Roark roughed up in final spring tuneup for Reds
By PAUL NEWBERRY
AP Sports Writer
Monday, March 25
ATLANTA (AP) — Cincinnati right-hander Tanner Roark was roughed up for five quick runs in his final start before the regular season, and the Atlanta Braves defeated the Reds 8-5 in an exhibition game Monday night.
Roark, acquired from the Washington Nationals as part of a major offseason overhaul, hurt his cause by walking two, hitting another batter with a pitch and throwing a ball away at the plate. He lasted only 1 2/3 innings, completing a largely impressive spring at 2-2 with a 4.22 ERA in seven starts.
“He’s been perfect until today,” Reds manager David Bell said. “The focus and concentration were there, but I think he’s just so ready for the season. There’s no concern.”
Eugenio Suarez and Derek Dietrich homered for the Reds, while Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson also went deep. Former AL MVP Josh Donaldson, the Braves’ big acquisition of the offseason, doubled off the base of the wall to drive home a run in the five-run second that chased Roark.
Roark breezed through the opening inning but walked the first two hitters of the second. Ozzie Albies followed with a run-scoring single before Tyler Flowers was plunked with a pitch to load the bases. Matt Joyce grounded into a forceout to bring home another run, hustling down the line to beat a double play. That turned out to make a difference when Dansby Swanson hit a dribbler back to the mound, which Roark barehanded and zipped home in an attempt to get Albies.
The throw was terrible, actually striking Swanson’s discarded bat in front of the plate and deflecting past catcher Tucker Barnhart. Donaldson’s drive just below the 385-foot marker made it 5-0 and finished off Roark.
The game began in rainy weather that produced a dazzling rainbow above the left-field stands.
Max Fried (1-1), who will begin the season as Atlanta’s fifth starter, pitched two hitless innings with one walk and two strikeouts.
Yasiel Puig was thrown out at third base to end the third, not even bothering to slide as he was tagged by Donaldson. Of course, that may have been a wise decision given some of Puig’s mishaps on the basepaths.
On his third team in a week, Joyce is hoping to make the Braves’ roster as a fourth outfielder.
The 34-year-old was released by Cleveland last Tuesday and signed with San Francisco, then was dealt to the Braves this past weekend for cash.
He went 0 for 2 but also had a sacrifice fly to finish with two RBIs.
Robert Stephenson, bidding for the final spot in the Cincinnati bullpen, gave up two runs in two innings. The right-hander is competing with Matt Wisler and Wandy Peralta.
BRAVES’ YOUNG ROTATION
Atlanta will start a pair of rookies in its three-game series at Philadelphia to open the season.
After veteran Julio Teheran makes his sixth straight opening day start on Thursday, the Braves turn to a couple of kids.
Bryse Wilson gets the nod Saturday in what will be the second start of his big league career. He went 2-1 with a 3.29 ERA in five appearances this spring.
Kyle Wright takes the mound for Sunday’s prime-time game against the Phillies. It will be the first career start for the 2017 first-round pick.
Reds: LHP Alex Wood is continuing his rehabilitation from a lower back injury at Cincinnati’s spring training complex in Arizona. He could be ready to rejoin the team on a West Coast trip in mid-April. … Top prospect Nick Senzel had to leave a minor league spring game after injuring an ankle on a slide. Bell said he was “anxious to see” the results of an exam to determine how seriously Senzel was hurt. He is expected to begin the season at Triple-A.
Braves: RHP Kevin Gausman (shoulder) expects to rejoin the roster for an April 5 start against Miami. RHP Mike Foltynewicz, coming off an All-Star season and projected as the team’s top starter, is set to make a rehab start at Triple-A Gwinnett next week and return to the big leagues around the third week of April after battling elbow issues. … The bullpen also will be short-handed on opening day: relievers A.J. Minter (shoulder) and Darren O’Day (hamstring) are going on the injured list.
