The Resigning Derek Jeter Debate

October 25, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Babe Ruthless.

It will be an interesting offseason for Yankees’ fans. While I’m sure many of them are currently weeping and gnashing teeth at their ALCS exit and spotty bullpen, a potentially more significant decision looms on the horizon for the Bronx Bombers.

The face of the franchise, Derek Jeter, just completed the final year of a 10-year, $189M contract. General manager Brian Cashman and the boys will be doing a lot of soul-searching over this off-season to find the right contract to keep Jeter in pinstripes without damaging the franchise’s financial ability to acquire more high-priced talent.

Thankfully, we at the Sports Debates are here to help the Yankees’ front office. We will debate the question of whether or not Jeter deserves a similar contract to his last one, a contract that pays tribute to his consistent on-field production as well as his stature as one of the greatest Yankees of all time, or a smaller contract tied to the fact that he is a 36-year-old playing a position often reserved for younger ballplayers.

Babe Ruthless will be arguing that Jeter deserves another big contract because of everything he has given and continues to give the Yankees franchise. Loyal Homer will argue that Jeter deserves a smaller contract due to his age and some aspects of his play. May the best man win!

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The Biggest Choke Ever Debate… Hardly a Comedy of Errors

May 21, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Loyal Homer.

Bill Buckner didn’t choke. He committed an error, nothing more. His error was costly, and Red Sox Nation had to wait nearly 20 years after that error before finally seeing a World Series championship. But it was still just a single error on a single play.

The Red Sox still had a full game AFTER that error to recover and win the series, but the better team ultimately prevailed.

As unfortunate as the 1986 World Series was for fans of the Boston Red Sox, they did not lose it because Buckner missed one single ground ball.

Now, a CHOKE in sports is something entirely different than that example. A choke does not hinge on one moment, especially in a seven-game series. When the same two teams are pitted against each other until one of them can win four games, one single play does not define a series.

If you want to talk about choking in the World Series, you need to look for a situation where the losing team had MULTIPLE opportunities to win, but ultimately failed – every time. A REAL choke in the World Series is one where a team REPEATEDLY sets itself up for success, only to stumble every single time.

As evidence, I submit to you the 1997 Cleveland Indians.

Just as hard luck a team as the Boston Red Sox, the Indians carried a lead into the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the 1997 World Series, and STILL lost to the Florida Marlins. Unlike the Red Sox, though, the Indians can’t point to a single unfortunate moment in the 1997 series and bemoan that as the reason their downfall. The entire series was LOADED with downfalls.

The Fall Classic of 1997 played out as a cavalcade of blown chances for the Indians. For starters, they held the lead in EVERY SINGLE GAME of the series. That’s right, the Cleveland Indians lost four times out of seven games, even though they held the lead in each game.

In game one, it was a four-run fourth inning that did the Tribe in, eventually losing that game 7-4.

In game three the Indians led 7-3 going into the sixth inning before giving up two runs in the sixth, and two more in the seventh. Still, they stood tied with the Marlins entering the ninth inning. During their half of the ninth the Indians even managed to score four runs, but it wasn’t enough. Why? Because they gave up seven to the Marlins, thanks to not one, but THREE costly errors. They lost 14-11.

In game five it was another four-run inning, this time in the sixth, which was the Indians’ undoing. They lost 8-7.

Still, despite all those FAILURES, the Indians somehow led in game seven – only three measly outs away from a World Series championship – when the team’s trusty closer, Jose Mesa, was walking to the mound.

Florida’s Moises Alou hit a single to lead off the inning… still no big deal, right?

Then Bobby Bonilla struck out… two outs away!

That was as close as the Indians would get. After Bonilla’s strike out, Charles Johnson singled, moving Alou over to third base. Then, Craig Counsell hit a sac-fly that scored the runner and tied the game. Two innings later, thanks to (surprise) ANOTHER error, the Marlins were celebrating a championship in only their fourth year of existence, while the Indians were sent home as losers.

In all, the Indians gave up TEN runs in the ninth inning or later, eight of which came off of FIVE errors. They led in all seven games of the series, including holding a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning in game seven. Yet, they still lost the Series.

Now THAT’S a choke!

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… A Royal All-Star Game?

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

Another season, another desperate promotional crawl toward the MLB All-Star game this July. And, of course, if you promote something enough through various media outlets then it simply MUST be important, right? That’s the only possible explanation. Well, if that’s the rule you live by, I hope you’re enjoying your Furby and Pet Rock. I have some GREAT Snake Oil I’d like to sell you, too.

