Free Agency Has Begun: The QO Rule

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Last year I wrote about the Qualifying Offer (“QO”) rule, and how it affected player mobility. And just when you thought you had a handle on how it worked, the owners and players went ahead and renegotiated the CBA. In the process, they bolloxed up the QO in a way that hardly anyone can comprehend. However, if you enjoy this stuff as much as I do, and have the patience and curiosity to know how it will work for at least the next five years, read on.

A bit of history. Under the old CBA, if a team made a QO to a free agent player (the amount of the QO is predicated on the average of the top 125 salaries from the previous year; for 2017, the amount is $17.4M), that player had seven days to accept and sign a one-year deal; or reject, and become an unrestricted free agent. The term “unrestricted,” however, was a misnomer, because any team acquiring that player had to forfeit its first round draft pick the following season (the only exception being teams with picks 1-10; they had to relinquish a second-rounder); and the offering team was compensated with a so-called “sandwich pick”, which is between the first and second rounds.

One more thing: the QO draft pick penalty was only applicable to players who played the entire season for their prior team (if you were traded mid-season, or joined the team after the amateur draft, an acquiring team did not face the penalty). Got it?

Well, if Occam’s Razor applies in most circumstances, its bizarro brother applies to MLB. Here is the system that will apply until 2021:

For starters, the owners and players split the world into three sets of teams: (1) those over the luxury-tax threshold (i.e., teams whose payroll exceeded $189 million last season, $195 million this coming season, escalating in later years); (2) those from the 15 smallest markets that receive revenue sharing money; and (3) teams that don’t fit into either category. These tiers will be helpful as we move forward.

Here we go: A team offers a player a QO. That player now has ten (not seven) days to accept or reject. If he accepts, all is right with the world, he signs with his current team, and there is no confusion. If he rejects, we must follow the Rube Goldberg contraption put in place to see what happens.

Let’s start with the team losing the free agent (herein, “the Loser”):

If the free agent signs a contract of $50 million or more (regardless of number of years), the Loser gets draft pick compensation. However, the form of compensation is dependent on the Loser’s good or bad deeds.

  • If they are over the luxury-tax threshold, they receive a draft pick at the end of the fourth round.
  • If they are one of the small market teams, they receive a pick at the end of the first round.
  • If they don’t fit into either category, they receive a pick at the end of the second round.

With me so far?

If the free agent signs for less than $50 million, then:

  • If the Loser is over the luxury-tax threshold, they receive a draft pick at the end of the fourth round.
  • If they are below the luxury-tax threshold, they receive a pick at the end of the second round.

Now to the team acquiring the free agent (herein, “the Buyer”):

  • If the Buyer is over the luxury-tax threshold, they lose their second and fifth highest draft picks, plus $1 million in international pool money.
  • If they are one of the 15 small market teams, they lose their third highest draft pick, but no international money.
  • If they are none of the above, they lose their second highest draft pick, plus $500,000 in international pool money.

Under the old CBA, if a Buyer already acquired a QO free agent, and thus gave up their first round pick, there wasn’t much pain involved in acquiring a second QO player, as they only had to then forfeit a second-round pick. Not anymore:

  • A Buyer over the luxury-tax threshold acquiring a second QO player now forfeits all of the following: their second, third, fifth, and sixth highest picks, plus $2 million in international bonus pool money.
  • If they are one of the 15 small market teams, they lose their third and fourth highest draft pick, but no international bonus pool money.
  • If neither, they lose their second and third highest draft picks, plus $1 million in international pool money.

One additional wrinkle that the Player’s Union was able to extract from MLB: A player may not receive more than one QO in his (or her) career. This rule change looked to be a boon to José Bautista, who received a QO last season, rejected it, and then signed a 1-year deal with Toronto knowing he couldn’t be offered another QO. He then went out and hit .203, with a -1.7 WAR and a OPS+ of 76. Oh how he wishes he could get a $17.4 million offer this off-season.

Much time and effort went into revising the QO rule in an attempt to free up the free agent market by taking the onus off of Buyers. Time will tell if that goal was achieved, but for this season at least, here is the list of the prominent players potentially affected by the new QO rule: Jake Arrieta, Lorenzo Cain, Zack Cozart, Wade Davis, Greg Holland, Eric Hosmer, Lance Lynn, and Mike Moustakas. It certainly seems like a lot of calories were burned and a lot of ink spilled to solve an issue for these eight players.

