(Probably) Final DodgersFYI Post On Clayton Kershaw and His Apologists

It’s all been said.  Here, here, here, and here.  Yet somehow, it’s worth saying just once more, after what HAS to be Kershaw’s magnum opus of choking, as well as his apologists’ (decreasing but still strong) defense of him, at the expense of others…

Circumstances for failure are always given AFTER the fact with Kershaw.  In the eyes of many, the blame will always fall primarily on someone or something else. Always.  Last night was more of the same.

Kershaw is the same age as Strasburg, pitched on the same amount of rest as Strasburg, and (for now) makes more money than Strasburg. Yet many have convinced themselves that having him pitch to more than one batter was inexcusable for Dave Roberts.

Dave Roberts, similar to Don Mattingly before him, was a baseball legend and a classy guy.  Now, he’s an ostracized pariah.  Sure, he had his flaws as a manager, as did Mattingly.  (MAN, did Mattingly have flaws!)  But neither of them deserved the amount of criticism, nor degree of rage, thrown in their direction, by the fans, by the media, and especially diehard Kershaw apologists disguised as journalists.  (Those on Twitter know who that third category is in reference to.)  But now, Dave Roberts will likely suffer the same fate as Mattingly.  Such is life for those who are Clayton Kershaw’s manager- Kershaw gets all the credit when succeeding, the manager gets most of the blame for “setting Kershaw up to fail” in October.  At this point, it basically comes with the job description of Dodger manager, and will come with the next one- if Kershaw is still even pitching for the Dodgers next year.

For the Dodgers sake, they’d better hope that the money they spent on re-signing Clayton Kershaw doesn’t take them out of the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes.  Until then, the Dodgers will get to watch the playoffs on TV like the rest of us, and wonder what might have been.  Again.

2019 NLDS Pregame 3- Trouble Lurking in the Shadows

Now that the Nationals have (wisely) opted to push Max Scherzer back to Game 4, that makes Game 3 all the more critical for the Dodgers to win.  It’s not quite a proverbial “must win”, but let’s put it this way- if the Dodgers do not win a game featuring Aníbal Sánchez, the least menacing starter for Washington, they will likely be at a disadvantage for the next two games.  With The Gruesome Twosome (aka Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg) starting for the Nationals over the next games- assuming there is a Game 5- the Dodgers will likely find themselves in a hole at some point during those games.  It’ll be up to the offense to get their pitch count(s) up, get the Nats’ awful bullpen in the game, and hope to take it from there.  If either DC starting pitcher is still around for the seventh inning, it would be almost shocking if they weren’t pitching with a lead.

As for Game 3, it would be nice if Cody Bellinger and/or Corey Seager didn’t leave all the heavy lifting to Justin Turner and the rest of the lineup.  There’s a saying that you can’t predict baseball, but with this team making it to postseason after postseason, that saying is being tested to its limit.

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NLDS Game 2 Recap- Over and Over and Over and Over

 

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This picture isn’t from game 2- but it might as well have been.

Let’s forget the narrative, because it’s no longer a narrative- it is a fact.  Forget about how Clayton Kershaw does in the postseason relative to his regular season, which is no longer the best but still better than most.  Clayton Kershaw’s October performances are AT BEST comparable to a typical number three starter.  This is even more unacceptable, when considering that he opted out for more money, and got it.  A normally pragmatic front office gave him everything he wanted.  And in his first postseason performance of 2019, he gave them more of the same.

Stephen Strasburg, Kershaw’s counterpart in more ways than one, dominated the way he typically does in the postseason.  Once removed from the game- one of two highly controversial moves by Dave Martinez- Max Muncy did what he normally does, putting the ball into the seats, making the game a one run affair.  But the Nationals quickly got the run back, and while the Dodgers threatened in the ninth- thanks in part to Martinez’s other questionable move, intentionally putting the tying run (Muncy) on base- it was not to be.  Ironically, the unintentional walk of Will Smith to load the bases probably saved the Nats from another bullpen meltdown, as Corey Seager came up short.  Seager and Bellinger, and especially Bellinger, have been pretty disappointing in their postseason careers.

