Old Ross Radbourn Gets His 60th Win Back

I was scanning the baseball content on Twitter today when I came across an unexpected announcement about a change in one of Major League Baseball’s most unbreakable records: Old Ross Radbourn is getting back a victory that had been taken away from him years ago.

Well, that caught my eye. They were giving Radbourn back his 60th pitching win for the 1884 Providence Greys? Giving him back his original record, a record that won’t be broken since the most starts any pitcher had last year was 35?

I love the work the Society for American Baseball Research members conduct on the history of the game. This revision is yet another example of how SABR members give back to the game through their passion for its history.

The change comes from the fact that Major League Baseball did not have a standard rule for awarding pitching wins until 1950. It was only then did a starting pitcher have to pitch at least five innings in order to become eligible for earn a victory. Prior to that, official scorers had more latitude. And now we are going back to the how the rules were written at the time, as Sports Reference’s Alex Bonilla explains:

Miller was indeed the correct winner if you applied the 1950 rule, since he pitched 5 innings and left with a lead. However, Radbourn pitched 4 shutout innings and was more effective. Practice in the 1880s allowed for the more effective pitcher to be deemed the winning pitcher, per Pete Palmer. While Williams originally concluded that Miller was the correct winner of this game (giving him 59 wins on the season), he has recently concluded that using practices of the time Radbourn is the correct winner, and therefore has 60 wins in 1884.

It’s an important change, and not only because of how one of Twitter’s great parody accounts reacted:

But seriously, I believe there is great value in knowing the often indirect path institutions take to make their determinations. The why behind a rule or decision is often lost to history, even though I feel it’s often at least as important as the result.

Knowing that history tells us a great deal about what was valued at the time the rules were made. We also can learn about how institutions change, and it is often valuable to re-examine the evidence and not just rely upon assumptions that we can bake into our thinking as time passes.

So here’s to Old Ross Radbourn getting back a victory. It took decades for him to get that 60th win back.

My 2019 Major League Baseball Predictions

2019 Major League Baseball Predictions

Major League Baseball’s Opening Day (in the United States) has almost arrived. The long wait for a new beginning is nearly over.

Thank goodness.

I miss this sport so much when it is gone. And I count on it, as former Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti explained in his classic essay, The Green Fields of the Mind.

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.

I miss the ritual of the game when it’s gone. My Spring Training weekend in Mesa, Arizona, the first weekend of this month gave me a taste. It’s fun to watch the workouts in the morning and then go to some games to see our favorite players and then, in the later innings, the younger talent have their shot.

But starting Thursday, every day’s pitches, at bats, and games will count. So this seems like the best time for me to go on the record with predictions for how the season will go. Spoiler alert: I like the Chicago Cubs’ chances.

National League:
East Champion: Washington Nationals
Central Champion: Chicago Cubs
West Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers
Wild Cards: Philadelphia Phillies, St. Louis Cardinals

American League:
East Champion: New York Yankees
Central Champion: Cleveland Indians
West Champion: Houston Astros
Wild Cards: Boston Red Sox, Los Angeles Angels

World Series: Chicago Cubs defeat the New York Yankees in six games. (If not the Cubs, I suspect the Washington Nationals will make it happen in the National League.)

Player Award Predictions:
NL MVP: Kris Bryant (Chicago Cubs)
AL MVP: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees)
NL Cy Young: Noah Syndergaard (New York Mets)
AL Cy Young: Trevor Bauer (Cleveland Indians)
NL Rookie of the Year: Victor Robles (Washington Nationals)
AL Rookie of the Year: Eloy Jimenez (Chicago White Sox)

Welcome back, baseball. It’s great to have you back and have a daily reason to return to, as Giamatti wrote, “a green field, in the sun.”

The Best Part: the Owners and Players are Talking

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that Major League Baseball owners and players have agreed to a variety of rule changes for implementation over the next couple of years. But as he notes, the most important part of this agreement may be that labor and management are finally talking after years of increasing disagreements between the two sides.

Spurred by labor relations discord amid a second consecutive free-agent market that has left players disappointed, the mid-collective-bargaining-agreement negotiations represent a step forward between two sides that had squabbled privately and publicly. Perhaps the most important part of the deal isn’t the elimination of August trades, the tweaking of All-Star Game starter selections, the incentives for stars to participate in the derby, the elimination of one-out relievers or the addition of a 26th player next year. It’s the provision that the sides will begin discussing labor issues imminently, far earlier than they typically would with a CBA that doesn’t expire until December 2021.

Baseball has grown dramatically since the 1994-95 strike that devastated the game and ended up with the cancellation of the 1994 World Series (the first time it wasn’t played since 1903).

Much of the pace-of-play concern stems from worry that fans aren’t willing to sit through or watch long games in a world where everyone has more content options. But let’s be clear: a strike or lock-out would do far more to hurt baseball than a pitcher taking longer than 20 seconds to deliver a pitch to the plate.

