Crossing The Line

Promotions that may have been too edgy.

By S. Samek

Minor League baseball embraces the crazy and unique to make for the perfect promotion. Though what if a promotion goes too far.
Enter the Ogden Raptors and their Hourglass appreciation night. 
Yes, the promotion honored women’s bodies of the curvy variety. The promotion was to include models, 18 of them to be exact each calling a half inning of baseball in the booth. Fans can then take pictures with the beauties.
Sounds harmless, while being so offensive at the same time. You are promoting looks first and all the unhealthy things that women do to match the ideal body shape. Plus, it doesn’t seem like it has anything to do with baseball. I mean baseball doesn’t have a clock, or hour glass like in most other sports, but the connection to honoring that and an hourglass is weak at best.
Not helping the fact is that A.P Harreld a broadcaster for the Raptors has connections with the modeling agency in question.
The promotion was canceled and was never an official thing to begin with. Fans knew about it through social media and internet means, and have been voicing disapproval for the promotion. An apology has been given by the team.
Though if you did have models at the ballpark, what’s not to say attendance wouldn’t rise. It’s the idea behind many a cheerleader, or dance team. They entertain and look good doing it.
Also brought up in the article was another failed promotion idea in White Heritage Night by the Orem Owlz.

 
Orem’s promotion was to celebrate the good and wholesome aspects of American living. A leave it to Beaver feel of the past. Fans didn’t take too well to that idea either. Mostly poking fun at how every day is a white appreciation day. Two days later was the church shooting in South Carolina. One that may have had racial motives. The promotion was canceled.
I think this promotion was more of a spoof than anything else. It made sense with the rest of the heritage night promotions out there to include whites. Though it does raise a lot of eyes for possible connections to white supremacy. That’s a no go.
Sports should be a uniting factor. Even if your bitter rivals are to be hated, there is a line that doesn’t need to be crossed. These promotions may have crossed it.

 

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Another Rarity

By S. Samek

Ah so many problems with the game of baseball. Though still much loved. First was the mentioning of killing extra-inning games.

 Second is the over reliance on the specialty closer.

This problem leads to a very real problem the rarity of the complete game and its possible extinction.

In this ESPN article It shows that the numbers of complete games being thrown are going down by significant margins. As of the writing of this article the 2017 season is on pace for 75 complete games. This is down from 83 in 2016. Sense 2011 and the 173 complete games thrown that season the number has been declining every season this decade.

The percentages of complete games being thrown has also gone down according to the ESPN piece. During the 1900’s 79 percent of game pitched were complete games. Today just about two and a half percent go the distance. The trend has been decreasing percentages the whole time.

One reason behind this is pitch count watching. This season none of the 26 complete games this season, none have been more than throwing 120 pitches. Compared with 250 complete games of 120 plus pitches in 1988. Though in 5 year increments the trend downward is continuing. Just five compete games went 120 or more pitches last year.

This trend has to be assisted by the bullpen argument. The game has shifted to a bunch of specialists in the bullpen, even to the point of the loogy, or roogy. (Left handed one-out guy, or right handed one out guy.)

The point is get the 27 outs even if you have to take six pitchers to do it.

The ideal scenario in a baseball game is have a starter go six, or seven innings for the quality start then move to a set-up man for the eighth and the closer in the ninth. Lots of closers never see the field for days based on the need to lock down the save and the win. Lots of closers are known for being hard throwers. Being able to give maximum effort for a short time is an advantage and shortening the game with a lock down bullpen is a legitimate strategy. Though a lot of the time the closer, which is often one of the best arms on the team gets left on the bench.

Conversely, the closer would mess with the idea of the complete game. Even with a starter cruising and the game in hand, why not bring in the closer in a save situation. Have the starter not throw more pitches than needed and still pick up the win. The starter gets pulled for the all-important save and loses the complete game.

 

The pitcher hitting may have a say in this argument too. A lot of times pitchers are lifted in favor of pitch hitters, for offensive improvement. Yes, using a designated hitter helps keep pitchers focused on pitching, but it still doesn’t mean pitchers will be kept in longer. It just means you won’t have to deal with often time a liability at the plate. Though some pitchers can hit insert Madison Bumgarner here.

Looks lie the key to completeness in 2017 isn’t actually complete a game. Five of this season 22 games have only been eight inning complete games. While technically a complete game because you lost after the top of the ninth with the home team winning, I feel it cheapens it. Full games are nine innings. To truly be a complete game you have to pitch all nine.