But there you have it. Everyone understand? Are the implications perfectly clear? Great!

PLAY BALL!!

Roy Halladay: 1997-2017

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I have suffered a great deal of loss in my years. I have attended more funerals, and delivered more eulogies, than most people do in a lifetime. And when someone dies, we, as a society, have an immediate reflex to turn the deceased into a saint, a hero, a flawless soul who graced this mortal coil for too short a period. In those moments of despair, we often overlook the faults, imperfections, peccadilloes, that made the person whole, made them human, made them them.

I have never subscribed to this theory of post-mortem hagiography. Maybe I am just a “warts and all” type of guy. Maybe I am just an unrepentant pessimist. Or maybe I am just honest. With all of that said, feel free to deify me upon my interment.

I have given this idea a great deal of thought while reading so many glowing obituaries and memorials and tributes to Roy Halladay, who died tragically in a plane accident on November 7th. To read the words written by those who knew him well, by those who him a little, by those who rooted for him, and those who just watched him from afar, you get the sense that this man was really as great as he seemed.

Halladay’s statistics speak for themselves, and even absent an untimely death, it is safe to say that they are clearing a spot for his plaque in Cooperstown some time after 2019. Doc’s intensity was well-known to baseball fans in two countries – his refusal to speak to teammates on pitch days; his glaring at batters to get back in the box; his 5am Spring Training arrivals. It wasn’t just teammates, rivals loved watching him pitch.

“I can’t believe it. So many times we competed against each other and even while competing, I wanted to see you! My condolences to his family” — via Twitter, @45PedroMartinez

But there are so many other attributes that are either overlooked or unknown. There was the mentorship that happened in the clubhouse, but was not publicized. There was the quiet donations, including a police dog to the very sheriff’s office that led Halladay’s recovery effort. There was (and will continue to be) the Halladay Family Foundation that aides children’s charities, hunger relief, and animal causes. There was the Little League coaching that spread to both dugouts, as Roy was loathe to horde his knowledge and deny other children the experience and expertise he had gained over a lifetime on the diamond. There was the love of flying that endeared him to his new “team” in the aviation community. There was his being a role model for scores of pitchers, including the man who saved the final game of the World Series just over a week ago. And there was the multiple nominations for the Roberto Clemente Award, given to an MLB player for sportsmanship and community involvement, an award named for a man who died, ironically/coincidentally/cosmically, too young in a plane accident.

Roy Halladay, coming off a season with a 10.64 ERA, was a dark horse to become his generation’s best pitcher. He was the rare bird who lived up to the words written about him by professional scriveners. He was a hard-working Phillie and a free-flying Blue Jay, an inspiration to all.

R.I.P. Doc, the world of baseball, and the world in general, was a better place for having you.

PLAY BALL!!

It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good (or Smart)

It’s Better to Be Lucky Than Good (or Smart)

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The Dodgers and the Astros are two of the most analytically-driven organizations operating in baseball today. Andrew Friedman has a background in finance, and ran the low-budget Rays for years on a diet of limited dollars and copious spreadsheets. Jeff Luhnow came to the Astros (from the Cardinals) in 2011, armed with degrees in Economics and Engineering, and revamped the Astros’ front-office, installing a lose-to-win strategy (read: “tanking”), which paid off handsomely Wednesday night.

We, as fans, are not privy to the scores of data that are provided to the manager, coaches, and players before each series, ahead of each game, during each inning. So we are often left scratching our heads at decisions that look, to us, irrational. But to the managers, coaches, and players, they are all part of a master plan. We may not love this form of baseball; we may prefer decision-making from the good ol’ gut or based on something imperceptible to us, but glaring to someone who has spent a lifetime sitting on the top step of a dugout. Welcome to baseball in 2017.

For executives like Friedman and Luhnow, it is about having the world’s best inputs, the most rigorous analysis, and then trusting the #process to produce the most advantageous results. These types of leaders strive for outcomes derived from a thoughtful plan, which is predicated on the aforementioned input and analysis. Outliers are unimportant; what matters most are the aggregate fruit plucked from a well-planted decision tree.

