Wednesday, February 26, 2014

New Home Plate Collision Rule

Not unlike the 'Brady Rule' In football, not being able to hit the
catcher can be called the 'Buster Posey' rule. 
Major League Baseball has come out with the trial version of a rule that prohibits catchers from blocking the plate and prevents runner's from blind siding catchers who are in the base paths. This world will be adopted for the 2014 season on a trial basis and most likely will be tweaked on a case by case basis. The way the ruling is currently worded leaves for it a lot of gray area and interpretation by all parties involved. Depending on the circumstances catchers may or may not block home plate, that runners may or may not be allowed to make contact with the catcher depending on if he has the ball are not, it is up to the umpires personal discretion on how he wants to interpret the rule and if a player is safe but makes questionable contact with a catcher is now out and visa verse.

Home plate is the only base where contact is allowed to be made. A second baseman and shortstop or third baseman cannot block the bag with their leg or body. Why isn't so different at home plate?  Is it because it's a scoring play? Is it because that's the way it's always been?  If the latter is the case that is a pretty weak argument. If a third baseman can put his glove down in front of the base to tag an oncoming runner, one would think that a catcher would be able to have that same skill set to catch a ball and put his glove on the ground. If baseball in so concerned about players being injured on collisions of home plate why not just completely eliminate that option?

Not unlike hockey and the touch vs. no touch icing rule, if it is a matter of player safety then there should be little debate. To a eliminate a play that has little impact on the game itself and protects players from being injured should be a no brainier.

Other than blood lust from archaic fans, runner-catcher collisions serve no real purpose. Not unlike hockey fights there's no real reason. Why have this in the game at all?  Especially in a game that where there is no physical contact having just one particular play that allows for a player to blow up, not an unsuspecting player, but a player in a vulnerable position. Sure catchers wear all sorts of protective equipment, but wearing shin pads will not prevent you from having your leg broken like Buster Posey or Buck Martinez.

Umpires have a hard enough job calling the game properly with the rules they already have in place. Making a new rule with this much room for interpretation and ambiguity, adds personal judgment and the possibility of human error is nothing short of silliness. Based on that you know this must be one of Bud Selig's brainstorms, Putting yet another rule in place that has that much gray area will put even more unnecessary scrutiny on these umpires. The one saving grace is that this season they will have the ability to use instant replay to aid in their calls. That part is very important, too aid in the call.  We have all seen other sports, and even last year on home run calls where the replay will blatantly show something happening and the official will still either refuse to reverse a call more choose not to change a call (sometimes this could be under protest of the system other times it could be out of arrogance or stubbornness). The less guesswork we give these umpires the better.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Atlanta Braves: Locking Up The Core

In a few short years the Atlanta Braves will be leaving their home lovingly known as 'The Ted' aka Turner Field. Turner Field and was built for the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games, it was then transformed into the new home for the Braves the move there from Atlanta Fulton County Stadium aka 'the launching pad'.  Turner Field, named after former owner and a media mogul Ted Turner is owned by the city of Atlanta and is now starting to show its age. By the time the braves moved to their new location it will be roughly 20 years old. Not that old by building standards but the fact that it is not owned by the ball club limits and what they can do in terms of upgrades and what revenue they can generate for themselves. For instance parking and concessions.

It is widely regarded that teams than build their own stadiums will receive and immediate bumping in revenue streams, that higher ticket sales and more people to the park. It stands to reason that if you're making more money you have more money available that can be put toward payroll. With the Braves owning the building in being the primary tenant has seemingly allowed the Braves to open up their wallets this off-season. GM Frank Wren has been given the authority and financial flexibility to identify the young core of the Braves moving forward.  Not only is moving into a new stadium helping their financial commitments, national television money as well as regional TV rights are allowing the braves to up their payroll. It has been a few years, probably not since Ted Turner sold the team to AOL Time Warner that the Braves have been in a position to spend a little more money.

GM Frank Wren and upper management have clearly made in a mandate to lock up their young core of players and haven't already begun that process this off-season. The Braves had three major young arbitration eligible players that they needed to take care of this off-season. In the beginning it and looked like they were going to be a file and a trial team. This basically means the player gave them a number they thought they deserved and the team did the same. A hearing would be held to decide which dumber would be used for the upcoming season. It appear the braves were going to take their chances on one ever the ruling was in each case for a one year deal.