But again, this comes back to Kershaw.  I shouldn’t be surprised by now, but the reaction from the public at large continues to be very different from other athletes in similar positions.  At this point, it’s unavoidable even for them to point out how many times he’s been lousy in October.  But the kind of reaction isn’t nearly as rabid as we’d see for other athletes in a similar position.  In fact, Kenley Jansen, the greatest closer in Dodger history, has endured more wrath for a few bad months this season than Kershaw has heard in his entire postseason career!  And sorry, but it’s not enough that he’s the greatest regular season pitcher of his generation, or that he’s a great guy, or a great philanthropist.  Others have gotten more wrath for his failings (“Why was he left in so long?” “Why doesn’t the offense score more?” “Why wasn’t he the starter for game 7?”) than Kershaw himself has. Most Dodger fans and bigwigs throughout sports media are “sad”, “disappointed”, or “confused” about Kershaw’s failings.  Given the prestige, the expectations, and the contract situation, it’s not unfair to point out that Kershaw’s actually been lucky to not hear more- WAY more- how often he’s come up short.

Anyway, the 2019 Dodgers go to Washington now, where they will have two chances to earn a plane ride back.  At least we won’t have to talk about Kershaw’s shortcomings over there.  But Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger might be another matter.  We shall see.

 

LA vs DC Rematch (sans Harper)

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Juan Soto after his dramatic hit, completely indifferent to his baserunning error

Well, the 2019 MLB postseason started off with a much needed bang.  After a relatively noncompetitive season, with no memorable races and too many home runs, the Nationals and Brewers played one of the most exciting, drama-filled postseason games we’ve seen in some time.  Regardless of who was going to win, the Dodgers were going to rematch with somebody– that’s what happens when a team makes the postseason an astonishing seven years in a row- but the Nationals are a particularly interesting case.  Given that Steven Strasburg- who was great- and Max Scherzer- who wasn’t- have already been used, the Dodgers have a great opportunity to take a 1-0 lead, particularly since the game is at Dodger Stadium.  The Nationals bullpen is atrocious, and although spoiled Dodger fans have booed Kenley Jansen for much of the season, his subpar performance would probably be above average for the Nats’ hapless bullpen.  Both teams have great starting pitching and terrific offenses, so the Dodgers’ advantage will likely be in the later innings.

There’s really not much more to say about this series, and since I’m not getting paid for this, I won’t even try.  For a recap of the last time these two teams met up, click here.  Until next recap- whenever that may be- enjoy the game(s)!

From “Kershaw Dealing” to “Dealing With Kershaw”

What to do when the ego of a superstar begins to outshine his talent…

By now, we all know about Clayon Kershaw’s incredible resume, but by The Internet Laws of Criticizing Beloved Superstars, I will be sure to repeat it here.  He is-

  • The best regular season pitcher of his generation.
  • A likely first ballot Hall of Famer.
  • A world class philanthropist.

So, now that I’ve acknowledged his undisputed greatness, let’s get to the matter at hand…

Players getting booed, or getting criticized when they don’t do well, comes with the territory.  But there is a certain type of player, a superstar among superstars, that achieves a sort of transcendent status, in terms of reputation.  Part of it is societal- how else can to explain Andrew Luck being applauded as a profile in courage for retiring right before the season, taking an extra $25 million with him on the way out the door?  Can anyone with a straight face say that Cam Newton would receive the same type of response, had he done the same thing under identical circumstances?  Similarly, how is it that Dodger Stadium reigns down with boos towards a struggling Kenley Jansen, the greatest closer in Dodger history, while giving Clayton Kershaw, still very good overall but past his best days, considerable slack?  That question alone can account for a blog post- not just for baseball but for human behavior in general.  But this post will deal with Clayton Kershaw specifically, and the need for the Dodgers (and Dave Roberts specifically) to do what’s right for the team first, regardless of who it upsets.