However, even with all of the statistical back-up, the iPad on the bench, and laminated cards in the players’ back pockets, we witnessed a handful of, um, strategies, during the World Series that defy explanation. These were decisions that did not seem to flow from a thoughtful process or with a strong statistical advantage. After a thrilling World Series, seven games filled with tension, lead changes, and many, many homeruns, we won’t talk about these moments as they somehow ended in the team’s favor. Yet if these decisions had produced a different result, we may be discussing them for years to come. I guess sometimes it is better to be lucky than good (or smart).

Because Buster Olney, Joe Sheehan, Tom Verducci, Bob Nightengale, and Jerry Crasnick don’t have time to write about these; and before Jayson Stark finds the novelty in each one; and before Ben Lindbergh and Michael Baumann and Jeff Sullivan break them down to their most granular level; and before Joe Posnanski writes something pithy about them, allow me to address some of the 2017 World Series’s most head-scratching moments:

GAME 5

7th Inning: With the score tied at seven , Justin Turner led off with a double. Kiké Hernández hit only .159 against right-handed pitching this season, so asking him to bunt may have seemed like the correct call. But for a guy with nearly 1,000 career at bats, Hernández has a total of 2 sacrifice bunts. And it showed. Kiké bunted right to Brad Peacock who wheeled and threw out Turner at third. One out, runner on first. When Cody Bellinger tripled three pitches later, Hernández scored, and Kiké’s bunt and Turner’s out did not matter. But all of that begs the larger question: In a slugfest wherein 14 runs had been scored in the first six innings, did Dave Roberts honestly believe that one run over the next three would win the game?

9th Inning: This one doesn’t fall on the manager, per sé, but coaching may have played a role. After Yasiel Puig’s one-out, one-handed two-run homer in the 9th inning to cut the Astros’ lead to 12-11, Austin Barnes stretched a long single into a way-too-close-for-comfort double. Being aggressive is great, being reckless is not. A slightly better throw leaves the Dodgers with the bases empty, chasing a run, down to their last out. Chris Taylor singled home Barnes, tying the game, and now Barnes looks daring, not careless.

GAME 6

5th Inning: Rich Hill threw four innings in Game 2. After the epic Game 5 in which the Dodgers used seven pitchers throwing a total of 195 pitches, the conventional wisdom held that Hill needed to go deep into Game 6. Dave Roberts eschewed convention and scoffed at wisdom. After getting himself into a second and third no-out jam, Hill struck out Josh Reddick and Justin Verlander. That turned the lineup over with two outs. Roberts elected to intentionally walk George Springer to face Alex Bregman. I guess this was a lesser-of-two-evils dilemma with first base open: at that point, Springer was 8-23 with four homers and two doubles; Bregman was 7-24 with two homers, a double, and a walk-off hit the game before. Heads you win, tails I lose. With Springer now on first and the bases now loaded, Roberts pulled Hill after 58 pitches (45 strikes). So much for going deep. And he replaced Hill with the gassed Brandon Morrow. The same Brandon Morrow who gave up four runs over six pitches in his last outing. What did Morrow do? He induced Bregman to ground out to end the inning. Great result, but I’m not too sure about the process.

6th Inning: With the Dodgers trailing 1-0 and the pitcher due to bat second in the bottom half of the inning, Roberts elected to make a double-switch in the top half. Going by the book, Roberts removed the player who had made the last out. In doing so, he replaced Logan Forsythe, who was hitting .313 in the series, with Chase Utley, who was 0 for his last 29. Huh? Of course, no harm was done as Utley got hit by a 2-2 breaking ball and eventually scored on Corey Seager’s sac fly. (Side note: Can someone please explain to me how Seager’s flyball didn’t land ten rows into the Pavilion?)

7th Inning: The sixth inning ended with the Dodgers leading 2-1. Verlander was due to bat second. He had thrown 93 pitches, so he probably had another 35 in him. Upon leaving the field, Hinch told Verlander he was done for the night. Justin donned his jacket and got a drink of water. My question is why not wait to see what the leadoff hitter does? If Reddick gets on base, Verlander could (attempt to) bunt him over; and if Reddick fails, then you simply pinch hit for Verlander. But at least give yourself the option. Of course Reddick walked, and instead of having Verlander bunt him to second (or, at worst, strike out with Reddick stuck at first), Evan Gattis pinch-hit and rolled into a force out. After a Springer single, Hinch was forced to use Derek Fisher as a pinch-runner. Kenta Maeda then retired Bregman and Jose Altuve; and now the Astros had one less pinch-hitter and one less pinch-runner available. Oh, and they now had to go to the leaky bullpen instead of getting a little more out their horse while trying to keep the game in check. Joc Pederson hit a homerun off Joe Musgrove in the bottom of the 7th, so that didn’t work out so well. But the Astros won the World Series, and Verlander was available (?) out of the pen in Game 7, so I guess all’s well that ends well.