It was then that the report came in that first baseman Freddie Freeman had signed an 8yr $135M contract. Freeman was in the running for NL MVP this past season and is currently only 24 and has now received the richest contract in teams history.  Right now it looks like he used to be tented as the new face of the franchise, ironically enough, taking that title from his good buddy Chipper Jones. After that deal was made and probably realizing that the free agent crop this year was not that deep the Braves came to terms on another in young potential star Jason Heyward on a 2 yr $13M deal.  Heyward is coming off a tough injury plagued season where he was sidelined after an emergency appendectomy for a few weeks, than came back and was inserted at the top the lineup where he and the team thrived during a double digit winning streak. Then an untimely (not that there is ever a good time) pitch to the face that fractured his orbital bone sent him to the DL again.  Because of all the missed time it was hard for the two sides to come up with a good mutual number on a long-term deal. If Heyward is able to stay healthy and produce to the level in which he and the team expects then they can begin to look at a multi-year extension.

At this point the braves surprised many people by turning their focus to one of their young key starters. Braves announced they had signed Julio Teheran to a six-year $32.4 million extension that includes an option for the 2020 season. If the option is exercised, the 23-year-old pitcher will earn $44.4 million over the next seven seasons.  Given the price of any of the top free agent pitchers each year, locking up Teheran now and buying out his arbitration years could potentially be a team friendly contract.  Even though he is young there's still a risk that the team is taking.  One can never predict injuries or drop off in skill when it comes to pitchers.  They're the biggest gamble of all.  Pick correctly and you set yourself up to be a contender for years to come, pick wrong and you have a very expensive player pitching at your AAA affiliate....  Blue Jays and Ricky Romero I am looking in your direction.

It looked like at that point the Braves would be done and have a whole off-season biz is taking care of, except of course the arbitration hearing for young closer Craig Kimbrel. It was thought that Kimbrel would go through the process get a one year deal and then the braves would have to decide how much they were willing to invest in a player who will only pitches one the inning, the ninth.  Sure it is a very important inning, when teams have to decide how important and how much money to allocate to that position.  It is a risky proposition to sign a closer to a big money multi-year deal.  The Braves have decided to take that risk and sign Kimbrel to a four year $42M deal.  Kimbrel has only been in the league for three seasons but has already proven himself to be one of the premier closer's in baseball and has had his name mentioned the last couple of years in both the CY Young and MVP categories.  The Braves are clearly taking your risk on him be able to sustain the level he is currently at.  If he is able to do so he will almost definitely and live up to his once on a  generation player type contract that he signed.  Hopefully for the Braves sake he can do that and not end up like a guy and within an anchor contract that has been given in the past to closer's like Randy Myers, Jonathan Paplebon and perhaps worst of all BJ Ryan.

I like with the Braves have done and have identified their core group and lock them up for the foreseeable future.  Sure they have are taking a risk but based on the age of the productivity and grooves that the players have shown thus far in their development, hopefully the moves will pay off in the long run and keep these guys together as perennial contenders.

To help the Braves keep the same winning message, they have just extended 2 more pieces of their core...on the management side. GM Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez have both come to terms with the team. This is a good sign, stability in a good franchise with a winning culture is key. Confidence breeds confidence and winning breeds winning.

Just as I was about to post this blog word came down that the The Braves have just signed Andrelton Simmons to a 7 yr 58M contract extension. Simmons now joins fellow teammates Freeman, Kimbrel, Teheran being locked up in the Atlanta system and putting them in a position to be in the organization when they make the move to their new stadium in 2017. Simmons is widely regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in the Majors. He also has showed that he has the  ability to impact games with his bat as well. He has very good offensive numbers and can  provide a little bit of pop as well. If he continues to improve as he gains more time this could be a great set up for the Braves over the next 5 years. It is an interesting plan that the Braves have to ensure that this group of guys will get to play and grow together.