Only Vin Scully has enjoyed a higher standing in the Dodger universe this decade than Clayton Kershaw.  On the field, no one else has come close.  Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and a few others certainly had their moments, but it’s been Kershaw who has sat atop throughout.  For the most part, that’s been a good thing, but it hasn’t been as smooth as legend would have us believe.  We can go all the way back at least to 2012, still fairly early in Kershaw’s career but already achieving elite status, when he was having hip issues towards the end of the season.  There was speculation that he might need to have surgery.  Many thought that at the very least, he would have to be shut down for the remainder of the year.  Luckily, the problem wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed, and Kershaw continued to pitch effectively for the Wildcard-chasing Dodgers.  Some still criticized the Dodger organization, for putting the team’s short term aspiration ahead of their young star’s health.  That last point is critical, given what happened on the second to last game of the season, the night the Dodgers got eliminated.  Hanging on for dear life, the Dodgers had slated Kershaw to pitch the next day against the Giants, hoping that the last game of their season would mean something.  Ultimately, it didn’t, but that didn’t stop Kershaw from publicly declaring that he was determined to start the game- a game that meant little more than one in spring training, outside of individual stats.  The Dodgers ultimately won with a stellar performance from Kershaw, and no one made a peep about the unnecessary risk that Kershaw had taken.  Given that some had wagged their finger at the Dodgers for having him pitch when the games did matter, it seemed curious that no one would say anything about Kershaw, for pitching in one that didn’t.  A 24 year old making a public declaration, not to be questioned, was highly unusual.  In fairness, Kershaw didn’t suffer any further injury, and the whole thing was quickly forgotten about, to the extent it was ever acknowledged at all.  But it had become clear, even with “only” one Cy Young award at that point, that Clayton Kershaw was largely responsible for calling his own shots.

As the years went on and Kershaw continued to pile on the hardware- two more Cy Youngs and an MVP- his reputation grew, as did his control of it.  And while we all know about the subsequent postseason failings, Kershaw was almost as untouchable to the critics as he was to hitters, at least relative to other pro-athletes.  Don Mattingly, whose shortcomings as a manager have been well documented, took the brunt of the blame for Kershaw’s October performances, culminating in a 2015 New York Times headline that summed it all up- “Clayon Kershaw Takes The Loss, But Don Mattingly Takes The Criticism“- this site’s pleading earlier that day notwithstanding.  (For a trip down memory lane, click here.  In there is another recollection of Kershaw’s ultra-competitive nature, reaching levels that bordered on counterproductive.)  Mattingly certainly had his faults, but the way boos eventually reigned down for him and ONLY him, as Kershaw came up short, seemed excessively harsh.  Of course, that’s well in the past now, as Mattingly now finds himself managing the Marlins at the bottom end of the east coast- not to mention the bottom end of the NL East.  But as we find ourselves well into the Dave Roberts era now, Kershaw’s stubbornness, if not outright selfishness, might be a bigger issue than ever.

Each of the first three seasons of Dave Roberts’ season brought incredible regular season success- thanks largely to Kershaw- followed by decent but underwhelming postseason success- also thanks largely to Kershaw.  Particularly jarring was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when the Dodger Ace blew a four run lead, and couldn’t redeem himself when the Dodgers scored an additional three runs.  Finally, after nearly a decade of October performances that didn’t come close to his regular season ones- yes, 2009 counts, too- the narrative of Clayton Kershaw’s postseason failings went beyond Cardinal fans, Giant fans, and so-called “haters” at large, and started to seep into the mainstream.  Yet still, much of the baseball world wanted to somehow lay the primary share of blame at Dave Roberts’ feet.  Because Kershaw pitched so brilliantly in relief during Game 7 after Yu Darvish got shelled and the game was practically out of reach, Roberts got retroactively criticized for not lining up Kershaw to pitch Game 7.  Never mind there would have likely been no NEED for game 7, had he done his job in Game 5.  Never mind that Yu Darvish had been acquired, in part, because the Dodgers had been criticized for relying so heavily on Kershaw in the past.  Somehow, once again, the superstar among superstars had to be protected by a group of people that acted more like his own PR team, than impartial analysts.

After the Dodgers lost the World Series again in 2018, some speculated that Kershaw, who had been absolutely shelled in the World Series by the Red Sox, was on his way out of LA.  Many were resigned to the idea that he’d never be a postseason hero for the Dodgers, and perhaps it was time to go elsewhere.  Once he opted out of his contract, it seemed like the door was likely about to close on his Dodger career.  Not so, it would turn out.  Andrew Friedman’s front office, with a well-earned reputation about making cold, calculated decisions if it made sense for the Dodgers long term (Dee Gordon, AJ Ellis, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp twice, etc.), uncharacteristically offered Kershaw MORE guaranteed money than the contract option would have given.  Just to be clear, this might still BE the right baseball move- time will tell.  But it’s certainly a riskier one than Friedman normally makes.  (See: Greinke, Zack)