8th Inning: Two on, two out in the bottom half, Dodgers lead 3-1 with a chance to break it open. A.J. Hinch replaced Luke Gregerson with Francisco Liriano to face Cody Bellinger. At that moment, Liriano had not pitched in nearly two weeks – his last appearance was in Game 5 of the ALCS. In Liriano’s career, he has fared just slightly better against lefties than righties, and in Bellinger’s rookie season, he has a higher batting average against lefties than righties. So, yes, this was an odd decision. And, of course, Liriano struck out Bellinger (his fourth K of the game; his sixth in his last ten plate appearances; and in the midst of what would be nine out of fourteen to end the World Series).

8th Inning: Dave Roberts went to the Kenley Jansen well early in Game 6. Sure, this was a must-win. Sure, Jansen had been the best closer in baseball the past few seasons. But Jansen had also thrown in four of the last five games, he had thrown 90 pitches in the World Series, he already had one loss and one blown save, and given up a garbage-time homerun. So Roberts asked Jansen to record six outs, and then be ready to do the same in Game 7. Had the Dodgers been protecting a one-run lead, an argument could be made for this move. But shouldn’t a 104-win team with bullpen strength at least try to get an out or two out of Cingrani, Fields, McCarthy, and/or Stripling? Jansen went on to get six outs using 19 pitches (18 strikes), forcing a Game 7, and made Roberts look like a genius.

GAME 7

7th Inning: Speaking of misusing Jansen, what is the thinking behind having him take the mound so early in Game 7, while trailing 5-0? I get that you want to keep the Astros at bay, but Alex Wood did that in the 8th and 9th, and ostensibly could have done so an inning earlier. Assume – for the sake of making the game more exciting – that the Dodgers mounted a rally and scored four, five, or imagine, six runs in the seventh and eighth innings. Who was Roberts going to use to close the game after burning Morrow and Jansen? This seems like a risk not worth taking in a deciding game. Alas, the Dodgers couldn’t muster any offense and the issue became moot. But what if…?

THE WORLD SERIES

One would think – but I cannot opine with certainty – that big corporations have really smart people using really advanced data to make really difficult decisions every day. And I assume that publishers, in this subscription-troubled, online-centered, fragmented marketplace, are careful about what and how they market their wares. So it seems to me that making a bold prognostication – three years in advance – on the cover of one of your flagship magazines, is not in keeping with a conservative approach to investment returns. And yet, that is exactly what Time Inc. did with Sports Illustrated in June, 2014. Not only did SI get it right, they had the World Series MVP on the cover. Yup, sometimes it is better to be lucky than good.

PLAY BALL!!

Game 5: A Long Day’s Journey Into Morning

A Long Day’s Journey Into Morning

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At about 11pm Eastern time on Saturday night, as the Dodgers wrapped up Game 4, my wife asked me the following question: “Do you want to go to the game tomorrow night?”

I dismissed the idea out of hand; but she was already fingers-deep into Travelocity, attempting to change flights out of Florida and into Texas. Before I could even ponder the imponderable, she had a plane ticket and a hotel room on hold. Her next question was the big one: “Can you get a ticket?” I explained to her that in today’s world, you can always get a ticket. As the old adage goes, “it’s just a question of price.”

After querying friends and family, I elected to sleep on the time-consuming and expensive decision. I woke up Sunday morning wholly ambivalent; I cannot recall the last time I was so torn. Mark Twain once opined: “Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” Twain sat on my shoulder and whispered in my ear. The idea that I might miss something magical (I was thinking a Kershaw no-hitter), and regret it forever, was too much to bear. So, as Mr. Clemens implored, I threw off the bowlines and sailed away from the safe harbor of Palm Beach airport.