The teams meet again Tuesday afternoon at SunTrust Park in their final exhibition. Wright (1-2, 7.11 ERA) gets the start against Cincinnati’s Anthony DeSclafani (1-0, 3.66), who is set to go next Monday against Milwaukee.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963 His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/paul%20newberry
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The promise and peril of the Dominican baseball pipeline
March 25, 2019
Author: Rob Ruck, Professor of History, University of Pittsburgh
Disclosure statement: Rob Ruck does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of Pittsburgh provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Latinos will comprise about 30 percent of Major League Baseball rosters on Opening Day, in large part because MLB has systematized its recruiting and developmental programs in the Caribbean over the last 25 years.
While researching my book “Raceball” in the Caribbean basin, I saw firsthand how this system operates: the way prospectors scour the Dominican Republic for the next nuggets of talent, the way players are selected and groomed at a young age, and the way a signing bonus in the thousands of dollars can transform an impoverished family’s life.
Few Dominican ballplayers, however, actually make it to the big leagues. Enmeshed in a system that encourages them to specialize in baseball at an early age, they’re left with little to fall back on when baseball doesn’t pan out.
The rise of the academy
When I first went to the Dominican Republic in 1984, scouting was rudimentary; a handful of scouts searched the countryside and “barrios” for prospects, observing young players and projecting how they might develop with better training and nutrition.
At the time, most youth played for amateur and semi-pro squads that represented communities, sugar mills, military units and banana plantations. The first generations of Dominican major leaguers – players like Felipe Alou, Juan Marichal and Manny Mota – came from these teams and signed for a few hundred dollars.
In the 1970s, Epy Guerrero, a former minor leaguer, opened the first academy devoted to grooming MLB talent, a spartan facility outside Santo Domingo. He later formed a partnership with the Toronto Blue Jays and developed stars like George Bell and Tony Fernández. Toronto Blue Jays outfielder George Bell in 1987 won the American League Most Valuable Player award.
When I visited, Guerrero’s charges trained for hours under a scalding sun. But compared with their peers cutting sugar cane in adjoining fields, or the army of scavengers picking through mounds of trash at a nearby Santo Domingo dump, the work seemed plush. Baseball clearly offered an opportunity for a far better future.
By the mid-1980s, Latinos made up one-ninth of all major leaguers; half were from the Dominican Republic, then a nation of 6 million.
In 1987, the Los Angeles Dodgers took the academy model to a new level, opening Campo Las Palmas near San Pedro de Macorís, the sugar-cane milltown known as “the cradle of shortstops.” Las Palmas was a gated compound featuring well-manicured fields, dorms with hot water and top-notch coaches.
“There is nothing like it in all of the Caribbean,” Juan Marichal told me as we watched a game there in July 1987. It soon produced an astonishing number of stars, including Pedro Martínez, Adrián Beltré and Raúl Mondesí.
Signing bonuses balloon
The Dodgers’ success prompted each organization to eventually open an academy of its own, and these academies turned the 1980s wave of Dominican ballplayers into a tsunami of talent. Today, Dominicans alone now number more than one-tenth of all major leaguers.
In some ways, the academy system has been a win-win for Dominicans and Major League Baseball. In 1990, teams signed 281 boys, paying them a total of US $750,000 in bonus money. Most received $2,000 to $5,000, a small fortune for their families.
But by 2009, aggregate bonuses for foreign-born prospects had soared to $70,000,000, with most going to Dominicans. Several boys received payouts of more than a million dollars. In 2018, the Blue Jays doled out a $3.5 million signing bonus to Dominican shortstop Orevelis Martinez.
Latin youth benefit from two MLB policies. The first is that only players from the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada are eligible for the annual player draft. So Dominicans – along with other foreign-born prospects – begin their careers as free agents and can sign with the club offering the best deal.
The second policy is that a boy cannot sign professionally until July of the year he turns 17. This means that top prospects can become millionaires as young as 16 but are off-limits when they are younger.
At the same time, a system devoted to identifying and training talented ballplayers in their early teen years – in exchange for getting a piece of the bonus money – has developed. Headhunters called “buscones” persuade families to let them train their sons, usually 13 to 16 years old, at their facilities. They house, feed and provide medical care for boys, who often leave school to focus on baseball. As boys near their 17th birthday, buscones take them to tryouts in the hopes of sparking a bidding war.