Too often sports marketing becomes about repetition of message and not quality of product. No example better illustrates this fact like Major League Baseball’s promotion of All-Star voting for fans. Fans are asked after a short three weeks of actual baseball to vote on which players deserve to play in the All-Star game – you know, that game that decides home field advantage for the World Series. Sure, it is an exhibition game, but it is also a game designed to award the best league with home field advantage. Are you ready to pick those players in April, knowing full well that those players might be deciding if your team gets home field advantage in the World Series? I know I’m not.

This debate depends entirely on context. What is the context for the fans voting in the All-Star game? Are fans expected to pick the best players across the league to represent their preferred league in the All-Star game? Or, are fans simply voting for their favorite players? It seems that there is a substantial disconnect here. Fans are voting based on popularity in the current structure. Allowing fans to vote after three weeks of actual games is absurd because fans have very little sample size to go off of. The kicker is, of course, that the All-Star game is a game fans and players alike want to win.

So, to recap. Fans want to vote for their favorite players early and often. A smaller faction of fans, coaches, and players want to win the game to secure home field advantage in the World Series… a goal that the best players are required to accomplish. The equation simply does not add up, and the early voting perpetuates the problem. Any democratic situation requires the electorate be informed, but in this case the electorate is misinformed with bad information with a small sample size.

Popularity dictating the vote does not seem to make sense, then, because, popular players are not always the best players. And, the inverse is true also in that the best players are not always popular. The problem is, the best players a few weeks into April will not be the best players still after June 1. Consider this very real scenario, folks. If voting were ended right now here is a likely starting lineup for both sides:

American League
1B Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
2B Robinson Cano, New York Yankees
3B Ty Wiggington, Baltimore Orioles
SS Yuniesky Betancourt, Kansas City Royals
LF Scott Podsednik, Kansas City Royals
RF Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians
CF Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners
C Joe Mauer, Minnesota Twins
P Francisco Liriano, Minnesota Twins
DH Vladimir Guerrero, Texas Rangers

National League
1B Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals
2B Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves
3B Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
SS Ryan Theriot, Chicago Cubs
LF Andre Ethier, L.A. Dodgers
RF Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs
CF Michael Bourn, Houston Astros
C Ivan Rodriguez, Washington Nationals
P Mike Pelfrey, New York Mets
DH Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Do those lists showcase the best talent in MLB, across the board, that is most deserving of an All-Star game apperance? No. Some of the players deserve recognition, but many will likely fade after the adrenaline of April wears off. And frustrated All-Star managers will be left holding the bag. I mean, do the Royals REALLY deserve that much All-Star attention? As a business issue – are fans going to PAY to see the stars from ROYALS? No, but then we’re back at the popularity scenario where the best players are not guaranteed a roster spot. The entire conundrum can be avoided easily if fan voting does not begin until a reasonable amount of baseball has been played.

Plus, if the World Series home field advantage depends on this game, why aren’t the selected managers able to build the type of club they want in order to win the game? Taking fan voting completely out of it, there is potentially a great deal at stake. It doesn’t make sense to put every manager in a difficult situation by forcing underqualified players on them in a playoff series that is a must win should their team reach the World Series.

If fans must be included in the voting, at least recognize that there is no baseball value in beginning the vote this early. It is an effort to pander to fans – an effort I find both insulting and useless. There are some aspects of the game that should be taken seriously, like contracts and championships. Opening the vote even earlier to fans makes a mockery of contracts by triggering All-Star incentives in contracts for players that do not deserve them, and by forcing less skilled players on managers charged with the responsibility of winning a game.

Allowing fans to vote at all is enough. Opening the vote up after three weeks into the season just stuffs the roster with questionable players and works against the goal of the game being taken seriously. Restore pride in the All-Star game… or just don’t bother.

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The Early MLB All-Star Voting Start Debate… Never Too Soon For All-Stars

April 29, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

It is never too early to starting voting for in players for the All-Star game!

It is called the All-Star game for a reason, because the rosters are comprised of stars. I know… the concept is simply mind boggling, isn’t it!? But, I digress. Since the singular requirement to be on the team is that a player be designated by the fans as an All-Star, one might ask the question, “What constitutes an All-Star?” The answer is quite simple –virtually any criteria that you can think of.

The term All-Star is defined uniquely by each voter. Some fans vote for their favorite players, regardless of current performance, while other fans vote for players they think are having the best seasons. And if you are like Babe Ruthless, you vote simply for the Yankees for every position on the AL ballot and the weakest players on the NL ballot, because after all home field advantage in the World Series is on the line (whether you like it or not). There really are no wrong ways to define the term All-Star, unless you are referring to any member of the Boston Red Sox.

