Tag Archives: mlb playoffs

Setting the World on Fier

By Griffin Olah

November 21, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey

Since baseball’s inception, teams have looked for a leg up over their opposition. Whether that is the development of signs from coaches, the shift or stealing signs, it is expected and even encouraged that teams innovate new ways to win. The Astros, however, have taken it to a new level. Earlier this month, former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers dropped a bomb on the unsuspecting baseball world: the World Series winning team in 2017 cheated.

In 2017, reports came out that the Boston Red Sox were using an unapproved Apple Watch in the dugout. Naturally, that revelation turned to thoughts of cheating, and the opponent did nothing to dismiss those. The New York Yankees, arch rivals of the Red Sox tossed in accusations that the Sox were stealing signs from their catcher. The MLB launched an investigation into the team, and found them guilty of cheating. On September 15, 2017, Commissioner Rob Manfred fined the Red Sox for their scandal and created a new discipline protocol to deter future teams (Davidoff, 2019).

At the same time, however, a far larger scheme was underway, which can now implicate 3 different MLB managers. In Houston, the Astros had a few veteran additions off to a slow start. It was then that a slumping addition who is yet to be named and a team official concocted the plan: they were going to electronically steal signs. Throughout the season, the Astros perfected the system: using a camera placed in center field to pick up the signs from the catcher, sending it to a laptop in the tunnel, where a staff member banged on a trash can to signal the coming pitch to batters (Passan, 2019). 

Fast forward to today, where the Astros are almost a certifiable dynasty. They’ve been to the past 3 World Series, hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy only in 2017. Mike Fiers, a pitcher on that World Series team had just given an interview to The Athletic where he detailed how the Astros stole signs during all home games at Minute Maid Park in 2017. The baseball world exploded, shrapnel strewn all across the baseball landscape. Did the Astros cheat their way to a championship? Who ran this whole operation? Was Alex Cora, former bench coach and current Red Sox manager, involved? What about former Astros DH turned Mets manager Carlos Beltran? Information was at a premium, and nobody could pay the price.

The media, of course, jumped at the bomb Fiers threw into the world. Every major sports news outlet was looking into the Astros allegations, and the MLB opened another investigation almost immediately. Some sources tried to prove or disprove the allegations. Most, however, either ignored, or misused statistical evidence. One ESPN article cited the Astros success on the road, both in win-loss records and batting lines (Schoenfield, 2019). While these are good surface-level stats, they don’t tell the full story. Home and away splits can illustrate the differences between the Astros’ play in Minute Maid Park and away from it, but sign stealing won’t show up as a large impact on traditional stats. If one was to look at isolated power (ISO) and strikeout rate (K%), the numbers would tell a different story. Stealing signs is going to give the hitter an upper hand, that part is undebatable, but that advantage may not be evident in hits. ISO is simplified to slugging percentage minus batting average, which shows the player’s raw power (Slowinski, 2010). The MLB average ISO is .140, with higher values showing that players are hitting the ball harder for more extra bases and home runs (Slowinski, 2010). The Astros in 2017 paced baseball with a .196 ISO as a team, .56 higher than average (“Major League Team,” 2019). The Astros also bested the league in K%, which shows the percent of at-bats where batters struck out, with 17.3%, which was only 1.2% lower than the second place Indians (“Major League Team,” 2019).

Most articles, however, strayed away from making judgements. They simply relayed the information and waited to learn more before going after the Astros’ rings. Some, however, made sure to point to the Astros’ checkered past. During the 2018, reports from Cleveland and Boston of a uniformed Astros employee recording the dugouts made the MLB first investigate the Houston franchise (Passan, 2019). This came along with allegations from that same year of Astros players clapping signals to tell the batter what the coming pitch was ( Passan, 2019). While the past of the Astros is important, constant reminders and retelling can sway opinions. If the narrative that the Astros are cheaters is pushed by the media, an investigation into the allegations can become difficult. Fans make up their notions of what happened, and those fan ideals can destroy a franchise.