When I arrived in Charlotte to switch planes, I learned my 4:50pm flight to Houston (which would have gotten me there in time for the national anthem) was delayed until 7pm.

Crestfallen. That is the only word I can use. Despondent, crushed, hopeless? Those work as well. I was trapped in North Carolina with a stupidly-priced ticket burning a hole in my pocket, and no way to get deep in the heart of Texas. 7pm became 7:15pm, which became 7:25pm, which became an 8pm take-off. Doing the math – which I had been doing for three hours – I knew I would arrive at the park, at best, in the 6th inning, but if Kershaw and Keuchel duplicated Game 1, I would get there in time to help clean the stands.

I considered bagging the whole plan and grabbing the next flight to L.A., but I had come this far (and didn’t want to spend more money changing another flight). Like it or not, this was my journey; destiny my guide.

The 2 hour and 37 minute flight to Houston came in 11 minutes early – minor miracle. Channeling my inner Ezekial Elliott, I charged to the front and was the first to deplane at 9:29pm. Channeling my inner Jerry Maguire, I sprinted through George Bush Intercontinental Airport, literally threw my suitcase into a cab and told the cabby – in a cliché – “there is something extra if you get me downtown in twenty minutes.” I was standing in the Crawford Boxes at 10:04pm – it was the top of the sixth.

I had missed the first five innings. I had missed the Dodgers blow 4-0 and 7-4 leads. I had missed Bellinger’s three-run homer and Altuve’s counter-punch. I had missed Kershaw and Keuchel. I was not about to miss another pitch.

Before the bottom of the sixth, I walked down the third baseline and found a family leaving Section 116 (mind you, it was nearly 10:30pm on a school night). They gave me a seat in Row 20, and I did not move for more than two hours. No bathroom breaks; no beer runs; no seventh-inning-stretch ice cream. Hell, I barely sat down. The Astros fans in Row 19 decided this was a “stand all game” situation, so I followed suit.

What I witnessed, endured, and withstood for next five innings was unlike anything I have ever experienced. If you are like me, you have obligations outside of sports. You have wives/husbands, kids, a job. You cannot devote your life to a sporting event. How many times have you wished a game would just end because you have a meeting early the next morning? Or the anticipation of post-game traffic fills you with so much dread that it interferes with your enjoyment of the game? But on this night, 1,500 miles from home, with no wife and no kids to attend to, a hotel room across the street, my only concern being a flight more than ten hours away, I was all-in. When Chris Taylor came to bat with two outs in the top of the 10th and the tying run on second, I wanted the base hit because I was rooting for the Dodgers; I wanted the base hit because a three-run ninth to tie the game would be epic; but mostly, I wanted the base hit because I simply didn’t want this game to end. I. Could. Not. Get. Enough!

Many writersall more skilled than I, have written about this game. You all watched it. You know the highs and lows, the ins and outs, the excitement and disappointment, and all the moments in between. But being there was something else. It was an emotional roller coaster with no end in sight. One of the beauties of baseball is the lack of a clock, so there are no constraints on the potential end point. This game could still be going, with Bob Knepper pitching against Tom Niedenfuer. In the stadium, we weren’t privy to the statistical oddity we were witnessing, we just had to intuit it. We didn’t have the replays and the commentary available to those watching at home, so we relied on one another to talk ourselves through what just happened. Did that actually happen? It was a communal experience, and I wasn’t even a real member of the community.

As good as the coverage and analysis has been, there are certain things you cannot appreciate watching the game on television. An in-person observer’s account:

  • Angela Matthews, a 10-year veteran of the Texas Air National Guard sang “God Bless America” as part of the 7th inning stretch. She was joined by 43,000 back-up vocalists, who made this rendition one of the coolest I have ever heard. Houstonians and Angelenos joined together as Americans for three minutes of beautiful harmony in the midst of a gut-wrenching battle of wills.
  • From my angle, George Springer’s homerun on the first pitch of the bottom of the 7th was still rising as it left the yard. It was gone instantaneously, and landed – as many have pointed out – with an explosion on the train tracks above the left field seats. It seems implausible you could hit a ball harder.
  • I have never seen a ball hit higher than Carlos Correa’s homerun three batters later. Off the bat, I was excited to finally see a ball hit the roof. It went so high, and hung in the air so long, that I had time to track the ball, then track Kiké Hernández tracking the ball, then track the ball again, then watch Kiké drift back to a few feet in front of the left field wall, and then watch the ball drop into the second row of the Crawford Boxes as if discarded by a wayward seagull. StatCast tells us that the ball went 169 feet in the air and stayed there for 6.8 seconds. It was unreal.