It is because of this flexibility in the definition of the term All-Star that I feel I have unquestionably won today’s debate. If you can determine who the All-Stars are using any criteria you desire, then there can certainly be no date too early to start voting. Surely my logic driven friend, Sports Geek, can see that (Editor’s note: He can’t.).

I will concede the point that if I were going to vote for the best all around players in baseball it seems a tad early, but the ballot is not a one and done deal. Fans may vote up to 25 times per email address. The current voting system allows fans ultimate responsiveness to the current performance of players. A fan could almost vote twice a week based on player performance. So it is not as if anything is lost in starting the balloting process at this point in the season.

Having an overwhelming fan influence in the All-Star game is actually a claim to fame for MLB. Last season MLB collected an astonishing number of votes, more than 223 million. That overwhelming total is due in no small part to the use of Internet balloting, but it still shows that there are ravenous baseball fans out there eager to have their voices heard. Who is to say that their opinions are any less valuable at the beginning of the season? If they want to vote for a player who is having a surprisingly hot start, like the Chicago White Sox’s Andruw Jones or the New York Mets’ Mike Pelfrey, then let them. Or if they want to vote for former All-Stars that are not exactly performing at the top of their game, like the New York Yankees’ slugger Mark Teixeira (selected in 2005 and 20009) or the Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Raul Ibanez (selected in 2009), then that is certainly their prerogative.

Baseball remains America’s pastime and in my opinion the most patriotic of all sports, with the one possible exception being competitive terrorist waterboarding. It is only fitting that the most patriotic of American sports include so much democratic choice, and so much freedom. It may not be necessary to open the All-Star voting now, but there certainly is not something fundamentally wrong with it either. It does nothing to harm baseball. In fact it has sports blogs and media sources around the country abuzz with discussion of the topic, and that, my friends, is free exposure.

So, here’s to you Bud Selig, for opening the ballots early enough to keep us all interested in baseball. You are my write in candidate for All-Star this season.

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The Best Infield of the Modern Era Debate – Good Cannot Compete With Great

March 16, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

In an article published last week, Philadelphia Inquirer Sports Columnist Bill Conlin claimed that the Philadelphia Phillies infield of third baseman Placido Polanco, shortstop Jimmy Rollins, second baseman Chase Utley, and first baseman Ryan Howard is potentially the greatest infield of baseball’s modern era. He then follows that claim up with an open invitation to solicit opposing arguments.

Don’t mind if I do!

I could POSSIBLY accept that they are the best infield in the game today (although Conlin himself points out the 2009 World Series Champion New York Yankees infield of Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Mark Teixeira as being worthy challengers to that claim). I could also accept an argument that they are AMONG the best infields of the modern era. But that is as far as I am willing to go.

In response to Conlin’s very bold statement, which eliminates those qualifiers, I offer three simple words: Big. Red. Machine.

Career Comparisons

Polanco, Rollins, Utley, and Howard may be good, but when compared to the Cincinnati Reds infield of 1975 and 1976 they may as well be the Bad News Bears.

The names of the four Reds infielders during those seasons are probably enough to win this debate:

1B – Tony Perez (Hall of Fame, 7x All-Star)

2B – Joe Morgan (Hall of Fame, 10x All-Star, 5x Gold Glove winner, 1x Silver Slugger, 2x League MVP)

SS – Dave Concepcion (9x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove winner)

3B – Pete Rose (SHOULD BE in the Hall of Fame, 17x All-Star, Rookie of the Year, 2x Gold Glove winner, 1x Silver Slugger, 1x League MVP, MLB’s all time hit leader)

Compare those totals to the current Phillies infield, which has only 10 All-Stars, eight Gold Gloves, seven Silver Sluggers, one Rookie of the Year, and two League MVPs.

With all due respect to the Phillies’ infield today, they have a very long way to go before they can consider their collective careers on par with four legends.

Season-Specific Hitting Statistics

Conlin uses the hitting statistics of the four Phillies infielders to justify his claim of “best infield.” Using the very same criteria he selected, let’s compare the results of the 1975 Reds, 1976 Reds, and the 2009 Phillies. (Note that Placido Polanco’s 2009 stats were actually earned while with the Detroit Tigers).

