Pace of play initiatives trying to cut down the time of games

Perhaps you’ve heard that this season’s Arizona Fall League is testing out new pace of play initiatives from Major League Baseball in an effort to speed up the game.

Among the new rules that have been implemented, ones I’d like to focus on are:

* Hitters are required to keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout an at-bat unless there is a foul ball, wild pitch, passed ball, if a pitch forces him out, or the umpire grants “time.”

* For games played at the Salt River Fields, a 20-second pitch clock will be posted in each dugout, behind home plate and in the outfield that will begin when the pitcher gets possession of the ball and stops when the pitcher begins his motion.

That last one has already come under fire as one-time Senator Robbie Ray and former first overall draft pick Mark Appel have already been penalized for pitch-clock violations.

Robbie Ray delivers a pitch with plenty of time still remaining

Robbie Ray delivers a pitch with plenty of time still remaining

Let’s start with an easy question…Is there a problem with how long baseball games take? Maybe.

During the 1988 season, a nine-inning game took an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes. This past regular season the average length of a game had ballooned to 3 hours and 2 minutes (and that’s not mention that nine-inning games this postseason have averaged 3 1/2 hours).

There are many factors why there has been a 17-minute increase over the last 26 years including the innumerable commercial breaks, increased number of pitches per game (136.2 per team in 1988 vs. 144.7 in 2014), introduction of instant replay, and expanded situational specialists out of the bullpen.

Watch any old ballgames on YouTube and you’ll quickly notice the amount of time between pitches is notably shorter. Players step out of the batter’s box but they don’t adjust their batting gloves, helmet, body armor, and cup on each and every pitch. Pitchers don’t walk around the mound composing themselves, go through a series of adjustments as well, and see 40 signs before agreeing to one.

Most of the full games you can find on YouTube are playoffs and World Series contests. So, every pitch really means that much more than a random Tuesday night game in June, but pitches are still generally thrown every ten to 15 seconds.

The rule changes in the AFL are meant to fix these issues or at least contain them to something more manageable. But in watching old games there is one big issue I have seen that causes quite the time delay and I fear will not be addressed.

The frequency new baseballs get put into a game.

Now, the moment a ball hits the dirt on a ground ball, a low pitch, or a pickoff attempt the ball gets thrown out immediately. A new one is thrown in by the ump and the pitcher backs off the rubber, takes his off-hand out of his glove, and rubs the new ball up to work it in a little.

Then, baseballs rarely got replaced unless the pitcher requested a new one or the ump decided it was too marked up. If the ball hit the dirt it wasn’t automatically thrown out.

That being said, my theory is purely observational and anecdotal. I don’t know if anyone has ever done a study on the number of baseballs used today compared to years ago to prove the point. But watch the World Series the next couple of days and tell me an awful lot of time isn’t consumed by umpires throwing in new baseballs. This fairly recent trend in pristine baseballs for each and every pitch is pushing the time of game farther and farther out.

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Picking it Up and Laying it Down

Over the last week and a half, the Senators Grounds Crew ripped up the existing infield grass at Metro Bank Park and laid down a new sod for the 2015 season. Pictures courtesy of the Grounds Crew Facebook page (which you really should “Like”).

mbp sod 1 mbp sod 2 mbp sod 3 mbp sod 4 mbp sod 4a mbp sod 4b mbp sod 5 mbp sod 6 mbp sod 7 mbp sod 7a mbp sod 8 mbp sod 8a mbp sod 9

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The Eastern League Roundtripper: 9/22

Photo courtesy Binghamton Mets

Photo courtesy Binghamton Mets

• Congratulations to the Binghamton Mets who claimed their first Eastern League championship since 1994 with a three-game sweep of the Richmond Flying Squirrels.