  • At one point, an overzealous fan in American flag boxers (and not much else) sprinted onto the field. He juked and jived, pissed off Houston’s finest, and ultimately found himself hogtied with multiple knees in his back. Bummer he missed the rest of this game to win a sophomoric bet.
  • With two out in the bottom of the 9th, Asia’s public enemy number one hit a long drive to left center. Off the bat, I was certain this was a walk-off homerun. This was Gibby, Kirby Puckett, David Freese, and a handful (13) of others who ended a World Series game with a dinger. As sure as I was that Cody Bellinger had ended Game 2, there was no doubt that the guy who should have been suspended just ended Game 5. The ball hung in the air for what seemed like forever, only to touch down in the one place – the only place – in the entire ballpark where it was not a round-tripper. While that ball traveled nearly 400 feet, 43,000 people held their collective breath. It was an odd sensation. Somehow the ball hit just below and just to the left of that all-determining yellow line. Karma? Gurriel was left in scoring position and we had free baseball.
  • When little-known Derek Fisher slid home with the game-winning run following Alex Bregman’s 10th inning single, the roar in Minute Maid Park was extraordinary. Equal parts exultation and exhalation, the Houston Hopeful were going home Monday morning one win away from a World Series title. I am told you could get a feel for the crowd noise on television; I cannot imagine that is even half true. It was thunderous, raucous, cacophonous; and it stayed that way for a long time.

This game had ties in the 4th, 5th, and shockingly, the 9th inning. Three 3-run leads were blown. There were 11 runs scored from the 7th inning on. The Dodgers scored three runs (to tie the game) in the top of the 9th, each time with two strikes. So many crazy, insane, incomprehensible things happened in this game that we can hardly remember the merely extraordinary. In time, we will remember, and we will look back with awe.

My Sunday started in Florida, and ended on Monday morning in Texas. In between I experienced more emotions than I can recount. Upon leaving the park well after 1am local time, I called my wife – the instigator of this odyssey – and she asked me: “Was it worth it?”

If you love baseball as much as I do, and if you have read this far I am assuming you do. And if so, then such a question needs no response!

PLAY BALL!!

Addendum: The foregoing was written in the haze of Game 5. In that time, Game 6 was played. Dave Roberts did all sorts of weird things, and they all seemed to work. Joc Pederson continued to only get extra-base hits. And the Dodgers beat Justin Verlander. By 2017 standards, this game was somewhat quotidian. As such, Game 7 stands to be one for the ages. As I write these words, I feel tonight much like I did early Monday morning: unsure how I will be able to fall asleep! An incredible season has but one game left, winner take all.

Glass House of Emotion

GLASS HOUSE OF EMOTION

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When I coached my son’s baseball team, the kids would often have “big league” moments – trying to do it like the pros. Whenever I saw it, I would tell the player: “Just show me your professional contract, and you can do that. Until then, you have to do it my way”. The inference, of course, was to play fundamentally, be a good sport, and never show up the other side.

Due to what many view as overly stringent celebration rules, the NFL has derisively become known as the “No Fun League”. The same hasn’t been said of Major League Baseball, where pitchers police such behavior with a 5-ounce sphere hurled at 90+ miles per hour.

But there are times when fun and emotion should enter the sacred space between the lines. And the World Series is one of those times. And, if that is the case, there was no better time than Game 2 of this year’s Fall Classic, which some are calling the greatest non-clinching World Series game of all time. It’s hard to quibble with that assessment.

The beauty of Game 2, besides the lead changes, the ties, and the wacky bounces (the bill of a centerfielder’s cap, the groin of an umpire), was found in the many moments that, if they happened in our kid’s Little League game, would cause an uproar in the stands and a stern talking-to on the drive home. But, under the bright lights of the game’s largest stage, each was transcendent in their own right.