1975 Reds
In 585 total games in 1975 the Reds infield combined for 2,178 at-bats and amassed 656 hits for a combined batting average of .301. They scored 355 runs, and racked up 326 RBI, 125 doubles, 14 triples, 49 homeruns, and 101 stolen bases. Each player also earned an All-Star selection, Morgan and Concepcion were awarded Gold Gloves, and Morgan was also named League MVP.

1976 Reds
In 594 total games the same four players combined for 2,240 at-bats, 665 hits, and an average of .297. They scored 394 runs, knocked in 334 runs, and hit 132 doubles, 24 triples, 65 homeruns, and notched 100 stolen bases. Once again, each player earned an All-Star selection, Morgan and Concepcion were awarded Gold Gloves, and Morgan was also named League MVP.

2009 Phillies
In 624 total games, Polanco, Utley, Rollins, and Howard combined for 2,477 at bats, 677 hits, and a batting average of only .273 (compared to .301 and .297 for the Reds). They scored 399 runs, knocked in 383 runs, and hit 139 doubles, 17 triples, 107 homeruns, and only 69 stolen bases. Only Howard and Utley were named as All-Stars, Utley also earned a Silver Slugger Award, and only Rollins and Polanco earned Gold Gloves.

What do these statistics reveal?

The current Philadelphia infielders – who last season combined for at least 30 more games played than did the 1975 or 1976 Reds – had a lower batting average and only 12 more hits than the (1976) Reds, five more runs, 49 more RBI, seven more doubles, and seven fewer triples.

Make no mistake, the 2010 Phillies offense has the potential to put up phenomenal numbers. But they have much to improve upon if they hope to compete historically with the Big Red Machine.

What Matters Most

At the end of the day, only one thing matters – winning. That is something Cincinnati’s infield of the mid-1970s was able to accomplish at will. During the 1975 and 1976 seasons, the Reds went on to win a combined total of 210 out of 324 games (a win percentage of .648), all en route to TWO World Series Championships.

That is the bar that has been ultimately set by the Reds, and THAT is the standard to which the Phillies must be compared.

The infield of the 2010 Philadelphia Phillies cannot yet match the collective career achievements, in-season production, or (most importantly) the wins of the 1975-1976 Cincinnati Reds. History may prove otherwise, but for today, Mr. Conlin, “the BEST of the Modern Era” is a claim that the 2010 Phillies cannot make.

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The MLB Playoff Expansion Debate – 5 Games Are Not A True Test of Endurance

February 3, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Bleacher Fan.

Just like the cliché about life, the MLB season is not a sprint, but a marathon. It is one of the most grueling tests of endurance in all of professional sports. Teams play 162 games over a six month period. The ultimate goal, the finish line (if you will), is in my opinion the most sacred of all championships in sports – the World Series. The World Series itself is a reflection of the epic journey through the regular season, which earned the winning team a spot in the playoffs when the process began. It is a best of seven series that ensures the winner is not decided by random luck or happenstance, but rather by skill and ability to win at both home and away demonstrated over a minimum of four games. The World Series is not the only seven game series of the MLB playoffs. The American and National League championship series are also best of seven contests. Yet, for some strange reason, the division series remains the only aspect of the playoffs which is a best of five series. While I am usually a baseball purist who clings to tradition, I know that in this instance it is time for a change. Major League Baseball should expand the first round of the playoffs to a best of seven series.

First of all, a five game divisional series is not an accurate tool for measuring a team’s worth. I am not alone in this belief. Many noted coaches and players, such as Bobby Cox, John Smoltz, and C.C. Sabathia, have expressed their criticism of a five game division series. Similarly Joe Torre articulated his frustration with the validity of a five game series, stating, “I’ve always thought that if you’re good enough to win your division, or even to reach the playoffs, it’s not right to have the chance to get blown out in a three-of-five series.” And he should know a little something about the playoffs, seeing as how he has won the league championship series more than any another manager.

Aside from lacking consistency with the rest of the postseason, it just does not make sense. Opponents of postseason expansion argue that there is no difference between winning three games in a best of five series and winning four games in a best of seven series. But, here are huge differences.

A short division series rewards the wrong achievements. A best of five contest places too much emphasis on what could potentially be a fluke three games. If a wild card team lucks into a win in game one of a best of five series, then they have basically removed any advantage that the other team that won their division outright had established. Each team would have two games at home and two games away. Does baseball really want to reward wild card teams that much? A short series should not be able to undermine the accomplishments of the 162 regular season games that got the team to the playoffs in the first place.