Eastern League Year-End Awards
MVP: Steven Moya, Erie
Pitcher of the Year: Henry Owens, Portland
Rookie of the Year: Michael Taylor, Harrisburg
Manager of the Year: Billy McMillon, Portland

Eastern League All-Star Team
Catcher – Elias Diaz, Altoona
First Baseman – Christian Walker, Bowie
Second Baseman – Devon Travis, Erie
Shortstop – Matt Duffy, Richmond
Third Baseman – Niuman Romero, Bowie
Outfield: Dariel Alvarez, Bowie
Outfield: Steven Moya, Erie
Outfield: Michael Taylor, Harrisburg
Utility: Brian Burgamy, Binghamton
Designated Hitter: Reynaldo Rodriguez, New Britain
Right-Handed Starting Pitcher: Adrian Sampson, Altoona
Left-Handed Starting Pitcher: Henry Owens, Portland
Relief Pitcher: Oliver Drake, Bowie

• The New Britain Rock Cats ended twenty years of affiliation with the Minnesota Twins as they signed a new two-year PDC with the Colorado Rockies. The Double-A team reached the Texas League Championship series this past year and has made the playoffs in each of the past three seasons. The move changes the makeup of the Eastern League for the first time since 2003.

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Caleb Clay deserved better from the Angels

clay
On August 9th, the Red Sox and the Angels battled for 19 frames and the Anaheim bullpen was forced to work 12.2 innings.

Needing reinforcements, the Angels called up former Harrisburg Senator Caleb Clay in time for their Sunday game against Boston. This wasn’t a “normal” transaction either as Clay had to also be added to their 40-man roster.

But the Angels never called Clay’s number during the game. Starting pitcher Hector Santiago tossed six shutout innings and the contest was scoreless into the eighth inning. Maybe Anaheim manager Mike Scioscia was reluctant to use Clay in such a high leverage situation. But the Red Sox plated three runs in the eighth and held a 3-1 lead over the Angels into the final frame. Instead of summoning Clay, Scioscia went to newly acquired reliever Vinnie Pestano to mop up the final three outs in the top half of the inning.

That would be the closest Clay came to making his Major League debut. The next day was an off-day for the Angels and the right-hander was ticketed back to Salt Lake City.

Baseball is a business and the Angels didn’t owe Clay anything.

But I thought they might make things right when the rosters expanded at the beginning of September. The Angels did call up four pitchers when the Pacific Coast League ended, but none were Clay.

Admittedly, Clay’s solid season (3.78 ERA, 1.18 WHIP before the call-up) went in the crapper after the disappointing turn of events. He closed his year with four straight losses posting a 7.99 ERA and allowing six home runs. But it would have been a nice gesture by a team that is generally regarded as a first-class organization.

Look at the Red Sox and how they handled another former Senator, Carlos Rivero.

On August 25th, Boston called up Rivero after Xander Bogaerts was forced to the disabled list the day before. Just like Clay, it was the first time Rivero got the call to the majors. The third-baseman made his debut four days later when he was inserted as a pinch-hitter. Rivero didn’t see further action again until 11 days later when he subbed into the game and collected his first Major League hit. By that time Bogaerts had returned and another two position players had been promoted to the Red Sox. But yet, they still had room on the roster for Rivero.

Look at the Texas Rangers. They recently called up shortstop Guilder Rodriguez who has toiled in the minor leagues for 1,095 games and 13 seasons. But in 2014, Rodriguez played only nine games at AAA and posted a rather anemic slashline of .269/.347/.298 for Double-A Frisco. And yet, the Rangers found a place on the expanded roster for Rodriguez because he’s been a great teammate and positive influence for many of their young players.

Yes, the Red Sox and Rangers are out of the playoff race. But the Angels were clearly going to make the playoffs (since they were the first team to clinch a spot this past Monday night). It would have been nice if they could have found a spot for Clay this September.

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Free Agents & Contract Statuses

free-agents-hero
We checked in with Nationals’ director of player development, Mark Scialabba, to find out the contract status of most of the Senators for the 2015 season.

