Talking Baseball

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Posted by Jon on Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Vote ‘Yes’ on Questec

Baseball umpires in Major League Baseball really need to chill out and stop complaining about Questec. The system was created first and foremost to put a check on umpiring crews in Major League Baseball who have faced no consequences for poor officiating for as long as you’ve been buying those peanuts and crackerjacks.

Umpiring in America’s other main sports is evaluated: in the NFL, the best umpires are promoted to the playoffs, while the ones who blow the important calls are reprimanded publicly and fined, if not suspended or fired (just ask Tom White). Why should the umpires in baseball, the sport that relies on the judgment of officials as a part of the game, be allowed to repeatedly affect games negatively without consequence?

I remember the playoffs of 1999, when Knobby “tagged” Jose Offerman between first and second. I’m not saying it effected the outcome of the series, or even the game, but I was pissed off! How can Major League Baseball have no recourse against umpires who repeatedly influence games due to poor calls or lack of hustle?

The obvious argument is that umpiring, good and bad, has always been a part of the game. To the traditionalists I ask, why? I concede that the strike zone has rarely been consistently umpired, even way back when. But the implementation of the Questec system is less about reforming the strike zone, and more about MLB trying to gain influence over the umpires’ union. I applaud Major League Baseball for going ahead and attempting to correct inconsistencies that, while a part of the game, could be diminished.

In addition, with official replay analyses becoming a trend (the NHL has been using a system of replays to determine whether goals are legit for a while, the NFL implemented coaches challenges, and the NBA is experimenting with using replays to check the legitimacy of game-winning buzzer-beaters), Major League Baseball is implementing Questec at the right time, when the public and players in many sports have demonstrated their willingness to adopt and appreciate changes in the name of justice (maybe Bush proposed these changes…).

The problem with Questec is that while it aims at creating a strike zone consistent between umpires and with the rules, it has been used inconsistently by Major League Baseball, who placed it in only ten ballparks in 2003: Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, Bank One, The Coliseum, Jacob’s Field, the park in Anaheim, Miller Park, Shea Stadium, and the two orange juice parks. Why only a few parks? Because Questec is expensive to install and also because Major League Baseball understands that major overhaul is frowned upon when violating the traditions of the game (Unfortunately, Selig forgot about this when he decided that the All-Star game should influence which team wins the World Series). They’ve decided to take this change one step at a time (much like how the NBA has dealt with their video replay implementation). But has Questec really even influenced the game that much? Or have its detriments to the game been overblown by the umpires’ union a few loud pitchers?

By the middle of the 2003 season it was widely believed that that pitchers who rely on specific strike zones (the wider the better for pin-pointers Maddux and Glavine) and specific umpires’ tendencies (particularly Schilling) were having difficulty adjusting to the new system. Compared to the 2002 season, Schilling allowed one fewer walk, but his K/9 retained its luster in 2003. Yes, Glavine looked like a different pitcher last season, unable to reach double figures in wins for the first time since 1988, but he just looks old (check out his picture!). It looked as if Maddux was having more trouble in 2003, sporting his highest ERA since his rookie season in 1987, but his K/BB ratio actually improved over his previous season (note: there was no Questec in Atlanta). On the surface, it looks as if these pitchers suffered due to Questec, but in all, “there were actually more strikes thrown in Questec parks than non-Questec parks,” reports Sandy Alderson. The inconsistency of placing Questec in only some parks (even though there was only a slight difference in strikes, balls, strikeouts, and walks) gives the illusion that umpiring was extremely skewed in different ballparks, when in fact, only minor changes are occurring.

Next season, there will be five to eight more QuesTec ballparks, but until Questec is in every park, substantial debate on the legitimacy of Questec will undoubtebly continue. The fuss around Questec comes from the umpires and their skewed information. Most players are looking forward to umpire accountability. Even Schilling, before feeling squeezed at the plate, was in favor of a system of accountability. What fans and players alike need to remember is that Questec is there to monitor the umpires, and not to drastically change the way the game is played. If Major League Baseball the strike zone enforced strictly, they could no doubt generate ball/strike calls using a computerized system. This is not their goal.