All this history brings us to Friday night, September 6th, with Clayton Kershaw pitching an uncharacteristically subpar game against the Giants.  Recall nearly seven years ago, and however many paragraphs ago in this blog post, how a potentially less-than-healthy Kershaw insisted on pitching against the Giants, during a game that meant nothing.  Some things, it seems, never change.  Friday night’s game didn’t quite mean nothing, but with the NL West wrapped up in all but name, and the Dodgers likely to be the highest seed in the National League, there wasn’t any extra pressure in the air, either.  Yet when Dave Roberts went to take Kershaw out, understandably, to preserve him for more critical situations, the pitcher, visibly annoyed, openly questioned his manager’s decision.  Nothing new there.  What was knew was after getting to the dugout, Kershaw threw a quick but unmistakable tantrum, pointlessly kicking the cooler as hard as he could, and risking a foot injury that he didn’t need, and one that his team couldn’t afford.

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What was the reaction to this outburst, which could have put him on the IL yet again?  Well, for starters, here’s what it wasn’t- no one in the public eye griped about an entitled baseball player, showing up his manager in public.  There was no lamenting of “today’s athletes”, making all the money without the accountability.  Nothing about selfish antics, putting his team at risk.  Nope- just a few jokes on the Internet about Kershaw getting into “postseason form” and a few additional laughs, on account of the cooler winning the battle.  (Dave Roberts wouldn’t even go THAT far, saying the cooler was going to be going on the IL.  He knows his players.)  And honestly, this might be less of a “Kershaw getting a pass” moment, than a “he was lucky he didn’t get hurt” moment.  But for someone who is constantly lauded as not just a great pitcher, but a great leader, and someone achieving an iconic status that even most stars with a championship seldom reach, he should be held to a higher standard.  But it seems like no one wants to have that discussion.  If anything, given that the Dodgers are STILL in search of their first title since Ronald Reagan was in office, he certainly should go out of his way to be as publicly supportive of Dave Roberts as possible.  If not?  It shouldn’t matter- the Dodgers need to do what’s right for the Dodgers first, even if that means risking the alienation of their franchise’s most recognizable player.

There may have been a time that Kershaw’s incredible stats gave him the “right” (for lack of a better word) to be given the benefit of the doubt.  But given all the postseason shortcomings, his less reliable performances lately and all the innings of wear and tear, those days should be over.  And if Clayton Kershaw pitches like the “real” Clayton Kershaw again?  Great.  But if not, Roberts should have no problem with using an early hook whenever he feels appropriate, regardless of what the media, the fans, and even Kershaw himself think.  Besides, if Kershaw is left in for too long, we all know who will be getting the blame for the decision.  But Dave Roberts should take comfort in knowing that Billy Martin famously benched Reggie Jackson in the middle of a game in 1977, much to Jackson’s chagrin, yet the Yankees were no less for it.  Also, between the Dodger superstar and the Dodger manager, only one of them has a World Series ring.  And it’s not Clayton Kershaw.

Bums, No More- At the All Star Break, The State of The Dodgers is (Still) Great…But How About Baseball Itself?

bellingerThese days, I live more than 50 times closer to where Ebbetts Field used to be, than to the current home of the Los Angeles Dodgers.  Fortunately, thanks to all this newfangled technology, I can keep track of how things have been going for the Boys in Blue.  And honestly, it doesn’t even take that much attention to realize that things have been going quite well for them, an almost unheard of 3-game losing streak going into the All-Star Break notwithstanding.  Corey Seager, thought of to be the next face of the franchise not long ago, has been injured most of the past two seasons, yet barely been missed.  Clayton Kershaw, the greatest regular season pitcher in at least a generation, is not quite what he used to be, which is actually fine.  Still a very good pitcher, Kershaw is somehow probably the Dodgers’ current number THREE starter.  ALL the starters have actually been very good, at least when healthy.  In a year with a ridiculous amount of offense, thanks to a tightly wound ball that has turned baseball into a de-facto homerun derby (more on that in a bit), all five starting pitchers in the Dodgers rotation have an era under 4.00.  And speaking of de-facto homerun derby, how about that Cody Bellinger?  And Max Muncy?  And Joc Pederson?  The “worst” hitter with at least 200 at-bats, Kike Hernandez, still has a slugging percentage over .400.  Even going into the All-Star game in a bit of a slump, the Dodgers have the best record in baseball, and EASILY the best record in the National League.  The Boston Red Sox might be the reigning champions, but the Dodgers are currently the team to beat.