A short series also overvalues pitching. A team with three ace type pitchers can hide their weaknesses in such a short series. We all know pitching wins championships, but it should not be the only important aspect of the game. If that is the case the playoffs become little more than a high profile pitching clinic.

The call to expand the five game series cannot simply be dismissed as a passing fad or whim. Historically, MLB has favored seven game series. In 1985 the NLCS and ALCS expanded from a best of five series to a best of seven series. Hmmmm. If we learned that a best of five series was not right then what seems to be the hold up now?

While it is true that trying to establish a system that makes everyone happy is virtually impossible, expanding the first round of the playoffs to a best of five game series is a great step in the right direction.

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The MLB Playoff Expansion Debate – The Numbers Don’t Lie

February 3, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The current Major League Baseball postseason format is perfect. Do not change a thing!

In posing the question about whether or not MLB should expand the first round of its playoff series from five games to seven, Loyal Homer raises several very interesting points. The first of which being that expansion of the League Division Series (LDS) from five to seven games would extend the season into November.

I have news for everyone – the MLB postseason ALREADY extends into November!

Last year, the final game of the World Series was played on November 4, with a seventh game that was scheduled after that if needed, and that was in a season where none of the Division Series reached game five, and no game sevens were played in the championship or World Series. Just imagine how late the season would have run if there had been full-length series. If you REALLY want to play baseball later into November, then a better solution is to delay the start of baseball so the league is not contending with April snowstorms in much of the northern United States.

A second, and much more important point raised in the introduction, though, is that a five-game series gives a potential advantage to the “underdog.”

This statement completely misrepresents the REALITY that is a five-game series.

The premise behind this argument is that the “better” team is at a disadvantage because they have fewer opportunities to win games. There is a flaw in that logic. The “better” team is not the one that statistically SHOULD win the game. The “better” team is actually the one that DOES win the game. If a team can only win a series because of how they play in games six and seven, are they REALLY a better team?

In 2006, the St. Louis Cardinals (who BARELY reached the postseason with a record of 83-78) faced off against the San Diego Padres (88-74), New York Mets (97-65), and Detroit Tigers (95-67) during their World Series championship run. CLEARLY the Cardinals were the underdog in EVERY series they played, yet it was the Cardinals who went on to claim the World Championship.

I do not care how well the Padres, Mets, and Tigers played during the regular season, the Cardinals were UNDOUBTEDLY the better team when it mattered most – ON THE FIELD! Not only did the Cardinals win a five-game series against a slight favorite, they managed to defeat two HEAVY favorites in full seven-game series. It is impossible to argue that the Padres were a better team than the Cardinals, and that they would have won the series if it had gone to seven games… but they could not even make it to FIVE games!

As further proof that the “better” team will win in a five-game series just as often as in a seven-game series, look no further than the last 20 years of baseball postseason history.

Since 1990, Major League Baseball has seen a total of 120 different playoff series take place. Half of those series were scheduled for only five games (four different five-game series each year since the inception of the LDS in 1995), and the other 60 series were scheduled for seven games (two different LCS’s and a World Series each year). Here are some statistics from those series:

League Division Series

  • Out of 60 possible five-game series, there have only been 13 Game Fives. That means that 78% of the time, the series ends by a 3-1 or 3-0 margin.
  • Out of 60 possible series, nearly half have ended in 3-0 sweeps (25 total)
  • Out of 20 possible series since 2005, there has only been ONE Game Five (Angels vs Yankees in 2005)

League Championship Series/World Series

  • Out of 60 possible series, there have been only been 14 Game Sevens.
  • Out of 60 possible series, the first team in the series to win three games (the ‘would-be’ winner of a five-game series) went on to win the seven-game series 51 times.

Analysis of those facts leads to two key conclusions.

First, because it is extremely unlikely for a team to come from behind in a seven-game series when trailing by a margin of 0-3 or 1-3, and 47 of the first 60 five-game series ended either 0-3 or 1-3, it is highly unlikely that a team which lost in each of those series would have come back to win, had they been scheduled for seven games.

Second, in all of the seven-game series in Major League Baseball that have played out over the last 20 years, 85 percent of them ended in exactly the same manner they would have if the series had only played out over five games.

These statistics all prove the exact same thing – whether five games or seven, the same (better) team would win nearly ALL of the time.

In fact, based on the information above, it looks like Major League Baseball could actually SHORTEN all of their current seven-game series to only five games, because of the statistical irrelevance that games six and seven usually have.

Are there ways to improve baseball? Definitely. Expanding the LDS from five games to seven is not the answer, though.

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