In return, buscones get 30 percent or more of the signing bonus money. Some are trustworthy advisers. But others will try to boost the appeal of their prospects by giving them performance-enhancing drugs – often cheap veterinary steroids – or altering their birth documents so they appear younger.
Once they’re signed, the prospects enter the academies run by Major League Baseball clubs. There, they’re given some instruction in English and life skills to prepare boys for the culture shock they confront if promoted to the U.S. Most boys, however, never leave the island, and many who do are released after a few years stateside. In the end – at most – 3 to 5 percent of Dominicans who sign reach the majors.
Little to fall back on
When cut, what do these Dominican boys have left to show for their monomaniacal commitment to baseball? Most never finished school and lack marketable skills. Some find low paying work in the game, but for many, their time in the academy was the high point of their lives.
A Cleveland Indians pitcher throws a ball to a Tampa Bay player during an exhibition game at the Indians’ baseball academy, a $2.6 million complex that can house 72 players and features two baseball fields.
The system rewards those who make it but quickly forgets those who don’t. In recent years, clubs have upgraded their educational programs and verbally committed themselves to investing in Dominican communities. Some clubs, like the Mets and Pirates, are more serious about these efforts than others, and some youth whose careers end at the academy are better prepared for the future as a result.
But that does nothing for the boys who have been training for years and never make it to an academy.
Alan Klein, an anthropologist at Northeastern University who has studied the academies since their inception, told me that MLB should focus “at the back end,” when players are “transitioning out of their career” rather than when they’re struggling to jump start one.
“Going to classes has rarely been valued in their young lives, and less so when they’re so hungry to escape their circumstances,” he said. “Teams should provide opportunities to get an education when they’re older, more appreciative, and can see the value of it – once they’re out of the commodity chain.”
That education should be “pragmatic – a hybrid between formal education and job-based skills,” he added.
Klein doubts that most teams, despite the hype over education, really care.
“They’re in the business of fabricating talent, and their interests are short term. It’s been that way for the past 25 years,” he said.
Given how much Major League Baseball has benefited from the labor of Latino players, surely it could do more. The league could start by funding a study to investigate what happens to those whose careers fizzle out before making it to an academy and find ways to invest in their lives and communities.
Those investments wouldn’t produce ballplayers or enhance clubs’ bottom lines. But it would pay back some of the social debt the league has incurred in the Caribbean.
AP source: Verlander, Astros to add $66M for 2020, ‘21
By The Associated Press
Sunday, March 24
Justin Verlander and the Houston Astros are going to continue their successful partnership for a while longer.
Verlander and the Astros have agreed to a contract adding an additional $66 million in guaranteed money for 2020 and ‘21, a person with direct knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press.
The person spoke Saturday on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been announced. The agreement was first reported by KRIV-FOX 26.
A 36-year-old right-hander, Verlander is due $28 million in 2019, the final guaranteed season of a $180 million, seven-year deal he signed with Detroit before the 2013 season. That contract included a $22 million option for 2020 that would have become guaranteed if Verlander finished among the top five in Cy Young Award voting this year.
Verlander was traded from Detroit to Houston on Aug. 31, 2017, and helped the Astros win their first World Series that season. The 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young Award winner, he finished second in Cy Young voting last season after going 16-9 with a 2.52 ERA in 34 starts. He pitched 214 innings and led the AL with 290 strikeouts.
The seven-time All-Star, entering his 15th season, spent his entire big league career with the Tigers before the 2017 trade. In his MVP season, Verlander won a career-high 24 games and had a career-low 2.40 ERA, which led the AL. He pitched 251 innings and struck out 250 batters that season, which were both the most in the AL.
Verlander takes great pride in his durability and has pitched more than 200 innings in 11 seasons, leading the AL in three of those years.
Verlander celebrated by striking out nine during four innings of two-hit ball in a 5-0 win over Miami. Roberto Osuna, Hector Rondon and Ryan Pressley followed with a hitless inning each, and Jose Altuve hit his first homer of the spring.