I guess what I’m saying is that this team is quite good, and even the surliest members of the fanbase- you know who you are- have been in a good mood.  Oh, and Vin Scully’s successor, Joe Davis, has been receiving nearly universal praise, when you just KNOW people were looking for an excuse to pounce on whomever replaced the man they renamed Dodger Stadium’s address after!  So for now, all is well in Dodgerland.

Now, About MLB In General…

For years, perhaps decades, there have been a contingency of doomsayers to tell us that “baseball is dying”.  Throughout my lifetime, there’s just something about the sport that has brought out the grumpy old man in many of us, thinking back to “our” era, and lamenting that it just ain’t what it used to be- too much offense, or increasingly overpaid underperformers, or not enough offense, or soulless ballparks (in the Astroturf era), and on and on it went.  But overall, baseball was still considered “America’s Pastime”.  Then, in 1994, something truly shifted, and not for the better.  Bud Selig managed to do what World War II could not, cancelling the remainder of the season, including the World Series.  Fans became very cynical, but contrary to popular opinion, were at least coming back gradually.  Then, we had the 1998 home run race between McGwire and Sosa, heralded as some sort of cultural turn of the tide for the ol’ ballgame.  Once THAT turned out to be “fake”, fans became even more cynical, capped off by Barry Bonds shattering of what many consider the TRUE home run record overall.  And quite honestly, baseball’s reputation hasn’t recovered since.

If someone were to pay me (anyone?  ANYONE??), I could literally write a book about all of this, and how much of it- both the good AND bad- was largely based on myth.  But there comes a point where the myth is so strong it eventually becomes reality.  So here we are in 2019, dealing with most of the same problems that have plagued this game for a generation, and in some ways have multiplied.

As this post is being typed at the end of July 4th weekend in 2019, the stories that dominated the sports news were the US Women’s soccer team, the NBA summer league, and a 15 year old tennis phenom named Coco Gauff.  To the extent that baseball has been mentioned on sports television, outside of the officially designated baseball shows, it’s usually to talk, ironically, about how little talk there is about baseball.  One talking head show on ESPN- I kid you not- debated whether baseball games should end as a tie at a certain point in extra innings, because it was just too boring to watch for that long.  The word “debate” is used loosely here, as everyone on the panel agreed.  Imagine one of these paid yappers on ESPN saying that about the NBA, the NFL, or even soccer- they’d be suspended, if not fired!  (Oh, wait.  Soccer does end in ties.  My mistake, but I digress.)  And I’ve lost track of the number of times that 50-something year old radio hosts mention how young people don’t like baseball anymore, adding without a hint of self-awareness, that THEY stopped watching baseball.  It sounds less like they’re lamenting it, and more like they’re kicking dirt on it, like Earl Weaver used to do at umpires.

So what gives, and what can change this trend?  For one thing, a problem can only be solved if those who have it acknowledge its existence.  Bud Selig had his head…in the sand, yeah, let’s go with that…and his successor, Rob Manfred, doesn’t seem to be much better.  Okay, fine, so baseball doesn’t get the headlines it once did.  It sure doesn’t help that teams actually had the day off on JULY FREAKING FOURTH- a holiday that nearly everyone’s looking to have a beer and a hot dog.

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Seriously- what the hell is up with THIS?!

And how about those Expos…err, I mean Washington Nationals, wearing the old uniform of the beloved franchise taken out of Montreal, by Selig’s old pal Jeffrey Loria?  They even invited Vlad Guerrero to the festivities.  This would be like the NBA having “Supersonics” night in Oklahoma City, and inviting Shawn Kemp!  I’m not exactly sure what it was supposed to accomplish, other than to possibly taunt Canadians on the United States’ Independence Day.

Anyway, all these are examples of just how poor the marketing is in baseball.  Somehow, we’re supposed to believe that soccer, a game first played when the Neanderthals faced off against the Velociraptors (literal Velociraptors!), is gaining popularity because these cool young kids enjoy fast action…unlike us Gen-Xers, who apparently reveled in watching paint dry when we were kids.  I remember the 1980’s, and nothing could be further from the truth.  Soccer just got its act together, marketed its sport to the American masses, and is probably creating young superstars as this is being typed, while more and more little league fields get paved over.