As great as Game 2 was, I believe it all started with the last out of Game 1. With the Dodgers clinging to a 3-1 lead, Kenley Jansen induced the dangerous Jose Altuve to fly out to right to end the game. One would think – for younger players we would demand – that securing the last out of a World Series game should be a by-the-book two hand reception, making certain nothing goes awry. If you were expecting that, you haven’t seen Yasiel Puig play. Puig caught the ball around his left hip with his tongue out (but he at least he used two hands). Puig was just warming up.

Verlander vs. Hill provided us with a handful of emotional, triumphant, and in light of the stakes, glorious moments that wouldn’t be acceptable if the bases were only 60 feet apart, but were spectacular because they are 90. A random sampling:

Corey Seager’s Primal Scream.
It’s one thing for a guy to make contact, and by the time he leaves the batter’s box to know he got it all. It is quite another for a hitter to let it all out immediately after contact. If any of our kids had done that, they wouldn’t have made to it to first base before being properly reprimanded. But when you take Justin Verlander deep to give your team the lead in the World Series, primal screams are the order of the day.

Carlos Correa’s Bat Flip.
I (and everyone else) previously wrote about the all-time bat flip in the 2015 ALDS. And there is no question that Jose Bautista still retains his position on the Mt. Rushmore of post-homerun-bat releases. But Carlos Correa joined the pantheon in the 10th inning of Game 2. And man did he earn it.


Yasiel Puig’s Glove Slam.
Alex Bregman led off the top of the 8th with a line drive to the rightfield corner. Puig went all out (or did he?), and with his run and dive, covered approximately 64.5 feet. Unfortunately, according to Stat Cast, he needed 65 feet to make the play. The ball flicked off the end of Puig’s glove and into the stands for a double. Yasiel leaped to his feet and slammed his glove down with such force that I half thought the grounds crew would need to be called to level off the warning track. Watching the game live, I thought Puig had nothing to be angry about – it would have been an amazing catch. However, in the world we now live in, we can determine things at the most granular level. According to Mike Petriello of MLB.com, during the season, Puig’s average “Sprint Speed” this season was 28 feet per second. In the 8th inning of Game 2 of the World Series, Puig’s “Sprint Speed” was 27 feet per second. Puig was running for approximately two seconds (probably a touch more). Had he been running at his average speed, he would have covered at least an additional two feet, and most likely made the catch. So maybe he had good reason to be angry. Either way, if your child or mine slammed his glove like that, ooh boy! (As an aside, maybe there is something about playing the outfield in the playoffs at Dodger Stadium the impels a glove slam.)

Charlie Culberson’s Rambunctious Trot.
We may never know what was going through young Charlie’s mind as he rounded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning. Maybe he forgot that George Springer had hit a two-run homer, so he thought he had tied the game with his blast. Maybe he forgot all about George Springer and thought that he had won the game. Or maybe, after being inserted into Cody Bellinger’s spot in the lineup as part of an 11th inning double-switch, and after only getting two hits the entire season, and after only being on the post-season roster because of Corey Seager’s balky back, he was overcome with emotion hitting a homerun with two outs in the bottom of the 11th inning of a World Series game. Had a 12-year-old done that, his coach would have said two things: “We haven’t won anything yet” and “Act like you’ve been here before”. For Culberson, while the former was accurate, there was simply no way for him to fake the latter.

Rich Hill’s Reaction.
This picture doesn’t tell even half the story, but I think the Dodgers have scrubbed the internet of the images that the Fox cameras caught when Dave Roberts told Hill he was done after four innings and 60 pitches. Suffice it to say, Hill was none-too-pleased. I can certainly understand why. Twelve outs recorded, seven via the strike out, only one run allowed. I am sure Hill felt like he had many more bullets in the gun and, as a career journeyman who just started getting good at age 36, I can appreciate that he didn’t want this moment to pass without leaving it all on the field. However, this is how the Dodgers ran their staff all season. The top of the lineup – a heavily right handed lineup – was due to face Hill for the third time. And, truth be told, he was really one New Era bill away from being down 3-0 after 2½ innings. Roberts made the right call; but that doesn’t make Hill’s reaction any less human. We just wouldn’t tolerate the same from our kids.

We are just getting started in what stands to be an epic battle. I am predicting the Dodgers in seven; but it could easily go the other way. One thing is for sure: it will be a wild ride. So let’s continue to give these “kids” (by normal societal standards) the latitude they deserve to play with as much heart, excitement, and yes, emotion, as they can muster. Ask Cal Ripken – they may never be here again.

