125 million deal back in 2009, he would likely become a free agent at the end of this season (the Phillies have a sixth year as a team option). That means Philadelphia would "only" have to deal with three terrible seasons from Howard. The Phillies did extend Howard following the 2011 season, so he is under contract through 2016, with an option for 2017. The Phillies could perhaps deal with five terrible seasons from Howard, paying him over $20 million in each and every one of them.
In short, the window hasn't closed for big market teams. But big market teams that still rely on old methods of signing contracts, giving extensions, and the traditional method of scouting will have a very difficult time contending in a major league system that has developed into a very analytical organization. So while the forward thinkers continue to thrive, the traditionalists will continue to fall. It is time for the Phillies, Yankees, and Rangers to finally change their ways.
If I had asked you this question on August 10th, you would have laughed in my face. At that time, the Oakland Athletics had a four game lead in the American League West and pretty much everyone considered them to be a lock for the postseason. The A's were so far ahead of their division -- and baseball in general -- that people were picking them to win it all. Easily.
The Athletics have had one of the worst months in recent memory. From August 10th to September 10th, Oakland won nine games. Nine. The Athletics went 9-20 during that stretch, hitting just .231 as a team, and posting a horrific .293 on-base percentage. They hit a home run just 21 times in 1,071 plate appearances.
Their pitching has been okay. The Athletics are allowing 4 runs per game since August 10th, which isn't phenomenal by any means, but they are posting a 1.141 WHIP during that stretch, which is actually pretty good. But still, in a stretch of a month, the A's went from four up on the Angels to nine games back, losing a total of 13 games of ground in just 29 games played.
That begs the question, are the Athletics still going to make the playoffs? What has been the issue for this team, one that had turned on the engine from the beginning of the year, but cannot find its groove?
I have two words to answer the latter of the two questions: Yoenis Cespedes.
The Athletics dealt Cespedes -- perhaps the last guy I would think they would trade -- to the Red Sox to bolster their pitching staff with Jon Lester. Before the Lester-for-Cespedes trade, the Athletics averaged 5.0 runs per game and posted 109 wRC+, but since they have been a lot worse, scoring just 3.7 runs per game and posting a 93 wRC+. Billy Beane, the A's general manager, likely noticed his offense was in a funk and acquired Adam Dunn from the White Sox, trying to regain some of the power that was lost.
Since Dunn joined the team on the final day of August, the run scoring has taken a little bit of a rebound in a very small sample size. Since the First of September, the Athletics have averaged just over 4 runs per game, and while that is nowhere near where they were during the first half of the year, it is a start.
So that brings me back to the former question, can the Athletics can still make the playoffs?
I don't know. The Athletics are falling fast, but still have a 1.5 game lead over the Seattle Mariners for the top Wild Card spot and a two game lead over the Detroit Tigers for a playoff spot in general. FanGraphs.com, a fantastic website for baseball stats and projections, believes that the Athletics have a 93.7% chance to make the playoffs. I hear the exhale of Athletics fans everywhere.
But that 93.7% chance was 99.9% on August 10th. At that time, Oakland was projected to finish 97-65 and have a 16% chance to win the World Series, one that would be their fifth since moving to Oakland. Oh, how things can change in a month. The A's are now projected to finish 91-71 and have a 6% chance of winning it all. Is this slide going to cost them the World Series?
The world will never know the answer to that question, but we do know that the hot teams are usually the ones that fare well in the postseason. And the Athletics have never been colder this season. On paper, this team looks good. Really good. But it may not be enough to win the championship.