It’s not all about image, though.  There IS truth that the sport currently has less action now, thanks to the advocacy of “true outcome” baseball- which is to say emphasis on homers, strikeouts, and walks.  Making contact and running the bases aggressively have gone out of style, and with the “perfection” of pitching, it really is harder for batters to make contact than it was in the days where 95 mph fastballs were considered impressive.  Little of this can be blamed on Manfred and Selig, as the evolution of the game took on a life of its own.  And to his credit, Manfred will be adding a rule to limit relief pitching changes starting next year, which should be a relief to fans, as well as participants looking to speed up the game a bit.  But there’s a lot more work that needs to be done.  And while there’s far less illegal use of steroids and PEDs, it’s been hard to tell this year, with the happy fun ball currently being used in regulation this season, making situational hitting more of a novelty than a 400+ foot home run.

Look, I enjoy home runs as much as anyone, but seeing games that look more like batting practice just cheapens them.  Surely this is to make up for the fact that hitters are striking out more than they are getting hits, but more homers don’t solve that problem.  There are exceptions, though, such as DJ LeMahieu and Jeff McNeil, who are bucking the all-or-nothing trend, and putting up MVP type seasons while doing it.  (Justin Turner, as always, is also having a very nice season with this approach.)  This isn’t to say that what they are doing is EASY- far from it.  It just demonstrates that there’s still a place for these type of hitters- if anything, now more than ever.

Last but not least, is the marketing of stars, or lack thereof.  For years, those who have ignored baseball’s decreasing relevancy in our popular culture have cited players’ ever increasing (as well as increasingly obscene) salaries, to demonstrate the “health” of baseball.  Technically, this is true- looking at Fortune’s 100 highest paid athletes, and baseball is well represented with 15 active players- 3rd most behind the NBA and NFL.  But in terms of endorsements, the amount of money baseball players receive, relative to the other major sports, is laughable.  Of all the sports with at least five athletes on the list, here’s the percentage received from endorsements, relative to total income-

Tennis – 81.4%

Golf – 75%

Basketball – 24.8%

Soccer – 24.7%

Football – 9%

Boxing – 7.4%

Baseball – 3.9%

In terms of market appeal, this low number has to be alarming for MLB.  On top of that, half of the money from endorsements comes from just two of the fifteen players- Bryce Harper, and to a lesser extent (believe it or not), Mike Trout.  Harper, who had the biggest chance at being “the face of baseball” with his larger-than-life personality, didn’t even perform well enough with the fans to be on the FINAL BALLOT for All Star voting, let alone IN the All-Star game itself!

Oh, and one other thing about the All Star game- why does baseball have so many players represented in the game to begin with?  It’s supposed to be about marketing stars, not making sure everyone who had a good first half gets an affirmation.  It’s hard to highlight the greatness of a few, when the roster looks more suited for a college football game.

On The Bright Side…

With this massive laundry list of issues- my apologies for the length, it’s been years in the making- baseball is still a great game to watch, to go to, and to appreciate.  And the sport does have some young stars to look forward to.  Mike Trout is certainly the greatest player now, but Cody Bellinger absolutely has a chance to give him a run for his money- and, as we’ve noted, he’s got a lot of it- with a better arm, on a better team, in a bigger market.  We have some time before that happens, but with a possible Dodgers vs. Yankees October matchup, Major League Baseball might soon have more going for it than I’m currently giving it credit for.

The Contrarian Take- Why Mike Trout’s Contract Is Ridiculous

Dr_Evil(After becoming Mike Trout’s agent,
Dr. Evil finally got the payout he’d been searching for.)

Seeing the overwhelming consensus on Mike Trout’s contract from the now-well entrenched stats community in Major League Baseball, one would think it would be silly to even mention the POSSIBILITY that the Angels made a big mistake today.  With a headline that seems to imply HE’S taking the contrary position, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh writes, “Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million—He’s Worth Much More“.  A blogger for Nate Silver’s 538 website assures us that Trout’s contract is “a bargain”.  ESPN’s Sam Miller goes full Dr. Evil, telling us Mike Trout is worth one BILLION dollars.  And never lacking for confidence, Keith Law suggests anyone with lazy (aka “different than his”) opinions should smash their “phone with a strong hammer“.  (I wrote mine on a computer, so I guess I’m safe.)  Opinions like this can be seen all over the Internet, as the old school types that would shake their heads at such an absurd guaranteed contract for a single player have been virtually ridiculed out of existence.  Fortunately for them, however, I’m still here!

