Tuesday, 27 October 2009

2009 World Series by Proxy

Well, it's finally here. The Fall Classic. The Jersey Turnpike Series (Yankees and Phillies) begins tomorrow night (Wednesday the 28th). That's 28th of October, of course, meaning that the games almost surely will be played, by schedule, in November. Who will be the first Mr November (apologies to Reggie Jackson)?

Could not help but notice, the Game One starters are slated to be C.C. Sabathia (Yankees) and Cliff Lee (Phillies), winners of the two previous Cy Young awards...for the Cleveland Indians. The Yankees are a talented team, but looking at the roster, one sees the predilection of Mr. Steinbrenner to collect prize players the way the rest of us collected their cards.

It got me to thinking about the economics of the game as they exist in the early 21st century. My team, the Toronto Blue Jays, also has a prized pitcher (Roy Halladay, himself a prior Cy Young winner) who was the subject of relentless talk this summer about possible trades to the Yankees and Phillies and Boston and a number of other teams. Ultimately, they decided not to cash him in in yet another chapter in the almost criminal incompetence of its now former regime. Due to the economics of the game (a handful of teams - the Yankees, Boston, the Dodgers) have seemingly unlimited financial resources that allow them to plug any perceived gaps, and thus make the playoffs year in and year out (either Boston or the Yankees has been in the post-season every year since 1994). At the other end are teams like Cleveland who from time to time will get in through a bit of luck and development of young talent. Inevitably, they are forced due to the massive chequebooks of the "big market" teams to trade their best talent for a Whitman's Sampler of "prospects" and mediocre veterans.

So, I am very curious at exactly what point the managers and GMs of the talent producers (Cleveland) are going to recognise the reality that it's in their best interests to get as much out of their talent right now, while they still have it, instead of worrying about the mid and late-stages of these guys' careers?

Over the past 30 years or so, the workload of pitchers has been increasingly monitored - first in the number of innings thrown, until now, where each pitch is counted. In 1980, the Oakland Athletics had a staff that averaged 20 complete games per year. This year, Roy Halladay lead the league with nine.

Does that strategy make sense?

Put simply, if you were the GM of the Cleveland Indians, and you had a pitcher of the talent of Cliff Lee or C.C. Sabathia, why would you worry about how many innings the guy throws, when the rent on that is not going to come due until he is in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles? Today, pitchers are kept on more or less strict pitch counts and inning limits, with the recognition that has arisen that a high workload early in a pitcher's career will have an impact when he reaches 30 or so.

But if the future for C.C. Sabathia is in New York, why is that the concern of the Cleveland Indians? If I were the Indians' management, I would want to get 300 innings out of Sabathia every year I had him.

At some point, I fully expect that the small-market teams are going to wise up to the fact that economics and the future are not on their side.
Post a Comment