Streaking toward immortality…or a $25 gift card

Over the past few weeks I’ve been competing in Major League Baseball’s “Beat the Streak” contest. It’s based on Joe Dimaggio’s record of 56 consecutive games with a hit back in 1941. The goal is to pick one MLB player per day to get at least one base hit. If you “double up”, you can pick two players and extend your streak by two games as long as they both get a knock. But if either fails, you start over at zero. If you get to 57 straight hits, it means 5.7 million dollars.

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That doesn’t sound so hard, right? Fact is, MLB has been running this contest for 13 years and nobody’s made it to 57. Last week one guy was at 51 before losing. (He doubled up, taking Pillar and Carrera from the Jays versus Atlanta’s Bartolo Colon, who is approximately 60 years old. It didn’t make sense to me that he took batters hitting back to back in the lineup, but, hey….my longest streak so far is ten, so what do I know.)  

A couple of friends (John and Gan) participating in the contest makes it more fun. And there are interim prizes along the way, like gift cards to MLB.com, subscriptions to MLB TV, etc. If you establish the longest streak of the season without getting to 57, you win a hundred large.

John is a pretty sharp fantasy player, but Gan seems to favor his favorite team’s players. To be completely candid, I avoid guys playing against Pittsburgh or Arizona, but I intentionally discount the offensive prowess of D-backs or Pirates to manage my biases. This is bidness, yo.

Winning obviously requires a lot of luck, but I think the exercise has helped my regular baseball handicapping. I was up thirteen units after the first two weeks. But, as usual, my results fell off after that, and started the slow inexorable slide to mediocrity. This seems to happen every year. I think it’s easier to win before the books and sharps have much data. But I’ve tightened up my picks since starting BTS, and I’m starting to win again.

At first, I doubled up on BTS picks every time, thinking I’d get to double digits and then be more conservative and make just one pick each day. But after I got my streak to ten (and my hubris to eleven), I went several days without a win, usually getting a hit from one guy but not two, setting me back to zero. Eventually it dawned on me that there aren’t necessarily two good picks each day. It’s better to make the best pick, then just wait until tomorrow.

I’ve also started to look deeper into my potential picks for anomalies. For instance, I usually start my search with hitters batting opposite-handed against struggling pitchers. On average, left-handers hit right-handers better and vice versa. But this isn’t always the case. For example, the Dodgers right-handed Justin Turner is hitting sixty points higher against righties this season.

I also started to pick Bryce Harper today. Harper is 4th in MLB in batting average with an OPS of 1.202. In layman’s terms, he’s killing it. And today he was going against Tyler Glasnow with an ERA over seven. But I noticed that Harper is hitting only .226 in day games. For his career he’s hit almost a hundred points lower in the sunshine. So. Great player, can really mash….but no reason to take him today.     

For tonight’s games, I settled on either Seattle’s Jean Segura or Justin Turner. Gan took Cesar Hernandez and Ichiro, while John’s betting on Segura and Daniel Murphy. Turner is going against a right-handed starter (Edinson Volquez) with an ERA over four only one game removed from a finger blister issue.  Miami also has a mediocre bullpen, has lost three straight and is traveling across the country.

Segura is a good choice, but it makes me nervous that he has a fifteen game hitting streak. Like the Indians fan says in “Major League”……“It’s too high”. So I’m going with Turner. So much for incisive, objective analysis…..  
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MLB is over-thinking again

So Major League Baseball and the Players Association have agreed to a few rules changes for the 2017 season. The impetus for many of the changes is (allegedly) a desire to speed up the game. Some of the other changes that MLB wants were blocked by the players’ union, but after this season the owners can implement them unilaterally, so I’m sure we’ll see the more dramatic aberrations…..uh, changes ….next year.