While gathering information is vital in the process, making sure it is properly relayed is important. Statistics are among the few ways, along with video, to show the Astros have stolen signs. If their numbers are drastically higher, which some advanced stats like ISO show, then maybe there is creedence to Fiers’s claims. Those numbers, however, have to be given and shared with the public, as opposed to selective stats like batting average that can paint an incomplete and biased picture of the problem. The media has done a good job overall so far in their coverage of the Astros, but as always, some things could be better. It just so happens that with advanced sign stealing techniques, advanced and traditional stats could be the problem

References

Davidoff, K. (2019, November 21). Rob Manfred: Statement puts Astros in ‘serious’ sign-stealing trouble. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/11/21/rob-manfred-the-statement-that-puts-astros-in-serious-sign-stealing-trouble/

Major League Team Statistics. Fangraphs. Retrieved from https://www.fangraphs.com/leaders.aspx?pos=all&stats=bat&lg=all&qual=0&type=1&season=2017&month=0&season1=2017&ind=0&team=0,ts&rost=0&age=0&filter=&players=0&startdate=2017-01-01&enddate=2017-12-31&sort=4,a

Passan, J. (2019, November 12). Ex-Astros pitcher Mike Fiers: Team stole signs with camera. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28066522/ex-astros-pitcher-mike-fiers-team-stole-signs-camera

Schoenfield, D. (2019, November 12). What you need to know amid Astros sign-stealing accusations. ESPN. Retrieved from https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/28066847/what-need-know-amid-astros-sign-stealing-accusations

Slowinski, S. (2010, February 15). ISO | Sabermetrics Library. Fangraphs. Retrieved from https://library.fangraphs.com/offense/iso/

Is Acuna Jr.’s Hustle a Problem for the Braves and Baseball?

By Griffin Olah

October 13, 2019

Griffin is a second-year undergraduate BGSU student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

Game 1 of the NLDS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves was entering the bottom of the 7th with the Braves up 3-1. The first game is always among the most important, and the Braves had the ability to add to their lead. Ronald Acuna Jr., the Braves’ young phenom and leadoff hitter, stepped into the box. He worked the count to 2-2, and then unleashed a long fly ball off of Cardinals pitcher John Brebbia. The ball flew down the right field line, nearly leaving the confines of Sun Trust Park and extending the Braves’ lead. However, it came up short and careened off the wall. 

After watching the ball, Braves fans willing it to stay in the air and go over the wall, and seeing it land just short of a home run, attention turned to the bases. There, Ronald Acuna Jr was inexplicably on first base. After launching a ball 331 feet down the right field line, Acuna was stranded at first. He moved to second on a groundout by 2B Ozzie Albies, and was then doubled up after a Josh Donaldson lineout. 

It’s easy to see that something went wrong on the base paths with Acuna, though. While the double play was bad, it was almost inevitable. The real issue was his single to lead off. Acuna hyped up his long ball, as usual, but this time it came up short of the fence. Acuna stood in the box, his bat raised to the sky in celebration, for two seconds as the ball was in the air. After that, he jogged to first only for Cardinals OF Dexter Fowler to play the ball off the wall and fire it into the infield. If Acuna came running out of the box as soon as the ball left his bat, he would have easily made it to second. He would have then moved to third on Albies’s groundout and the double play would have been much more difficult to turn. Acuna could have scored. 

After the game, the Braves were understandably frustrated. Veteran 1B Freddie Freeman pointed back to when Acuna was benched in August for not running out a foul ball, believing you only need to “have that conversation once” (West, 2019, para. 4). Albies believes that Acuna “probably scores that inning if he’s on second” (West, 2019, para. 8). Acuna was a problem for the Braves in that moment, but what about the rest of baseball?

Media attention on Game 1 revolved around Acuna’s lack of hustle, much like it did last season with Manny Machado’s lack of hustle and possibly dirty play in the playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers. This time, however, the actions of Acuna are perceived as more representative of the entire league. New outlets point to Acuna’s hustle as evidence that “the game has changed” into something selfish and immodest (Mushnick, 2019, para. 10). While people in the game – GM’s, managers, coaches, players – have excused the actions of players like Machado and Acuna, the media feeds off of it and turns it into something it’s not. Is Acuna not hustling a problem? Sure, he might have cost the Braves a key run that would have factored heavily in the 7-6 loss. Is Acuna’s hustle emblematic of baseball as a whole falling into bat flipping ruin? No, it probably isn’t.