Stats can be used to prove almost anything. I’m sure there’s a way to show that Questec has hurt pitchers, altered baseball forever, and some might say, defamed the game. But by implementing Questec, Major League Baseball is forcing umpires to work just a bit harder to assure that they make the right decisions by holding them responsible when they do not. And it’s about time.

Those Tigers…Will They Ever Learn/Win?

Quickly, I’d like to bring up the Tigers one more time on this blog. Everybody’s just begging Detroit to spend more cash on aging players that will not amount to any more wins. It is true: even with all of their additions, the Tigers will still be a below-.500 team. They are so entrenched in the cellar that the minor upgrades they have made in Carlos Guillen, Jason Johnson, Fernando Vina, and Rondell White will not make them a winning team now or in the future. But, let’s face it: the Tigers had to do something this off-season. Considering how far away from competing they have fallen and how difficult it is for them to attract free-agents (just as Pudge, who will get nowhere near as much money as the $40 million contract over four years that Detroit offered from any other team and still can’t decide where to sign), they have done a lot to try to rekindle fan interest. With the added star power of Rodriguez, the Tigers’ lineup would not be the worst in baseball. A lineup of Vina, Guillen, I-Rod, Young, Monroe, White, and Pena would actually be decent, at least a whole lot better than last year. Baseball is a business, and bringing fans to the ballpark is part of what a general manager must consider.

I’ll reiterate from my column about the Orioles: it is a lot easier to add wins by acquiring hitting than pitching. The Tigers are trying to make a statement to their fans by improving, at least a little bit, this year. Although Pudge may not be worth $10mil a year in today’s market, I wonder what he could do for the young pitchers on Detroit. The Tigers’ pitching staff is nothing like Florida’s last season, but Rodriguez did a very good job of holding that young pitching staff together.

By acquiring decent bats for the moment, the Tigers are also allowing themselves to keep more of their minor league positional players down on the farm instead of rushing them up to Detroit before they’re ready, thereby allowing them to develop at a normal pace. If only they could do the same for their pitching staff…


Just about everybody, including Red Sox management, has noticed that Nomar Garciaparra’s numbers have declined since the 2001 season, in which he injured his wrist. Although he seemed to be regaining his all-around game last season, has Nomar really recovered from his injury? Check out these numbers, comparing his two full seasons before the injury and his two full seasons since:

........................BB/SO.................Groundball/Flyball Ratio

In the two seasons after his injury, these BB/SO and G/F ratios been consistent – that is, consistently and strikingly worse from before his wrist got whacked. Considering these polar opposite numbers, it’s hard to believe that Nomar will still turn it around and revert back to producing like he did in his glory years, 1999 and 2000. Lately, he has had trouble keeping his bat over the ball, and by the end of the season he was popping out on inside fastballs to every fielder on the other team before the game ended. His September slump, which carried into the playoffs, is a scary possibility of things that may come, and a good reason that Boston won’t pay him Tejada money after 2004.

Three Words I Thought I'd Never Say

Usually Major Leaguers make the move to cross the Pacific only in the most dire situations: when they are traded against their will, when they can no longer get a job in the MLB, or for more money. And with injections of Matsui in consecutive seasons, we are used to world-class Asian players trying their best in the U. S. of A (errr, in New York). Apparently though, Kaz Sasaki has had enough, and has asked off of the Mariners, effective as soon as possible, after his worst season in America. Although this may be a difficult situation for MLB to negotiate, I want to throw out some esteem to Kaz, who decided $9.5 million is not enough to prevent him from seeing his family. We applaud Pettitte and Clemens for wanting to go home, and we should also applaud Sasaki.

During an offseason in which I've had difficulty understanding newly-appointed Seattle GM Bill Bavasi's transactions (I hope he really likes the younger Juan Gonzalez), he may end up deserving an ovation for signing Eddy Guardado earlier in the off-season. Imagine if the Mariners had lost both Rhodes and Sasaki without picking up a premier reliever. Eddy gets it done and will be ready to close out games when (not if) Hasegawa falters in 2004. Shiggy will continue his fall back to earth next season.

Those three words I thought I'd never say? I Quote myself: "Bavasi, you genius!"

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