Though I must admit the rarity is what makes it exciting. If it becomes too common to throw a complete game it loses its luster. That’s why perfect games and no-hitters are celebrated. For their difficulty to achieve. Complete games are easier to throw than perfect games and no hitters, but still can be a special thing. Just let your pitchers have a couple more pitches to finish things off.

 

Star Wars Night

By S. Samek

On Friday May 19,2017, I went to a galaxy far far away. Well or at least a ball park near me for Star Wars Night at the Altoona Curve. The game turned into a mini prospect scouting trip after the main objective for the evening was met. This report will chronical my prospects and promotional thoughts all in one.

The main objective for the night was to snag one of the night’s giveaway items. This came in the form of much loved fish mascot Al Tuna with a light saber as a bobble head. The top 1,000 entrants would receive this prize. While it may not make for fun reading, thanks to lining up at 4:30 p.m. for a 5:00 p.m. gate time, I was able to add this collectable to my collection. Note was only offered to sell this item once and turned it down. I would say most fans got the item, as the crowd was sparse that day.

Surprisingly that crowd didn’t head for the exits after the seven run first inning the Erie Sea wolves put up. Curve starter Alex McRae, who I saw in an earlier game was rocked and looked the opposite of that earlier game. Try to the tune of just 1/3 of an inning pitched giving up six runs and two home runs, including a grand slam. McRae is would be my pick for a sleeper prospect as he sits outside of the top 30 Pirates prospects, but has pitched consistently well.

Jared Lakind pitched 3.2 innings only allowing a singular run on a singular hit while striking out six. He looked good in his long relief. Montana Durapau looked super as well. The 2016 Altoona fireman of the year lived up to the award with two scoreless innings of 1 hit ball with two stakeouts. Look for this guy to make a run at Pittsburgh, despite also being outside of the top 30 prospects.

Former top 30 prospect Luis Heredia did not impress. In 2/3 of an inning Heredia barley kept the lead intact, from a mess inherited from Buddy Borden. Borden was also lacking his best stuff on the day.

Kevin Kramer impressed me with the bat. The number 17 ranked prospect in the Pirates system went 3-4 with a home run and scored three times.  He was a major player in the Curves 11-10 win over Erie.

 

Now to review the festivities.  I think the Star Wars theme was a bit underdone. There were several costume characters around the park for pictures, score board graphics and walk up music themed to Star Wars. Though it felt weird that the Curve didn’t have a theme jersey on. I also felt that as cool as the bobble head was, the choice of robe makes it look like Harry Potter. If it didn’t say revenge of the fish on it and have a red colored saber it could be confused for another pop culture icon. It also seemed like the music was the same theme over and over and not a ton of varity. Though points added for playing the Saga Begins by Weird Al during the eight inning.

The promotional video work also gets an A grade. Loved the Loco vs. Al Tuna using the force hitting and pitching.

I just think they could have done a better job emerging fans in the theme. Maybe have special themed contests, or have the costume characters participate in the games. Maybe add more video clips from the movie on the score board if doable. Overall I think I give the promotion a B-.

 

 

 

Ties in Baseball

By S. Samek

Sunday night I turned on the TV to watch. I turned on the usual late night fair ESPN. To my surprise the Yankees and Cubs were still going at it locked in a draw. Deep into extras the game lasted 18 innings. It took six hours and five minutes to complete.

Now Buster Onlney of ESPN is writing that the end of play till you win games are coming. That extra innings depletes lineups and can cause injury. That players hate playing marathon games at the expense of travel and sleep.

Conversely Onlney and the fans like extra-inning games. A twitter poll conducted by Onlney produced a 75 percent in favor rating for keeping current rules based on about 34,500 responses. Who wouldn’t like the extra play though. It gives fans more bang for your buck on super expensive tickets. It gives the opportunity to experience the dramatic walk off win. It can create memories. Memories like the Braves and Pirates 19 inning affair that was the longest in Pirates history and dubious for the Jerry Meals call. Though it was very memorable. It also lasted longer than the Cubs and Yankees game in question.

Yes, many fans do leave the stadium after it gets too late for obligations, and yes it may be tough to play for a dwindling crowd. Though it is a requirement to play the game to conclusion no matter what the number of fans is. Plus, with replay and television people will see what happened even hours later. I would also say teams should love extra innings as it gives them more time to sell food and merchandise to fans. The longer the game goes the more likely fans will get hungry and need to visit the concession stand. Get too cold for an evening game, grab a sweatshirt or blanket from the team store.

Efforts are being made to shorten games. Pitch clocks namely being used to shorten games. Though the not timed game is part of what makes baseball unique.