The traditional media – old players, managers, and GMs sitting in broadcast booths – like to talk about how baseball as a whole is changing into some unwatchable mess of strikeouts, home runs and bat flips. Former pitcher Goose Gossage said of the sport “it’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable,” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 7). Hit king Pete Rose said the game has turned into a “home run derby every night” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). And former manager Lou Piniella derided the shift, claiming he “won a few games without having to shift” (Nightengale, 2019, para. 14). While that is up for debate and interpretation of each person watching the game, Acuna’s hustle is not some overarching issue like the media is making it out to be. It’s a key mistake in an important playoff game, but not some egregious pattern of error that needs to be corrected. With this miscue, the focus on Ronald Acuna Jr. has shifted from his near 40-40 season and his 1.579 OPS in the Postseason so far to his inability to hustle and his selfishness (“Baseball Reference,” 2019). Acuna put together an amazing season, shouldn’t the focus be on marketing one of the league’s best young players instead of his relatively small faults?

References

Baseball Reference. (2019). Ronald Acuna Jr. Stats. Baseball Reference. Retrieved from https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/acunaro01.shtml

Mushnick, P. (2019, October 5). Braves’ Ronald Acuna is doing his part in ruining baseball. New York Post. Retrieved from https://nypost.com/2019/10/05/braves-ronald-acuna-is-doing-his-part-in-ruining-baseball/

Nightengale, B. (2019, August 19). MLB lifers decry the state of the modern baseball: ‘Unwatchable’. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/columnist/bob-nightengale/2019/08/19/mlb-baseballs-old-timers-decry-state-modern-game/2047025001/.

West, J. (2019, October 4). Braves critical of Ronald Acuna Jr. for lack of hustle in NLDS Game 1 loss. Sports Illustrated. Retrieved from https://www.si.com/mlb/2019/10/04/ronald-acuna-jr-lack-hustle-braves

Whose Fault is it Anyway?

By Griffin Olah

October 3, 2019

Griffin is a second-year BGSU undergraduate student from North Ridgeville, Ohio. He is a Sport Management major and a Spanish minor. His primary sports interests are baseball and football, both collegiate and professional, but he is also interested in basketball, MMA, boxing and hockey.

The Cleveland Indians’ 3-year reign over the AL Central has come to an end, and the Tribe has missed the postseason for the first time since 2015. The preseason division favorite finished in second place in the Central and third in the AL Wild Card with a 93-69 record. This season definitely did not go according to plan for anyone involved, but reasons for missing must be analyzed. 

Most media attention focuses on shoddy leadership, particularly from owner Paul Dolan, as the primary reason the Tribe sits on the outside looking in on the postseason. Before the season began, Dolan ordered the payroll to be cut. Following an embarrassing sweep in the ALDS at the hands of the Houston Astros (Torres, 2019), this was particularly puzzling. The 2018 iteration of the Indians was flawed for sure, with the top-heavy offense and top of the line rotation carrying the team to 94 wins, but there was no addition over the offseason (Perry, 2019). Following a three team trade of first basemen sluggers with the Rays and Mariners that netted the Indians Carlos Santana and Jake Bauers while losing Yandy Diaz and Edwin Encarnación, the Indians sat quiet for the offseason. 

The reasons behind the blame placed on the Dolans vary based on the article, but there are two main ideas. The first is that the Dolans either don’t care to spend or don’t care about the team’s success. Following the Astros’ sweep, the Indians had a window to improve and a few key contributors on the open market, including relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, outfielder Michael Brantley and third baseman Josh Donaldson. All four left in free agency on contracts that the Indians could have afforded if the Dolans opened up their pockets. There is also the infamous comment from Paul Dolan telling fans to “enjoy” Francisco Lindor when asked about resigning him (Meisel, 2019). The other idea is that it is the fault of ownership. This group believes that the Dolans went farther than restricting the resigning of players, they instructed President of Baseball Operations Chris Antonetti and GM Mike Chernoff to cut payroll. The Indians “cut more than $15 million from the 2018 Opening Day salary obligations and reversed almost a decade-long trend of year-over-year increases” (Perry, 2019, para. 5), which led to the team not only losing key pieces of the 2018 team, but not being able to add any players at all. The Indians have a creative front office, but they were severely handicapped by the Dolans strategy and plans for the future.

