It's time to think a little hazy again. Since I've been without my computer for a few days (repairs) this will be a mega-spectacular, double-stuffed edition of PHI. Next week will be back to normal, but since I wasn't able to get all the research I wanted done for my feature, we will have to make do with twice as much haziness this week. So put on half a thinking cap, and turn off the parts of yourself that aren't a little bit crazy (just a little bit?) and buckle-down, 'cause it's about to get weird.
Idea #1: Managers/Coaches as Extra-Inning-Eligible Players (Kevin V. Minor)
In Kevin's words: "if a game goes to extra innings, the manager/base coaches can play in the game-would make teams choose younger managers and probably risk horrible injuries."
Before we get into the ridiculousness and pragmatic issues, let's take a fun moment to think how this would work. By the way, I would extend this to make sure all coaches are eligible, which just makes for a wider, more interesting field of candidates. Can you imagine the Rockies getting into, oh, I don't know, say a 22-inning game and sending Dante Bichette or Vinny Castilla to the plate? Surely there was a time there when Don Baylor could at least still stand over the plate and take one for the team. Is it really that much more absurd than pitching your backup catcher? Well, yes. But who would you rather have on the 15-day DL because they had to do something out of character in a wild extra inning game? As long as I don't have to watch Stu Cole run the bases.
Who would be the most effective player/coach? The Rockies would have nice depth as I mentioned before. How about Kirk Gibson? I bet Mattingly can still swing a bat.
This variation comes from my friend and bandmate Jeff Williams, who suggested that another way to implement this would be to allow managers/coaches as extra position players. No one else would come out of the game, but you could have Walt Weiss (for example) roam the middle of the infield or add a fourth outfielder. The downside to this is that more defensive coverage makes it more likely the game will go on even longer. Y'know that and it's completely and utterly ridiculous. But you know you'd watch that.
PR Staff Thoughts:
"That would be worth it just for the trainwreck fascination effect. Can you imagine Charlie Manuel in that situation?" - Charlie Drysdale
"How about when Lasorda was coaching haha" - Craig Baker
Idea # 2: All-Star Game Skills Challenge (Charlie Drysdale)
In Charlie's words: "What about adding a skills challenge to the all star-game? It could be setup like the NFL quarterback challenge, only the target would be a dunk tank with managers or umpires sitting above the water waiting to get wet. I would love to see Cargo throw a laser from CF to dunk Angel Hernandez"
I love this. I watch a ton of NBA and while the skills challenge in that All-Star game has always been a bit lackluster, I have always enjoyed their ability to add more to All-Star weekend and showcase the true raw skills of their players, especially with the shooting and dunking contests. Baseball is a little trickier to figure out in terms of raw skill because 90 percent of your success in baseball is mental ... the other half is physical. OK, Yogi may have had some interesting math on that one, but the point remains that the most difficult challenges in baseball are often either mostly mental or highly technical without necessarily being easily measurable. So what would a skills challenge look like?
It would be difficult to do a hitting themed skills challenge since that is essentially what baseball already is (unless you are a pitcher) and the Home Run Derby already exists for power guys. I've seen events that have players trying to hit the ball into highlighted spots in the outfield, but this always seemed too random to me.
I love the dunk tank idea for outfield arms, and you could do a closer range version for infielders. Dunking umpires, coaches, managers, and Bud Selig should happen. I even thought it would be funny to do a pitcher version of this where you put corresponding dunk levers different parts of the strike zone. Then the participating pitcher would be told where to throw (i.e. low and away corner). If he hits the spot it dunks someone of that player's choice: an umpire, opposing manager, or maybe even another player. If he misses the zone he was supposed to hit, somebody on his team would get dunked. You could even have the person who is chosen as the potential "victim" get to choose their corresponding collateral.
Finally, this needs a speed challenge. A straight race in the outfield? How about just timing the fastest guys as they run around the bases? You could also just do a straight home-to-first time. Really, this should happen.
Seriously, the dunk tank thing almost certainly won't happen, but MLB could do a lot to spruce up the All-Star Game. It's only once a year we get to see all these guys in one place and not everyone gets a chance to shine in the game. The cool thing about the NBA and NFL skills challenges is that they remind us that even the players who aren't household names have incredible talent and skill. Plus, wouldn't it be nice to see Eric Young Jr. run the bases without the potential threat that some horrifying out might occur?