Looking at a graph from the Onley article I would say the marathon game isn’t the norm. In 2016 34 percent of 185 extra-inning games went 12 or more innings. Only 185 games out of 4,900 or so contests even made extra innings. That’s only 38 percent. In 2015 only 30 percent of extra-inning games went beyond 12 innings. 2014 and 2013 season numbers also average about 35 percent of games entering extras. So even if extras are being played most are ending after 12 and not extending into marathon territory.

The World Baseball Classic, as well as soft ball have a rule placing a runner in scoring position to begin extra innings. This would create more opportunities to conclude the game by driving home that runner. It is an option to be used if things get too bad, but sometimes one swing and its over in the bottom of inning 13. No guarantees that runner scores and the game ends earlier.

As for depleting lineups and injuries that is a concern. The longer you play the more people you have to use and the more stress on player’s bodies. However, players can get injured at any time during any contest. It’s not just an extra innings thing. Having players play longer can also tire them out. However, there is a bench. How the bench is used is a strategy that can make, or break the game. Though both teams are playing equally long and have the same issues to deal with. If tired players are a concern call players up from the minors and give the starters a rest, or use reserves for a day. Breaks are allowed you don’t have to play all 162 games. Maybe schedule a couple minute break in between innings if games get too late.

Though I would say one of the worst things is the idea that a relief corps of specialists can only pitch in certain points isn’t helping. Go your one inning and your toast. Then possibly have to waste a starter in a situation that counts the same as the next day’s game. The idea of having pitchers and firemen may help with this. View my arguments for it here.

Though I would say the biggest supporting issue with ties is close sure. Fans want to know who won and lost. Wins and losses are the front of the standings. Things need to have an ending to satisfy viewers. Wins excite the viewer, losses sadden and ties are ho hum. If baseball doesn’t want to move even more toward ho hum normal rules for extra innings should apply.

 

 

 

 

Superhero Athletes

By S. Samek

April 28th has been designated as superhero day. While many athletes display superhuman playing abilities, there are a few that have become the alters of famed superheroes.

Noah Syndergaard the Mets pitcher is known as Thor. The Mets hurler has fifthly stuff in the form of his fastball and curve ball. Giving the notion that his arm is a thunderbolt.  His blonde hair also look very similar to the hammer wielding Norse God. 

 

AJ Burnett. Pirates fans remember the pitcher’s help to get us into the playoffs. A resurgent Burnett gave the city something to hope for. This hope earned him the moniker of batman. Well that and the shirt and cleats with the bat symbol on them.

Number three on the list is the Iron man Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken known for playing in over 3000 games during his career.  This giving him robot like powers and matching him with Tony Stark.

Matt Harvey dons a similar nickname to Burnett. Harvey goes with the Dark Knight. Named after the successful Batman film franchise. Harvey pitches in New York, on which the fictional Gotham is based.

Moving to football, but staying in the DC universe is a Superman. This moniker is worn by Cam Newton. Newton rocks a man of steel shirt and touchdown dance. Through Newton shares the name with Dwight Howard and Shaq.

How about a whole team of super heroes? While the Mets have a batman and a Thor and even A Captain American in the form of David Wright.

What if the Marvel avengers franchise was an MLB franchise. The Avengers name was one of the choices for nickname for the Mets, but was beat out. Though if NYC is Gotham, why not the justice league as a nickname?

Calvin Johnson rocks the nickname Megatron. Known for his play making ability at the receiver position, Johnson earned the nickname of the most well know transformer.

 

Save the Save

By S. Samek

The hot button statistical topic of Major League Baseball is the save. Just how important is the save. Is it worth saving your so called top relief pitcher for a situation that may never come.

Be hold a new strategy. Andrew Miller gets acquired by the Cleveland Indians at the trade deadline. Miller was acquired to be the Indians shutdown man in the ninth inning closer. When did he enter the game, as early as the fifth inning during the Indians run to the end of October baseball. Then behold the debate on whether or not the closer, or at least the modern one is going to become extinct.

Miller’s role was that of the fireman. The old-school terms for relievers. That came in during a tough situation to put out the fire. Firemen pitched multiple innings with the tightest of leds. The save wasn’t even adopted by the MLB until 1969. The save then gave way to the relief man of the year award solely tabulated on save and win total.

 

Today the best arms are sent into the ninth innings with up to a three-run led for the all-important save. The starters go the six expected or maybe seven innings the turn it over to an 8th inning guy and the closer in the ninth.  It’s a bull pen of specialization rather than get in there and get the guy out no matter what the scenario.