Was this the reason that the team missed the playoffs? Yes, the offseason was flawed- letting Michael Brantley and Yandy Diaz leave was particularly painful for Indians’ fans both before and during their quality seasons- but there is a lot more to the picture than just the Dolans’ unwillingness to spend. The outfield was a serious issue, but one that was addressed by Antonetti and Chernoff. The Indians promoted outfield prospect Oscar Mercado in May, who went on to have a Rookie of the Year caliber season. They swung a major deadline deal with the Reds and Padres that brought in a year of Yasiel Puig and 5 of Franmil Reyes, shoring up the outfield and strengthening the overall lineup.

So, if the off-season concerns were addressed, what was the issue? Injuries. The Indians’ rotation, known across baseball as one of the most formidable in the sport, was decimated. Perennial Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber broke his arm on a comebacker to the mound, second ace Carlos Carrasco was diagnosed with leukemia and missed a significant portion of the season, and surging Mike Clevenger dealt with a back issue that caused him to miss over a month of the season. Jose Ramirez disappeared for the first half and then recaptured his MVP form in the second half, only to break his hamate bone in his right hand and miss the critical end of the season.

Even with all the injuries, the Tribe were still competitive, finishing 8 games behind the surprising Twins and 3 games behind the Rays for the second Wild Card spot. When looking at the season as a whole, where can the blame truly lie? The media puts it on the tight-walleted Dolans, but it should rest on the string of bad injuries. Would Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco give the team 3 more wins over the season? If Jose Ramirez performed to his MVP caliber the first half, could the team have won a few more games? These questions directly impact the win total of the 2019 Indians, possibly even more so than questions surrounding the Dolans’ choices over the offseason. So, in the ultimate question of “Whose fault is it anyway?” The answer rests solely on the unpredictability of baseball and the Indians’ lengthy IL.

References

Meisel, Z. (2019, March 25). Paul Dolan discusses the dollars and sense behind the Indians’ payroll and Francisco Lindor’s future. The Athletic. Retrieved from https://theathletic.com/884023/2019/03/25/paul-dolan-discusses-the-dollars-and-sense-behind-the-indians-payroll-strategy-and-francisco-lindors-future/

Perry, D. (2019, September 30).The Indians have been eliminated, and it’s mostly the fault of ownership. CBS Sports. Retreived from https://www.cbssports.com/mlb/news/the-indians-have-been-eliminated-and-its-mostly-the-fault-of-ownership/

Torres, L. (2019, September 30). The Dolans don’t care that the Indians missed the playoffs. Beyond the Box Score. Retreived from https://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2019/9/30/20889710/cleveland-indians-ownership-dolan-missed-playoffs-cheap

A Royal Welcoming in Kansas City

By Nick Muhl

On Tuesday, the Kansas City Royals took the field for Game 1 of Major League Baseball’s World Series. It’s been 29 long years for Kansas City fans, the Royals have not been to the series since 1985. However, one obstacle still remains in the way of the Royals and history, the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are looking to win their third World Series in five years, after they won in 2010 and 2012.

The Royals miraculous postseason run has been the topic of many sports headlines. Front pages across the nation have been spotted with headlines involving the Royals during the entire month leading up to and during the playoffs. “World Class”, “Royal Again”, Kansas City Wins in Dramatic Fashion”, “Salvation” “11th Heaven” are just a few highlighting the amazing achievements the Royals have accomplished so far this postseason.

Baseball fans around the country are flocking to join the AL Pennant Champions bandwagon heading into the series. Unless you happen to be a Giants fan, I’m not sure how you could root against this team. It has been refreshing for many fans and media for a new team to get back to baseball elite. We are just two years removed from the Royals coming off their first winning season in 2013 after 9 consecutive losing seasons from 2004-2012.

The Royals don’t even support a traditional baseball lineup. Thy only have two players, James Shield and Alex Gordon who make more than 10 million this year. Unlike teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and other major market teams, the Royals roster is made up of players who simply get the job done. Sure, the Royals don’t have a David Ortiz or Derek Jeter, but that’s what makes them so fun to watch.