Here’s the list of the impending Nationals’ minor league free agents that have come through Harrisburg during the last couple of years:

Mitch Canham
Paul Demny
Cutter Dykstra *** signed a one-year deal with Nationals for 2015
Paolo Espino
Tyler Herron
Destin Hood
Jeff Howell
Brian Jeroloman
Josh Johnson
Zach Kroenke
Quincy Latimore
Jose Lozada
Scott McGregor
Omar Poveda
Sam Runion
Adrian Sanchez
James Simmons
Oscar Tejada

These players are free to re-sign with the Nationals (like Jeroloman did last season), ink a deal elsewhere (like Caleb Clay), or go the unaffiliated route (like Brian Broderick).

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Here’s a list of familiar Nationals’ players who are still under contract for the 2015 season and beyond. (Year in parentheses denotes the year their contract runs through)

Colin Bates (2016)
Robert Benincasa (2018)
A.J. Cole (2016)
Brian Dupra (2017)
Rob Gilliam (2015)
Brian Goodwin (2017)
Matt Grace (2016)
Ricky Hague (2016)
Bryan Harper (2017)
Neil Holland (2016)
Kevin Keyes (2016)
Pat Lehman (2015)
Cole Leonida (2016)
Rafael Martin (2016)
Danny Rosenbaum (2015)
Jason Martinson (2016)
Richie Mirowski (2017)
Randolph Oduber (2016)
Caleb Ramsey (2017)
Blake Schwartz (2018)
Derek Self (2018)
John Simms (2019)
Matt Skole (2017)
Drew Vettleson (2016)
Austin Voth (2019)

Keep in mind that just because a player is under contract for additional seasons does not guarantee their return to the Nationals. They could still get released, traded or choose to retire.

If there’s anyone I haven’t listed that you want to know about, drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll do my best to answer you.

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Are the Rock Cats looking for a new parent club?

As the minor league season winds down, now is the time of year that many Major League teams assess their affiliates and decide whether to continue the partnership by signing a Player Development Contract or not. The PDC is the agreement that creates an affiliation between the Major League team and the minor league franchise for a period of usually two to four years.

So, what does this mean for the 12 teams of the Eastern League?

Eleven clubs will remain encumbered to their big league counterpart through at least the 2016 season.

2016: Akron (CLE), Erie (DET), New Hampshire (TOR), Richmond (SFG)
2018: Altoona (PIT), Binghamton (NYM), Bowie (BAL), Harrisburg (WAS), Portland (BOS)
2022: Trenton (NYY)
Not Applicable: Reading (team owned by the Philadelphia Phillies)

That leaves one team, the New Britain Rock Cats, in limbo heading into the 2015 season.

new-britain-rock-cats-twins-renew-pdc

This past Saturday night, Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press revealed that the Minnesota Twins were formally opting out of their PDC agreement with the team after a 20-year relationship. Although, it might have just been a procedural move at this point as Minnesota may still end up back with New Britain for another two-year deal.

“We had to do something (by Thursday’s deadline) and we did,” Twins general manager Terry Ryan said Saturday. “We ended up severing. I’m not going to deny. Yeah, we severed, but that doesn’t mean anything. I wouldn’t read too much into that.”

Today is the start of a two-week timeframe when Major League teams can begin negotiations with affiliates that essentially became free agents after their PDC deals expired after this season.

Other than New Britain, there are only four other teams at the Double-A level that are currently without a parent club.

The Tulsa Drillers are the lone team in the Texas League looking for a new major league team. Tulsa had been affiliated with the Rockies and now, by all accounts, appear set to become the Dodgers’ AA farm team.

That would leave three Southern League teams available: Chattanooga, Mobile, and Biloxi. If the Twins prefer one of these locations that would leave either the Rockies, Diamondbacks, or Brewers possibly landing in New Britain which would add yet another National League team to the EL. It would also change the affiliate makeup of the league for the first time since 2003.

9/17 UPDATE: New Britain made it official by announcing their new partnership with the Colorado Rockies. Reportedly, they will keep the Rock Cats name for 2015 and change when they move to Hartford for the 2016 season.