Taking a look at the save requirements. According to the Major league baseball rule book, Saves:
Rule 10.20 in the Official Rule Book states:
Credit a pitcher with a save when he meets all three of the following conditions:
(1) He is the finishing pitcher in a game won by his club; and
(2) He is not the winning pitcher; and
(3) He qualifies under one of the following conditions:
– (a) He enters the game with a lead of no more than three runs and pitches for at least one inning; or
– (b) He enters the game, regardless of the count, with the potential tying run either on base, or at bat, or on deck (that is, the potential tying run is either already on base or is one of the first two batsmen he faces; or
– (c) He pitches effectively for at least three innings. No more than one save may be credited in each game.

 

Seems too easy right. Three run led saves require everyone due up in the inning to score if tied.  Though under conditions 3 b and c the save is much tougher, but still reasonable.

An alternative was given for the stat called the Goose egg. It is a harder save set up more in the old fireman style. A long explanation can be seen here.

Though the first part of the article is about how too many stats are ruining baseball. So why add another one. Why not just change the save requirements and call it a day? Why not just get rid of the save all together?

I advocate for the latter. It promotes the best pitcher pitching to get the outs rather than waiting and wasting your best pitcher on a chance that may never come.

Two I hate the fact that it is such a situational stat. The number of saves a pitcher gets changes based on the number of three and under run wins a team gets. So why are teams aiming to win by less, just for a stat. Granted the stat is a bit of an equalizer as an 80-win team and 50-win team can both have 30 plus save men in a season if the chips fall right. Though the save is exactly that based on how the chips fall. A hit can be all it takes to create, or bust a save. The situation may come 30 times a year or it may come 15. So is the 30 save man better than the 15 save man because of situations beyond each’s control.

If you want to simplify the game why not eliminate a worthless situational stat from the ranks. If that’s not possible maybe go the goose egg route and toughen up the requirements. Better yet let your starters pitch as much as they can and forget the bullpen. Saves need to die if baseball wants to move forward strategy wise.

 

Defense of Goofy Monikers

By S. Samek

I have made it a well-established fact that I am pro unique Minor League Baseball nicknames. While I do favor uniqueness, I do have some grounds when it comes to just being too over the top.  I came across an interesting article on the selection of Minor League names  and I took a look. According the article a test exists to see if a name is ridiculous. It’s based on the how it compares with the Toledo Mud Hens.

My take is that the Mud Hens is a middle of the road if not pedestrian nickname now a days. I would think that it’s a conservative logo that has become more commonly known thanks to the hit show Mash. It ranks right up there with the Durham Bulls as far as iconic minor league teams.

Most of the team names in the minors try to tell a story for the local community.  Others just name them after the major-league affiliate. While this was a tradition in the past the trend is dying. Thankfully this is happening. It really does show a lack of creativity if all your teams are named the Braves. Plus, what if you change affiliations after your PDC is up. Most agreements only last up to four years unless extended, or the team is purchased by the parent club. It seems like a lot of work to work on all new uniforms logos and branding if you’re just going to skip town after two years.

By giving each team a unique brand it stays with the town regardless of affiliations. Giving the town a sense of pride and ownership that it’s the communities team and not just a Major-League Clubs team. The unique names also stand out and give that definite sense of identity. It’s the one and only Blue Wahoo’s against how many other Panthers, Lions and other big cats.

Merchandising is the other big reason I support local unique nicknames. Again, I pick on the Braves system. Most of the teams have the same hat logo with just a letter change, so no real point to collecting them all if you’re not a fan of the Braves. Take that up against a team like The San Diego Padres and their cast of teams from Chihuahuas to Tin Caps and more. I want the goofy hats and unique ones more.  Of the top 25 teams in minor league baseball in merchandise sold in 2016 only three shared the name of a club in the majors.

Giving unique names the edge in moving merchandise and making money for the team.

Though yes sometime names go over the top. In my two most recent rebrand posts I crushed the awful change from New Orleans Zephyrs to Baby Cakes.  It was one example of a bad idea. Though this season also saw a well done rebrand in the form of Binghamton becoming the Rumble Ponies from the Mets.

 Of the 30 plus teams that make up Triple A I would say one name maybe two could be considered over the top. In Double A, I can see five teams getting knocked for crazy monikers. Six out of 60, one out of 10. A .100 batting average for off the wall names in the upper levels of the minors. I’m not totally buying into the it’s all over the top theory of the article in question. I think fun unique names not affiliated with the parent clubs when done right is most effective. It’s a trend that will and should continue.