The owners and players need to figure out how to address the real economic issues facing the sport without a strike or lockout. They cannot take the risk that people will permanently find other ways to spend their time or money if baseball goes away.

I’ll share thoughts on the rule changes after Major League Baseball officially announces them later today.

Chicago Cubs Launch Updated YouTube Channel

The Chicago Cubs today launched an updated YouTube Channel full of new content this fan found quite compelling. I’m glad to see the award-winning Cubs Productions team continue its impressive run.

As the new trailer shows, the Cubs are going to offer a variety of features from reviews of key moments, interviews with Cub favorites, Top Ten lists, segments with Cubs players and staff mic’d up, and other fun features.

I immediately watched the first episode of The Breakdown, a look at one of the top moments of the 2018 season: David Bote’s ultimate grand slam against the Washington Nationals.

This clip includes interviews with Bote, manager Joe Maddon, and the other players who got on base ahead of Bote to make the game-winning home run possible.

We get to hear the players’ insights into how they approached their at-bats during this key inning, including what kinds of pitches they thought they might see and how their history against the Nationals pitcher impacted their thinking as they tried to focus on keeping the game alive.

The feature is just over 10 minutes long, but that time went by quickly as we see how that inning developed. I got the chills again seeing Bote’s swing and his celebratory run around the bases.

Like other fans, I anticipate that the Cubs will be using this new YouTube channel to see what kinds of content work best as the team prepare for the launch of the new Marquee Sports Network in 2020.

MLB and Atlantic League Announce Experimental Rule Changes for 2019 Season

We are going to see some aggressive new ideas in the Atlantic League this season as part of that circuit’s partnership with Major League Baseball. The rules changes include:

  • Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system
  • No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues
  • Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured
  • Increase size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square
  • Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball)
  • Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45
  • Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or slope

Some of these I expected. Reducing mound visits, restricting defensive shifts, and requiring pitchers to face three batters have been suggested at the Major League level as part of the ongoing conversations about improving the pace of play.

I didn’t expect to see robot umpires or moving the pitching mound back two feet. That said, this is why I was excited when MLB and the Atlantic League announced this partnership: it is a great way to test the impact of some of the more radical ideas to get a feel for how they would impact the game.

A Smarter Way to Add the Designated Hitter

Alas, it is looking almost certain that the National League will add the designated hitter rule within the next few years.

The pressure to do so is coming from too many quarters to ignore. Many observers now argue it is time for the rules to be uniform across the sport. The Major League Baseball Players Association reportedly suggested it as part of a series of rules changes to consider as part of the ongoing pace-of-play conversation.

If the players want it, it’s almost certainly going to happen. The only question now is when.

I’ve always preferred the National League because it does not have the Designated Hitter. One of the reasons I ended up rooting for the Chicago Cubs despite living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan as a kid was this difference between the two leagues. The nearby American League teams (Detroit Tigers and Milwaukee Brewers) played a different brand of baseball from what I preferred. Once my family subscribed to cable, and I had access to WGN’s season-long coverage of National League Cubs games that mostly started during the day, my fandom was secured.

Forcing managers to decide when to make lineup and pitching changes as the pitcher’s turn in the batting order comes up is one of the aspects of the game I find most interesting to watch. Who is thinking ahead? How are managers utilizing their bench? Can the pitcher at least lay down a decent bunt (which is still a difficult skill facing a major leaguer)?

The Designated Hitter as implemented in the American League removes a significant part of this strategy from the game. But this isn’t the only way to implement it.

In 2014, Ryan Morrison explained his idea for a hybrid path forward: having the Designated Hitter only apply to the starting pitcher.

If we are to have a universal DH, this is by far the best solution I’ve seen for it. It keeps the late-game strategy I love a part of the game. And it provides a way to help solve another challenge facing the sport today, the decreased emphasis on starting pitching.

ESPN’s Buster Olney summed up several of the issues the increased emphasis on relief pitchers creates:

Major league baseball desperately needs to get off the growing front-office addiction to relief pitchers, which is helping to destroy important components of the game.

Among those: the essential pre-eminence of starting pitchers, who need to be marquee-worthy not only for the teams and their marketing departments but also for the players’ union; the scoring of runs by means other than a home run; and batters making contact and putting the ball in play.

Buster Olney

While I disagree with his proposed solution to limit the number of pitchers managers can use in each game, I think Morrison’s designated hitter proposal would help solve many of the problems Olney identifies, but in a way that adds to the strategy of the game.

The universal Designated Hitter is coming. It makes no sense to continue to ignore it or hope we won’t see the National League rules change. But there are opportunities to implement the change in a way that keeps the late-game strategy in place, provides more jobs to players, and helps to reinstate starting pitching to the level of prominence it deserves.