Mike Moustakas’ diving catch over the dugout was a number one highlight for over a week. Their bullpen is highlighted by unheard of names by the non-traditional baseball fan, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera, who continue to close out games in the clutch. Starting pitchers James Shield, Justin Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie out-performed big name pitchers Clayton Kershaw and Ubaldo Jimenez.

This week fans and media from across the country will flock to Kansas City to see the Royals play in the world series. Not only could it have not happened to a better team, but Kansas City as a whole deserves this. They have earned their spot among baseball royalty, even if it may only be highlighted for a few short weeks.

A Comeback 29 Years in the Making: The Kansas City Royals Postseason Surge

By Savannah Malnar

The year was 1985, and the Kansas City Royals were World Series Champions, but hope for another title had all but disappeared for the next few decades. Up until this season, the Royals had not been seen in the postseason since that Game 7 win. That’s a drought of 29 years.

They’re back now with a vengeance, and the media is loving it. Articles about this team without the author referencing the Royal’s energy and confidence are nearly non-existent.

Everyone wants to analyze this playoff run. Ever since they took out the Oakland Athletics in the American League Wild Card Game, they’ve been unstoppable. They have won all of their postseason games to date. They swept the Los Angeles Angels, a World Series favorite. They have seven home-runs in the postseason, which is the same amount they had in their final 23 games in the regular season. But why? What’s the cause?

The media seems to insist it’s because of, surprisingly, their inexperience. These “kids” are so excited to just be in the postseason that the pressure isn’t getting to them. The Royals’ designated hitter, Billy Butler, is quoted by ESPN saying: “I’ve always heard the veterans with postseason experience always have the advantage because they know what to expect. That hasn’t been the case, I can’t put my finger on why. Hey, it’s my first experience.”

One thing is for sure though; despite the cause, the Royals are becoming a media and fan favorite for this MLB postseason. The Huffington Post dedicated an article to 27 reasons the Royals are becoming America’s new favorite team, and even the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “It’s Official: The Kansas City Royals Can’t Lose.”

While this is definitely the feel-good story of the season, is it right for the media to be covering them so subjectively? Many of the articles about the Royals playoff run don’t reference their opposition. There are unanswered questions in a lot of these articles; maybe it was the Athletics’ pitching that really was the reason the Royals won the Wild Card game. There were most likely factors outside of the Royals themselves that could be contributed to their sweep of the Angels.

Whether the media is right in this or not, they are definitely creating new fans of the Royals with all of the hype. This is a postseason run that will be remembered by baseball fans all across the country, not just in Kansas City.

MLB Playoffs: Lost in the Mix

By Kate Roth

With all of the excitement surrounding the many college football upsets lat weekend it seems that the Major League Baseball Playoffs have gotten lost in the media.

One would think that a sport known as America’s national pastime would receive a bit more coverage during the playoffs, which are undoubtedly the most intense and exciting part of the MLB season. Yet every sports media show and site you look at is showing the same clips from the big college football games played on Saturday.

This is not to say that there has not been any media coverage of the MLB playoffs at all, but in my opinion the small clips and highlights that are shown on SportsCenter are not nearly enough.

Over the weekend the Kansas City Royals (a team who has not made the playoffs in 20 years) upset the Los Angeles Angels (one of the favorites to win the American League) by completing a three game sweep to advance to the American League Championship Series. To me, an upset like this on the stage that they had to play on should be the main highlight of every sports media page and show. Just watching the highlights from this series alone would get fans more excited to tune into the rest of the MLB playoffs.

Without the media giving the MLB any attention, it seems as though fans have forgotten that the playoffs are even in action. All of their focus has gone towards who will be the top four teams to make the college football playoffs, even though they are only half way through the season.

Fans enjoy knowing about the sports and teams they are going to watch before actually watching them, that way they are familiar with the players during the game and have a little more background to keep them intrigued.  If the media were to spend a little more time showcasing the MLB playoffs I think we would see an increase in fan interest because they would have more information on the teams giving them reason to actually watch the games.

Overall, I am excited to see how the rest of this MLB postseason will play out and I hope to see more attention from the media along with more fan interest in our national pastime.