In 2017, the most noticeable difference will be on intentional walks. For the last hundred years or so, if a pitcher wanted to walk a hitter he had to throw four pitches out of the strike zone. Now the pitcher’s manager just has to “signal” the umpire, and the batter will be waved to first base. WP_20160804_010

Two other changes have to do with pitchers re-setting their pivot foot (which is really directed at one particular player with a quirky delivery) and positioning by base coaches. The last change prescribes time limits on managers and replay officials.  

I’m something of a traditionalist when it comes to baseball. (Some people who call themselves my friends would use other terms. “Anal retentive”, “Dinosaur”, and “Mirthless Hater of Fun” being some of the more charitable ones.) But none of these wrinkles give me much heartburn. Yeah, there’s the occasional ESPN highlight where somebody wildly swings at a pitch meant to be a walk and gets a base hit, but it really doesn’t happen very often.    

I do think it’d be more fun if they made the manager’s “signal” unique for each team. Like the Diamondbacks manager should have to come out and walk toward home, clap twice, then make a snake head with his thumb and fingers while saying “ssssssss”. The Giants could signal by having a ball boy walk around the on-deck circle on stilts. The Twins could have two interns with shirts attached at the back. You get the idea.   

And speeding up the replays is OK if you accept that replays are a good thing to start with. I think officials should make a call and move on. Mistakes will be made; but there will also be missed signals, errors, imperfect groundskeeping, and drunken ushers. (Ooops. May have given away a trade secret with that last one.) The point is, if you’re looking for perfect competition with no randomness or human error involved, don’t count on a nap. You’re gonna be busy.

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But the really egregious stuff will have to wait until 2018. For instance, in order to speed up extra inning games, MLB wants to start each half inning with a baserunner on second. Because nobody ever enjoys or talks about 18- or 19- inning games? Ask any fan to describe his or her most memorable game experience, and 75% of the time it will be a long, extra-inning contest. Baseball’s most distinguishing feature is the lack of a time limit. It takes as long as it takes. You can’t get a lead and run out the clock. Now I know how long-time soccer fans feel about penalty kick shootouts.   

If MLB really wants to speed up games, here are are a couple of suggestions, humbly and faithfully submitted by your obedient servant:

  1. Stay in the Batter’s Box

It’s gotten to the point that a batter spends more time out of the box than in it during the at-bat. Pitcher delivers and batter takes. Batter immediately calls for time, steps out of the box, takes off helmet, smooths his hair back, replaces helmet. Loosens left batting glove strap and re-fastens it. Repeats with right hand. Taps left shoe with bat. Taps right shoe. Takes a deep breath and puts one foot into box. Stretches arms above head, then blinks rapidly. Steps back out to remove speck of dust from eye……STAY IN THE @#$%^& BOX, SON

Batters should have to stay in the box anytime they take a pitch unless there is a potential play at a base (attempted steal, wild pitch, etc.). Take a swing? OK, sure, step out and gather yourself. But on a pitch that’s just watched, there’s absolutely no justification for stepping out and wasting time.  

      2.   Shorten commercial breaks

  Haha. Kidding.

       3.  Disallow a mound visit when replacing pitchers

How often are games intentionally delayed by managers going to the mound when they’ve already decided to replace the pitcher? Everybody knows they’re just out there killing time to get a few more warm-up pitches for the reliever. If a manager visits the mound, the pitcher should have to face one more hitter or finish the at-bat in progress. Then if the manager wants to replace him, he can just wave a guy in from the bullpen. Maybe by doing that snake thing.

I understand why MLB is worried about demographics. According to ESPN, the average age of baseball fans is 53. NFL and NBA are 47 and 37, respectively. Kids used to handheld video games, instant communication on social media, and the BOOM-POW-BANG culture of ESPN Sportscenter have a hard time focusing on the gradual tension that slowly builds to the final denouement of a great baseball game. But instead of robbing the game of its charms, maybe they should try enforcing the rules they already have. Keep hitters in the box, don’t allow time-wasting on the mound, and call a rulebook strike zone. Maybe we can keep the old guys AND the kids happy.