MORE FROM AROUND SPRING TRAINING
METS 12, BRAVES 2
NL Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom tossed three perfect innings in his final spring start for New York. Amed Rosario drove in three runs and scored three times, and top prospect Pete Alonso had an RBI double and two singles.
Atlanta rookie Touki Toussaint entered in the fourth inning and retired just five batters, allowing seven runs — six earned — and six hits. Ronald Acuna Jr. hit his fourth home run.
CARDINALS 4, NATIONALS 4
Washington ace Stephen Strasburg struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings, but allowed three earned runs and eight hits. Strasburg gave up a two-run homer to pitcher Miles Mikolas.
Anthony Rendon and Matt Adams each hit a solo drive for the Nationals.
Mikolas, St. Louis’ opening-day starter, allowed four runs in three innings, raising his ERA to 6.23. Tyler O’Neill had a double and three singles.
PIRATES (SS) 5, PHILLIES 3
Pittsburgh’s Corey Dickerson hit a two-run homer run and doubled. Francisco Cervelli drove in a run with his first double. Jordan Lyles started, yielding three runs in five innings.
Philadelphia right-hander Zach Eflin allowed four runs and five hits in 5 1/3 innings. Eflin also had a two-run single.
RED SOX 12, PIRATES (SS) 3
Boston ace Chris Sale pitched five scoreless innings in his first start since finalizing a new contract that guarantees an additional $145 million from 2020 to 2024. The wiry left-hander allowed two hits, struck out six and walked one.
Jameson Taillon started for Pittsburgh’s split squad, allowing four runs and eight hits in four innings. Top prospect Ke’Bryan Hayes hit his third home run — a three-run shot.
TIGERS 8, RAYS 7
Detroit slugger Miguel Cabrera hit a solo drive for his fourth homer. Cameron Rupp lined a game-ending, two-run double to right in the ninth.
Tigers right-hander Jordan Zimmermann pitched four innings and was charged with three runs and five hits.
Tampa Bay’s Charlie Morton allowed four unearned runs in two innings. Ji-Man Choi had a solo homer and RBI double. Tommy Pham added his first homer — a two-run shot.
BLUE JAYS (SS) 7, YANKEES 3
Toronto’s Lourdes Gurriel Jr. hit his fourth homer — a two-run shot — doubled and singled.
Gleyber Torres hit a three-run drive for New York. Miguel Andujar doubled and scored. Opening-day starter Masahiro Tanaka pitched two scoreless innings in his final tuneup, allowing one hit.
INDIANS 8, REDS 5
Kevin Plawecki had three hits and four RBIs for Cleveland, including his first spring homer. Carlos Santana had three singles and drove in a run. Trevor Bauer allowed five runs in 6 2/3 innings.
Jose Iglesias and Jesse Winker homered twice for Cincinnati. Winker finished with three RBIs.
The Reds announced that All-Star second baseman Scooter Gennett has a right groin strain and is expected to miss eight to 12 weeks. Manager David Bell will move Jose Peraza to second during Gennett’s absence and Iglesias will start at shortstop. The Reds also are calling up catcher/infielder Kyle Farmer, who was one of Friday’s roster cuts.
PADRES 11, ANGELS 4
Wil Myers homered, drove in two runs and scored three times for San Diego. Franchy Cordero and Ian Kinsler also connected, and Manny Machado had two hits and scored twice.
Padres lefty Joey Lucchesi pitched five innings of two-run ball.
Justin Bour hit a two-run homer for Los Angeles. Closer Cody Allen worked the fourth inning, allowing three runs and three hits.
BREWERS (SS) 7, RANGERS 3
Ben Gamel hit a two-run homer for Milwaukee’s split-squad, and Jesus Aguilar had an RBI double.
Mike Minor started for Texas, pitching five innings and allowing four runs and seven hits.
Texas reliever Jason Hammel announced he will retire to spend more time with his family, one day after the Rangers informed him he had made their opening-day roster. The departure of the 13-year veteran means right-hander Jeanmar Gomez will break camp with the team.