PLAY BALL!!

A Star Was Born: Kiké Hernández Goes Hollywood and Honors Puerto Rico

A Star Was Born

Blog_Kike

In the Summer of 2012, a few years before Sports Illustrated christened the Houston Astros the 2017 World Series champions, my son’s travel baseball team ventured to Lancaster, California to watch the Single-A Jethawks play.

The purpose of the visit was for each player on my son’s team to take the field for the national anthem (no kneeling) with his Jethawk counterpart, get a ball signed, and then head to the stands to take in a night of mediocre Minor League baseball.

When the kids met on the field with the head of Public Relations, they were told exactly what to do. A moment later, the Jethawks’ unassuming second baseman gathered the kids and told them, “as soon as the anthem is over, sprint to centerfield and give the player a high-five”. The P.R. woman balked – loudly. She implored the kids to follow her plan and come off the field immediately. The second baseman gave the kids a cockeyed grin, raised an eyebrow, and without saying a word, enticed them to follow his plan.

As you might imagine, the kids listened to the player, gave high-fives in centerfield, and hustled to the stands. The P.R. woman was only mildly annoyed, the boys had a laugh, and everyone had a story to tell.

Two years later, my son stopped me as I walked through the living room. “Dad, remember that guy in Lancaster who told us to go to centerfield? He’s playing second base for the Astros today.” “Really? What’s his name? How do you remember him?”, I asked. “His name is Enrique Hernández, and I just remember him”, he replied. I guess that second baseman was pretty memorable.

I didn’t give any of it much thought at the time. It is pretty rare for a Single-A player to make it to the “Show”, so that was different. But, why would I care about a scrub replacement middle infielder for the Houston Astros, a team that would go on to lose 92 games?

A month later, Hernández was traded to the Marlins, and I was certain I would never hear his name again. But that off-season, he was traded to my hometown team, the Los Angeles Dodgers. Kiké, as he is known, hit .307 in 76 games for the 2015 Bums. But, more importantly, he became the team cheerleader, the head of the Rally Banana brigade. The team and the city embraced this slightly off-kilter utility player, and a love affair was born.

Fast-forward to 2017. Kiké is a staple of the Dodgers lineup, playing eight different positions over 140 games. But Hernández, a native of Puerto Rico, was only batting .125 in the first six games of the playoffs against the Diamondbacks and the Cubs. So Dodger Owner and Chairman Mark Walter gave Kiké a little incentive before Game 5 of the NLCS: Get on base twice, and Walter would donate $1,000,000 to Puerto Rico hurricane relief. Well, with one out in the third inning, Kiké had left the yard twice and Puerto Rico had $1M coming its way. But neither Walter nor Hernández was done. The owner got word down to the Dodgers dugout that if Kiké could go “big fly” one more time, Walter would add another million to the donation.*

So when Hernández hit his third homerun of the game in the top of the 9th, and he jumped around the bases like one of those kids he instructed to run to centerfield five years earlier, very few people watching the game knew the reason for his excitement.

In many ways this has been a magical year for the Dodgers, with 104 wins and clinching the pennant while losing only a single game. They did it with the deepest lineup in baseball, with a group of players that never questioned their role or their number of at bats. They did it with their best players spending a considerable amount of time on the DL (their best position player wasn’t even on the NLCS roster). And they ultimately did it in the defending champion’s ballpark.

But, it has also been a tragic year for many people in many places around the globe. So how special is it that the Dodgers are heading back to the World Series for the first time in 29 years, on the bat of a player who has “Pray for Puerto Rico” written on his cap, and who through his play and the through the generosity of his boss, will bring desperately needed support to an island in horrific despair. It is nothing short of remarkable that the Banana Boy has become a local and national hero.

As I look back on that night in Lancaster half a decade ago, I guess I should have known that the kid with the twinkle in his eye, the kid who made an immediate connection with everyone he met, the kid who played the game with equal parts skill and heart, would become a star in Hollywood. Whatever happens over these next several days, in the face of all conventional wisdom, Kiké Hernández is now etched into Dodger lore.

PLAY BALL!!

*If you are feeling charitable, and want to contribute to the island where, as of this writing, 80% of the population is without electricity and 27% is without water, please visit this site: https://www.youcaring.com/peopleofpuertorico-957793.