Saturday, July 08, 2006

Cookin' in Selig's kitchen

(We're covering the Commish for a Day series. Yesterday was hockey. Today is baseball.)

Before I start in with Tom Verducci's article, just a note in passing: the Mets started Jose Lima last night. Just like those old Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom specials, "Sadly, there can be only one outcome." He gave up a grand slam to the opposing pitcher.

OK. My first act as baseball commish for the day: any pitcher who loses his only four starts, permits better than two baserunners and one run scored per inning, and surrenders a grand slam to a pitcher, must immediately become a beer vendor, for the good of the game. These numbers are not those of a professional-grade pitcher. (For that matter, the picture alone is grounds for demotion.)*

2. Kill the DH. It's ridiculous to have half your pro teams play under different rules. It would be like the AFC keeping the two-point conversion but the NFC outlawing it, or the Eastern conference keeping the 3-pointer while the West didn't. And I'm not inclined to add a DH to the NL. We may as well make the managers pretend to work for a living.

3. Kill the save. Wow, you got three outs with a three run lead. Let's give you $7 million a year for five years! Meanwhile, the guy who had the go-ahead run on base with no-one out and kept his team ahead? He gets a "hold" and $500K? What the hell is that? "He got the hold!" Yay, pop the bubbly.

No stat should sound like the manager gives you a cuddle when you reach the dugout. Simple rule - the closer gets a new stat called (duh) the close. The hold becomes the new save - it is considered a save situation, after all. If the set-up guy can't keep the lead he gets a blown save, so why not give him an actual save if he succeeds?

Notice that more than one save can be awarded, and that the closer can also get a save if the end of the game is a save situation. The key change, though, is "save situation" - the trailing team must be able to tie or take the lead during that at-bat. In other words, a two-run lead isn't a save situation unless someone's on base. A five-run lead is never a save situation, even if the bases are loaded with nobody out. And no save will be awarded if the reliever surrenders runs to create the save situation. (In other words, if it's 3-1 and the leadoff guy singles, but you strand him, it's a save - if the leadoff guy homers, you get nothing. You are not rewarded for making your teammates' jobs harder.)

4. Relocation. Baseball does not belong in Colorado. The Coors effect is ridiculous, and there's always one guy who winds up having a freak half-year on the home while being his normal less-than-average self on the road. (This year's Vinnie Castilla Award goes to this nondescript fellow - dig the home/road split. And geez, what's with these player photos?)

The solution? Well, as suggested in the comments here, Buffalo would be a neat place for baseball. I liked the idea of a natural rivalry with Boston, New York, and Toronto, and the symmetry of renaming the Rockies the Alleghanies. I came up with an entire realignment scheme that I'm too lazy to retype.

Then again, looking at it makes me think of something else - if you lose two teams anyway (Florida and Tampa), why not drop to four seven-team divisions?

AL East - Balt, Bos, Buff, Clv, Det, NY, Tor
AL West - Calif, Chisox, KC, Minny, Oak, Sea, Tex
NL East - Atl, Cincy, Cubs, NY, Phil, Pitt, Wash
NL West - Ariz, Hou, LA, Mil, SD, SF, St. L

5. Wild-card woes. First, get rid of the rule that says you can't face the wild-card team in the first round if they're in your division. Second, increase the field to six per league, or 12 of 28 total. In that first round, two best division winners (in the Judge Report alignment) or the two division winners (if we go with the plan above) get byes. The others play a best-of-three series in the better team's home park, on three straight days - as baseball was meant to be played. Then it's best of seven as we're used to the rest of the way.

That would really call up some interesting choices. Do you use one of your top pitchers in the short-series opener? If so, how do you match the rested rotation of your next opponent? It would really make the division win a reward, so teams would always be pushing to move up, even if they were sure of one of the four other playoff spots.

Of course, that's 24 possible playoff games, plus travel - another month. That has to come from somewhere because the Alleghanies can't host November games. SO:

6. Scheduling. First, at least two doubleheaders per stadium per year, by rule. Give the fans some love! Second, trim the number of games from 162 to 156. This would be done easily in the four-division system:

12 games each v. division opponents: 6*12 = 72
6 games each v. other division in league: 7*6 = 42
3 games each v. other league: 14*3 = 42
72+42+42 = 156 games

You'd rotate the interleague home games each year - AL East hosts NL West, visits NL East, and then vice-versa the next season. Every city would see all the stars at least once every two years, without spoiling rivalries in the division races.

With six fewer games and four doubleheaders (the two you host and the two you're visiting for), the season will fit in from April to September and we'll finish the Fall Classic before Halloween.

7. I'm with Tom. He's right, the World Series games have got to start earlier. These games have to be where the younger fans can see them.

8. Nobody loves the ump. The cards are already stacked against them. If they make every call correctly, they're only doing their job. If they screw up once and someone loses, nobody notices anything else. (The worst ref in the world is always the one who just finished calling your game.) So let's help them by giving them a replay system for limited calls - whether a fly left the field for a homer before bouncing back, for example, or a quick look from the centerfield camera to see if the third strike actually hit the ground?**

9. On the other hand... A tough job requires extra panache, and it's in short supply nowadays. These umps are way too touchy. A guy looks cross-eyed at an iffy strike, he gets tossed. This is stupid. I'd retrain every single major league umpire. (And I'd fire Angel Hernandez as an object example.) If an ump can't take a little jabber from a player, he's not major-league material. And the inconsistency is even worse. It's amazing how in some games an obvious beanball war will bust out because the umps didn't do anything, but then in others an accidental grazing after a warning results in ejections.

(The warning itself gets me going, btw. Let's wait for a Tiger to plug a Twin and then warn both benches. Why? What did the Twins do? I have no love for Juiced Cyber Barry, but really, why does he have to duck obvious beanball after obvious beanball before the ump uses his brain and runs the pitcher? Why wait until Bonds finally gets hit and THEN make a big showy deal of it?)

The umps have thin skins covering large egos, and that's a bad deal for all concerned. It hurts the way the game is called, and it hurts the way the game is played. By taking themselves less seriously, they could do a much better job and make everyone happier at the same time.

10. Comprehensive drug testing. The whole world knows it's needed. After the system is proved reliable, we can move to making the penalties more severe, so it's not worth the risk to juice.

11. The All-"Star" Game. No more "every team has to be there" crap. This isn't the Special Olympics, and if your horrible ballplayers don't merit the selection, they are OUT. (If Mark Redman's an All-Star, then Neptune is Club Med.) And to that end, I propose tweaks: first, the voting doesn't begin until June 1, to give people time to see who's off to a good start; second, the players get ten picks and the manager seven to fill the roster up to 25 players, just like the regular season; third, the commissioner gets up to three picks per league, if he chooses (but he must add equally for each league), and fourth, the commissioner may remove any one player from the squad (as long as he wasn't voted in by the fans). Mark Redman? Sorry. Travis Hafner? Come on down!

* During the writing of this post, Sports Center announced that Lima had been designated for assignment. Behold my power! Mua-hahahahaha!

** Yeah, I'm thinking of Pierzynski, that pantload. He was SO out. And in his case it's even worse, since the rule is "dropped third strike." Even if that pitch skipped in, it was caught cleanly, so tough on you, AJ. And you're not an All-Star either, no matter what this says.

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