Idea #3: The Two-Inning Closer
This certainly isn't an entirely new concept -- relief pitchers used to pitch multiple innings all the time. And then the "save" stat was invented. There is plenty of logic, and also plenty of fear, behind why managers use their bullpens the way they do. The problems with sticking the label "closer" on one guy, cornering him into only ever pitching the ninth inning, have been thoroughly discussed for years. If the best hitters on the other team are coming up in the eighth, why wait to use your best available pitcher to go after the 7-8-9 hitters in the ninth? But the question that seems to be arising more and more is, what is really the value of a closer? This debate is perhaps best exemplified by the recent cases of Neftali Feliz and Aroldis Chapman. Both players are fireballer wipe-out stuff type of guys capable of racking up Ks in a hurry. But the Rangers and Reds weren't sure exactly how these guys were best effective. They both profiled as starting pitchers because they had decent stamina and the ability to dominate the lineup. However, since both were brought into the big leagues to close and became dominant, moving them into the rotation became a double-edged sword.
Not only would moving each player create a question mark at a position that had once been a major asset, but it would also affect the individual pitchers themselves as it is nearly impossible to maintain 97-105 (in Chapman's case) for seven innings, in addition to the changes in strategy. Many closers (Chapman included) are really two-pitch guys (fastball, slider) and when the lineup is in its second and third times against a pitcher, the batters can sit on two pitches regardless of how nasty they are. So, I suggest a special position made just for those hybrid guys with super nasty stuff and also stamina and composure: the two-inning closer.
Not every team would have a two-inning closer, but for the Reds, Braves (Craig Kimbrel) recent Yankees (Mariano Rivera) or even the Padres before that (Trevor Hoffman) it makes some sense. Sure there are problems. What happens if he gets in trouble or blows the lead in the eighth then what do you do for the ninth? What about guys getting overworked, tired, or injured? The fact is, though, that these are going to be concerns anyway, right? Closers still miss appearances occasionally if they have had to work too many games in a row, but sometimes they will go a whole week without getting a save opportunity, many times waiting for the appearance while the setup man blows it first. If your closer blows the game in the eighth is it really worse than blowing it in the ninth or letting the setup guy do it? The problem is, if a manager ever tried this and it didn't work he would get fired.
OT Idea(s): A Sportswide Ban On Out-Of-Context/Bulk/Irrelevant Stats
The NBA playoffs are in full swing now, so invariably I have had to hear the stats on how many teams, y'know in the history of forever, have won a best-of-seven series after being down two, or tied at one, or any other possibility. Telling me that teams win 73 percent of the time after winning the first game of a series is completely useless. Baseball does this less often because there are so many relevant stats to the each player and team that people tend to stick with those. I think it should be a rule that if you are going to give me a stat before watching a game, it should at least have some relevance to the two teams playing or some of their players. I still think it's strange when they give stats like "Helton is hitting .380 in his career against so-and-so." More relevant sure, but how many different pitchers have taken the mound for so-and-so during Todd Helton's career? A lot. That's how many. I prefer my stats tell me something about what is actually taking place and not, at best, point out an interesting coincidence and at worst avoiding discussion of relevant factors. There is an NBA sideline reporter (not here to point fingers or names) who gave a report the other night about the Nuggets and Warriors game without mentioning anything about either the Nuggets or Warriors. It was all conjecture on what a tough road history says the Nuggets have after going down 3-1. Most of the Nuggets players weren't even alive for most of that history. The question should be what relevant pieces to these teams have to implement to try to win?
This also goes for officiating statistics:
If one team earned 40 free-throws and the other earned zero, then the box score should read 40 attempted free-throws to zero. If I complain that my team wasn't getting the calls, or couldn't get the ump to be consistent, please please please don't quote me some kind of bulk statistic about my guy/team getting more FTs or my pitcher getting more called strikeouts. Too often, people and journalists feel the need to even out these numbers in order to show even-handed justice. But that's not how it works. A pitch thrown in the zone is a strike whether or not the pitcher missed his spot or if the ump was fooled by its movement. A team getting more calls does not necessarily mean that they are being favored. And if the other team is earning it, I really don't want the "make-up call." If the pitcher has thrown seven straight out of the zone and the next pitch is only an inch outside, it is still a ball. Let's please stop trying to placeboize officiating. I don't want it to look fair, I want it to be fair.