Week 1 overreactions
The slide rule, the red-hot Orioles, Cubs’ key injury & more
Baseball is a long season. Very long. That doesn’t stop fans and media from formulating strong opinions after just a few games despite a painfully small sample size. Here are some overreactions from Week 1 that need to be reassessed. 1. The Orioles started 5–0: Hand them the AL pennant How significant is it to start 5–0? The last time Baltimore did that came in 1970, when it won the World Series, and the Royals, who started 5–0 last year, also won the World Series. But the team’s 10 runs allowed in Week 1 (the lowest in baseball) is a mirage, and star outfielder Adam Jones is having a tough time shaking a rib cage injury.
It’s not that the Orioles are bad, but let’s see if they can develop pitching behind Chris Tillman before we get too excited, a key to that being getting Kevin Gausman healthy 2. The new rules around sliding are bad for the game Players must now make a “bona fide” slide, which means that a player must touch ground before he hits the base, must reasonably be able to touch the base and remain there at the completion of the slide (excepting home plate) and not go out of his way to make contact with a fielder. Traditionally, the “neighborhood play,” in which umpires would award an out if a fielder came close to tagging the bag, was the counter-measure to protect infielders. Now, the fielder actually has to touch the bag.
The new rules were enforced several times in the first week, including controversial plays involving Toronto’s Jose Bautista in a game with the Rays, and a slide by the Astros’ Colby Rasmus in a game with the Brewers that was deemed illegal and actually ended the game. Traditionalists protested those calls, especially the Rasmus slide, where no contact was made.
It’s tough for players to change old habits immediately. But the changes are a necessary evil.
The old rules put umpires in a bad spot. One person’s “safe” is another one’s “close enough.” If people didn’t like the Astros-Brewers ending, imagine if a judgment call under the old system decided a World Series.
Second, allowing a free-for-all on the bases recently cost us players like Buster Posey, Ruben Tejada and Jung-Ho Kang, who missed games due to injuries stemming from collisions. The trade-off wasn’t worth it.
It might not be popular right away, but the combination of sweeping changes on both sides of the issue was the way to go. 3. Kyle Schwarber’s injury will cripple the Cubs The Chicago left fielder’s season ended prematurely with a tear of his ACL and LCL. But Schwarber was a catcher learning to play the outfield — that came with growing pains — and the Cubs can replace his at-bats with a combination of Javier Baez, Jorge Soler and Ben Zobrist.
No one’s arguing that the Cubs are better without Schwarber, but if there’s one team poised to absorb his loss, it’s Chicago. 4. The on-field impact of the inevitable Jose Reyes suspension While the Rockies’ shortstop awaited more concrete terms to his indefinite suspension due to an offseason domestic violence incident, the Rockies had already anointed Trevor Story their shortstop of the future. And that was before Story’s incredible start.
Reyes will be 33 in June and posted career lows in on-base (.310) and slugging (.378) percentages last season. Last week, Rockies’ owner Dick Mofort said that if Reyes “did something wrong, he should pay for it.”
One wonders if the rebuilding Rockies are privately rooting for commissioner Rob Manfred to issue harsh penalties, given that they’re not on the hook for a penny of his $22 million salary while he’s suspended. 5. Ken Giles removed as Houston’s closer Yes, Giles struggled in the exhibition season, and yes, giving up two homers in Week 1 also didn’t help. It’s easy to understand why the Astros might turn to 31-year-old Luke Gregerson as a closer in that spot.
What’s hard to understand, though, is why Houston had so much confidence in Giles as to trade talented prospects Vincent Velasquez and Derek Fisher and starting pitcher Brett Oberholtzer if it had so little belief in Giles that it demoted him after before the first week of the season ended. If the Astros planned to make him a long-term centerpiece of their plans, one has to question if the message they sent their 25-year-old getting his first shot at closing was counter-productive. 6. Fantasy owners giving up on Byung-ho Park On Sunday, April 10, among non-injured players, our preseason AL Rookie of the Year pick was one of the most-dropped fantasy players in Yahoo! fantasy baseball leagues that particular day, no doubt due to a .231 average and one RBI in his first six games. But that RBI came on a 433-foot home run at Kauffman Stadium with the wind blowing in, and for what it’s worth, Park hit 105 bombs in Korea his last two seasons. Patience, people! 7. Anything the Dodgers did Los Angeles started its season with three shutouts, and later in the week, rookie Ross Stripling carried a no-hitter into the eighth before being removed due to a pitch count. But L.A. also blew four- and five-run leads and ended the week 4–3. The truth of what you are lies somewhere in between your best and your worst.
The Orioles, led by Manny Machado and his three home runs, raced out to a 5–0 start in 2016, but let’s hold off on those World Series plans.