The Braves have always been a consistent team but seemingly have constant turn over. With the
majority of their core being so young gives them the unique chance to set their line up as well as give the franchise a good idea of what there payroll will be and what they are able to do with other home grown talent as well as what they can and can not due in terms of  free agency. Sometimes making a big splash with a free agent signing is not nearly as important as the deals you can get done with guys you have drafted and/or developed.

It is interesting to note that former Cleveland Indians executive John Hart, who is now in the front office with the braves was one of the first GM's to utilize the strategy of identifying and wrapping up a core of young players.  Back in the early nineties Hart watched the Pirates lose key players like Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonillia because once they reach to free agency they were too expensive for the small market Pirates to afford. Hart rolled the dice by signing Sandy Alomar Jr. and Carlos Baerga to long-term deals before they were eligible for arbitration. This set the stage for long-term deals that likely kept Omar Vizquel, Jim Thome, Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez in Cleveland longer than if all of these players had been allowed to go through the arbitration process.

The Braves hitter knee identified this strategy as one that they would attempt to do even before hart joined the club but his knowledge and insight clearly help get all parties on the same page.

It will be interesting to see how these players perform going forward but if these players pan out and can form the core that the Braves hope they can they should be able to be in a position to contend each year for a division title and it hopefully also a playoff spot.
Welcome to Braves Country!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Canada Needs Forward Scoring

Defense Wins Championships, but a lack of of Offense can be easily and lose them.

Most people are familiar with clich├ęs in sports.  Giving 100%, one day a time, it is a process and all the rest.Then there is this one that we hear in just about every major team sport, defense wins championships and/or pitching wins championships.  For the most part I will agree with that, however, there is one important piece that it is usually neglected with this statement.  What about offense???

We heard it going into the Super Bowl about the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks.  In this particular case defense did win Seattle a championship.  But one could also argue that it was good offense as the score ended up 43 to eight.  It is nice to say the defense wins championships, but there is also a strong case to be made that a lack of offense can lose a championship.

As a Braves fan over the years I have particularly learned this lesson.  Back in the nineties the Braves had consistently one of the best rotations in all baseball. Hall of Famers like Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz (soon to be).  Of the 14 straight division titles the Braves managed to win but one World Series.  I have no problem with that, they won one ....still more than the Cubs have won.  With that said they had a chance and deserve to win more.  They had the pitching, they did not get the offense when they needed it. It is nice to be able to shut teams down but a 1-0 loss is still a loss.

Even in the women's Canadian Olympic Hockey team, when they wind up playing the U.S. for the gold medal the key will be who can score and maybe more importantly who can score early.  The longer the game against the U.S. goes without a goal the more it favors the U.S. club.  They're young, fast, skilled and have a lot of offensive game breakers who have quick strike ability.  Canada too has the ability to put the puck in the net but the longer they take to do so the more difficult it will be to beat goaltender Jesse Vetter, who seems to always get better and more comfortable as the game goes on. Again shutting down offence is great but the taunt 'SCOREBOARD' still rings loud and clear

Big ice does not necessarily make for big offence
This is what worries me about the Men`s Team Canada at the Sochi Olympics. They have arguably the best defense in the tournament.  Their blue-line can shut down a lot of good teams speedy high end talent.  They're also the ones generating the majority of the offense right now. All except for one game vs. Latvia the forwards have not look good and have failed to produce offensively. Jeff Carter scored a hat trick, that was nice but it was only one game. The biggest worry is, right now is if Doughty, Weber, Keith,and Pietrangelo are not scoring, will any of the forwards step up and pick up the slack.  We have seen it before in international play where Canada will face a team with a hot goalie or suffocating defense that shuts them down and gives them trouble.  If Canada hopes to even get a chance to play for gold let alone win a gold they're gonna have to get production from their forwards. They will still need to play a strong team defense, get quality goal tending but most importantly they need their top and forwards to play like top end players and produce. 

And hey, let's bring all this back to around to yet another cliche. Your best players have to show up and it be your best players. Five of the top 10 scoring leaders in the NHL this year reside on team Canada.  You would like to think that if least one of them will be able to put the puck in the net when it matters.

All we can do now is watch and wait and cheer Go Canada Go!