ROYALS 6, BREWERS (SS) 4
NL MVP Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw each hit a two-run homer for the Brewers.
Lucas Duda hit a solo drive in his first game since signing a minor league deal with Kansas City. Hunter Dozier also went deep. Brad Keller yielded four runs in 4 2/3 innings.
WHITE SOX 5, DODGERS 1
Eloy Jimenez celebrated his new contract with three hits for Chicago, including a solo homer. Jimenez, one of baseball’s top prospects, finalized a $43 million, six-year deal with the White Sox on Friday, nearly double the amount of the previous high for a player under club control yet to make his major league debut.
Yoan Moncada also connected for Chicago, and Manny Banuelos pitched five effective innings.
Chris Taylor hit a solo homer for Los Angeles.
GIANTS 3, DIAMONDBACKS 2
Joe Panik hit a two-run single and Alen Hanson added a solo home run for San Francisco. Derek Holland started, pitching four innings and giving up two runs and six hits.
Robbie Ray struck out 11 in 5 /3 innings in his final tuneup for Arizona. He was charged with two runs and five hits.
San Francisco released Cameron Maybin after the veteran outfielder hit just .163 in 43 at-bats and was arrested earlier this month on a DUI charge. The Giants also announced they had acquired outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski, from the Orioles for right-hander Tyler Herb in a minor league deal.
TWINS 8, ORIOLES 7
Max Kepler homered and drove in three, and Jonathan Schoop had three hits for Minnesota. Jason Castro also went deep, and Jose Berrios struck out six in 4 2/3 innings, allowing three runs and four hits.
Alex Cobb pitched an inning for Baltimore before exiting with right groin soreness. Cobb was recently tabbed the team’s opening day starter, but it’s unclear if he’ll be ready to go by Thursday. Chris Davis hit his second homer of the spring, lifting his average to .156.
ROCKIES 11, CUBS 6
Nolan Arenado had two doubles and three hits, David Dahl also had three hits and Ryan McMahon drove in three for Colorado. Kyle Freeland pitched six innings in his final spring tune-up, allowing three runs and six hits.
Javier Baez hit a long homer for Chicago, getting two hits to raise his spring average to .333. Anthony Rizzo also had two hits. Jon Lester allowed six runs in four innings in his final start of the spring.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon announced before the game that versatile youngster Ian Happ had been optioned to the minor leagues. Happ is batting .135 with a .389 OPS this spring.
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Statistics ruined baseball by perfecting it
March 27, 2019
The game is becoming less exciting for fans.
Author: Edwin Amenta, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Irvine
Disclosure statement: Edwin Amenta does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
Since sportswriter Henry Chadwick popularized the box score in the 19th century, baseball fans have had a love affair with statistics. Many can recite records like Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak, Rickey Henderson’s 130 stolen bases or Barry Bonds’ 73 home runs in one season. But have statistics ruined the game fans love?
In the new millennium, the statistical revolution forced baseball to double down on numbers. By looking deeper into the data, the far-sighted general manager Billy Beane of the Oakland Athletics converted a small-market team into a big winner – and in the process got to be played by Brad Pitt in the blockbuster film “Moneyball.”
Soon fans had to learn new stats, dumping time-honored but not very revealing counts like pitcher wins and runs batted in, in favor of newfangled rates like wOBA and xFIP. But the statistical turn has changed how the game is played – and in far from fan-friendly ways. As someone who used stats to turn around a team, I know that they also have their downsides.
Longer, more tedious games
For one, stats awareness has lengthened the game. Since the analytical revolution, everyone in baseball now knows that lefty pitchers can more easily retire lefty batters. Often such a relief pitcher enters the game, with warm-ups and commercials, to face one batter, cueing more commercials.
The number of pitchers per game is at an all-time high. Although the length of the game was down a few minutes last season from its peak in 2017, the average game still clocked in at three hours, half an hour longer than it was 40 years ago.
The game is also less exciting. Analytics showed that to steal a base, perhaps the most thrilling event in baseball, you have to be very good at it. Failing means making an out, and outs are precious. So baseball teams rarely do things that routinely results in outs. Last season, steal attempts dropped to their lowest level since 1964. Rickey Henderson’s record is safe.