Before continuing on about just how ludicrous this contract will likely end up seeming in a few years- I’ve been wrong enough times in my life to add qualifiers- let me acknowledge several facts, so I don’t seem like a COMPLETE Internet troll.  For one thing, Mike Trout is almost unarguably the best player in baseball these days, and likely has been throughout nearly his entire career.  Relative to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper’s recent $300+ million deals, Trout’s $460 million is a bargain.  And, for what it’s worth, he does come across like a genuinely good, down-to-earth human being, not someone who’s been carefully crafted by some PR firm to seem like “just one of the guys”.

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You’d be smiling, too

“What it’s worth”, though, is a whole let less than $460 million.  For starters, Trout’s being praised for handling his extension with “class”.  Come on.  As a human being, he appears to be the real deal, but his quiet handling of this contract is hardly evidence of this- only someone with no restraint whatsoever would go blabbing to the media if they were negotiating the most expensive contract in North American team sports history!  But that’s neither here nor there.  The problem is that there is far more to consider, when making such a huge financial commitment, than the reasons given for why Mike Trout is worth all of this money (or more).  There’s no need to understand the fancy WAR stats to acknowledge the greatness of Mike Trout. (Full disclosure- I do not understand the fancy WAR stats.)  The problem with today’s advanced stat valuation is that it puts more worth into wins “above replacement” than it does into ACTUAL winning- something the Angels have not been particularly good at in recent years.  I’m not blaming Mike Trout for Anaheim’s lack of winning in recent years- far from it- but that’s exactly the point.  What good is paying so much money for one single player, without building a team around him? It’s not Mike Trout’s fault the Angels have been woefully absent during postseason baseball- well…outside of his one and only playoff appearance a few years back, which was pretty lousy.  But giving him all this money is not going to do much good, if the rest of the guys in his clubhouse get to visit their homes during the All Star break.

Even if the Angels do have success in the early part of Trout’s contract- unlikely as that may be- what are they going to do with all those years at the end of it?  (“Adjusting for inflation” with baseball contracts is a hot topic these days, but if I’m right about ONLY one thing, it’ll be this- that will be coming to a halt sooner, rather than later.  It HAS to!)  And as great as Mike Trout is, let’s not act like he, nor the “experts” praising him, are infallible.  In the former category, we have Clayton Kershaw as a recent example of the last baseball player who could do no wrong, being deemed worth any amount of money given to him.  While he has led the Dodgers to numerous postseason appearances, he has come up short repeatedly- as has been well documented- and is now injury-prone and on the wrong side of 30.  (The Dodgers may regret extending HIS contract this offseason, although that’s for another discussion.)  In the latter category, we have Jason Heyward, another young outfielder (supposedly) in his prime a few years back, who the stats community deemed a “steal” for the Cubs at the time.  Never had the WAR stats and the traditional stats been so at odds, but the sabermetric community, who by then had fully infiltrated baseball’s front offices, INSISTED that Heyward was more than worth it. As it would turn out, the most well known sports professional who turned out to be correct about Heyward was…Joe Buck!  Of course, the Cubs famously won the World Series in 2016, but to the extent Heyward was a key contributor, it was due far more to his “locker room talk” (no, not that locker room talk) during a rainout, which motivated the Cubs to victory. Irony of ironies- he DID have a unique skill, after all, but it was one that not even the stat guys could measure- the gift of gab.

So as of now, the Angels don’t appear much closer to postseason appearances, let alone success, than they were prior to Trout’s massive contract.  And without winning, the Angels’ marketing department will not be able to make up for his massive paydays- all 12 years of them- as MLB doesn’t have the kind of marketing ability that the NBA does for individual players. Not even close.  And, while baseball might not be “dying”- regardless of whatever Bud Selig was doing during his feckless time at the helm- it’s certainly not healthy enough to continue handing out these contracts, which are enabled by the cable bubble, that is enabled by the financial bubble, which is due to burst any day now.  But that’s also for another discussion.  (For those interested, click here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or)

Update- Not even a full three hours after this was posted do I have to issue a modification.  I shouldn’t have JUST labeled the sabermetric community as being so in favor of this deal.  Their onetime arch-nemesis, Bill Plaschke, has fully endorsed it, as well.  The unconditional love for Mike Trout is even MORE transcendent than I originally stated.  It’s truly incredible that no one of prominence will even acknowledge the POSSIBILITY that this deal is risky.