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Ranking the Senators’ MVP – Part IV: The Top 10

As part of our recap of the Senators’ season, an annual tradition around these parts is to list all of the players and where they would rank as the team’s MVP for 2014 by what they contributed to the team’s successes and failures.

If you agree or disagree with any ranking feel free to leave a comment and try and sway my way of thinking.

10. Neil Holland
Over the last two seasons, Holland has become a familiar face on City Island as the sidewinder has made 81 appearances with the Senators. Although this year I’m not sure Holland liked it very much at Metro Bank Park as his ERA was almost three runs better (4.73 vs. 1.82) on the road than at home.

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

Photo courtesy Paul Chaplin / PennLive

9. Jason Martinson
Martinson produced his best season with the glove and arm as the shortstop committed a career-low 15 errors. His defense has become MLB-level, it’s now a matter of his bat catching up. He either needs to hit 40 points higher or double his power numbers to get consideration from the Nationals or any other major league club.

8. Colin Bates
The Tar Heel survived a shaky April and adjusted to Double-A in his first taste of the higher level enough to earn an All-Star appearance. In the past, Bates has thrived at consistently being around the strike zone as he has walked only 63 batters in 306.2 professional innings. There is a worry though that his reluctance to walk guys produces too many pitches getting too much of the plate as evident by opponent’s batting average of .324 OBA and a 2.07 WHIP when he’s behind in the count.

7. Tyler Herron
Herron was good in the first half of the season, but the hard-throwing right-hander was lights out after the All-Star break. The former first round draft pick for the Cardinals improved his command and cut down on hits and walks to post a 0.98 WHIP in the second half. Herron also didn’t give up a home run after allowing four before July 11.

6. Cutter Dykstra
Despite missing time around the All-Star break and at the end of the season, Dykstra still played in 100+ games for the fourth time in his minor league career. He was a sparkplug on offense as he posted a typical Dykstra slashline of .274/.349/.391 with 18 doubles, 49 RBIs, 46 runs, and ten stolen bases. Defensively his arm and range limit him to playing second base moving forward even though he’s logged 181 games at other infield positions.

Photo courtesy Mark Pynes / PennLive

Photo courtesy Mark Pynes / PennLive

5. Kevin Keyes
After Keyes has been stuck in Potomac the last two seasons, a hot start got him promoted to Harrisburg on April 25. Although he’s never going to hit for a high average, Keyes adjusted to Double-A pitching quickly and posted his career-high in home runs (24), RBIs (81), and runs (64). His worst month of the season was easily August (.578 OPS), but up until then he was a main cog in the heart of the Senators’ batting order.

4. Paolo Espino
Espino was anything and everything the Senators needed him to be. Early in the season when he bounced back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation, the former Indians’ farmhand was serviceable. But he really got his feet under him once he was trotted out there every fifth day as evident by his 3.33 ERA since June 21. Espino allowed three runs or less in 12 of his 16 starts.

3. Matt Skole
All season, we kept hearing from Brian Daubach and Doug Harris how difficult it was to miss an entire season. And despite promising signs from Skole in May and June, ultimately they were right as the Georgia Tech product was unable to put together the kind of power numbers he’s been used to in his career. After a disastrous April, Skole pulled his batting average up to a high-water mark of .259 at the All-Star break. Unfortunately, he finished the year on a downturn posting a .201/.335/.354 slashline after that.

2. Quincy Latimore
Latimore probably never thought he’d play in 108 games in the Eastern League in 2014. But after getting signed out of the Atlantic League in mid-April, injuries, promotions, and his stellar play made him a stalwart in the Senators’ lineup. Latimore recorded double-digit totals in doubles, home runs, and stolen bases on the way to the best overall season of his career.

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Frantz / PennLive

1. Michael Taylor
No matter how you measure it, 2014 was a pretty rotten season for the Senators. Taylor, however, made coming to the yard every day worth it. If I was walking around the park, I made sure I could see his at-bats because there was always the sense that he would do something amazing. Taylor finally pulled all of his tools together to post a breakout campaign and one of the best seasons ever by a Senator.

 

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