Taking pitches and striking out
Because of stats, baseball also sees more and more of the “three true outcomes,” meaning that a player either strikes out, walks or hits a home run. The batter doesn’t have to run and fielders don’t have to field, so the game loses action.
Since “Moneyball,” all teams know that the walk is a valuable offensive asset and wears down pitchers. At the turn of the century during the steroids era, walks peaked, then declined as steroids were policed, but have trended upward back to the steroid-era levels. The number of pitches per plate appearance is at an all-time high.
Little Leaguers fear nothing more than striking out. But professional hitters, and knowledgeable teams and fans, have learned that striking out is not that bad, if swinging harder increases chances at a home run. Homers are up to steroid-era levels. Fans dig the long ball, though mainly like runs. However, the home run surge hasn’t resulted in more runs scored – just more of the same number of runs coming by way of homers, with runners trotting across home plate. With more players swinging for the fences, home runs are spread more evenly than in the past. No current player has any real chance of surpassing Bonds’s performance-enhanced records.
All outs count the same, whether by striking out or giving some defender a chance to make an exciting play. In 2018, four hitters cracked the top 10 for most strikeouts in a season.
For their part, pitchers know striking out a batter is valuable, as it eliminates the chances of a struck ball falling safely or leaving the yard. The recent jump in strikeouts is due to teams’ relying on relievers armed with two good pitches, the knowledge that they will pitch one inning tops and a corresponding willingness to pitch as hard as possible for that inning.
Pitchers who are converted from starters to one-inning relievers strike out far more batters than they did as starters. Also, starters know that they are going to face fewer batters. So they hold less in reserve, and now whiff batters at higher rates, too. The season record for strikeouts was broken last year for the 11th season in a row.
Losing for the win (maybe)
Billy Beane’s statistics-first approach kickstarted a new era of baseball.
Most of all, heightened stats awareness has made entire seasons miserable for the fans of the low-revenue teams that analytics initially were helping. After the success of the Oakland Athletics, the big-market organizations also learned how to play Moneyball. The Yankees, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies and Red Sox – the defending World Series champions, who have won three times since hiring Bill James in 2003 – have lucrative local TV deals. They also have top analytics departments. Their combination of money and analytical strength promises more World Series appearances in the 2020s.
Worse than that, many teams with lower local TV revenues and marginal rosters now use a stats-based strategy to lose on purpose for several seasons for a chance at gaining two or three years of winning. The more losses, the higher the draft pick, and teams going through the tanking “process” will also trade their best players for a group of prospects, hoping to be competitive down the road.
A team can tank its way to the top, but it can take several seasons and is not an exact science. What is certain is that during the down years the team is often hard to watch. Take the Chicago White Sox. That team went into full tank mode two seasons ago, after losing not on purpose for several seasons, with another lost season in store for 2019. Even if the White Sox eventually win, their window will likely not be open long. And because of revenue sharing to small-market teams, tanking franchises can still make money by reducing payroll. It’s win-win for the franchise, but lose-lose-maybe-win-lose for their fans.
Fixing the game
What is to be done? Major League Baseball has adopted only marginal changes. Delays between innings have been shaved by five seconds. A rule for 2020 stipulates that a pitcher must face at least three batters or finish the inning – dooming the one-out reliever.
The MLB is considering instituting a 20-second pitch clock, which would speed up the game. But they also will increase rosters by a player, creating more room for one-inning relievers.
I think more drastic moves are needed to counter how stats have compounded boredom in baseball. The MLB needs to discourage tanking, shorten the game and make it more exciting. To do all that baseball should share more revenue, institute high minimum payrolls, reform the draft, prevent batters from leaving the box, reduce the number of pitchers and lower the mound.
But I believe that there’s little chance these steps will be taken. Attendance may be down, but revenues continue to increase. More lucrative national TV deals are on the horizon, while losing teams can profit by having low payrolls. All those numbers suggest that little will change soon.