Load ‘Em Up with Joe Rivera (2/22/16)

Pirates at Orioles 5/1/14

Welcome to Load ‘Em Up with Joe Rivera! Your weekly ramblings on the latest ongoings within The Show.

Stepping Up to the Plate

It’s happening! It’s finally happening!

The videos of the busses, the warm weather, the familiar sounds of bats cracking and gloves popping. Spring training has finally arrived.

As we prepare our eyes, minds and sanity (and players prepare their bodies) for another 162 game marathon, this offseason gave us a few things to sit and stew on.

First Base: Defensive Shifts, or Offensive Adjustments?

The offensive downturn in MLB can be attributed to a few things. First, we’ve been seeing pitchers come up and throw with better stuff than we ever have in the history of baseball. Second, we’ve seen more and more hitters take the “all-or-nothing” approach. Brian Kenny of MLB Network said it best: hitters are starting to recognize that the risk/reward for mashing a double with two strikes is greater as opposed to shortening their swing to the ball for a single. The third? The bane of everyone’s existence today: the defensive shift.

According to info from Baseball Info Solutions, defensive shifts have doubled – yes, doubled – yearly since 2011. From just over 2,300 in 2011 to over 11,000 in 2014, and just over 10,000 before the All-Star Break in 2015. Is it a problem? Somewhat.

The fact that so many players in baseball today are pull-happy is what is really driving the offensive downfall. A player like Brian McCann, who hit for a relatively high average for a catcher early in his career (with spray charts that had him peppering balls to all fields, not just dingers to right) has fallen major victim to the shift. With roughly half of his swings of the pull persuasion, McCann has seen career lows in average and on base percentage the last two seasons.

That, and solely that, is why it’s on the player.

The Kansas City Royals (and to a lesser extent, the San Francisco Giants) have proven that you can win baseball games without emphasis on the home run and power. Just the opposite, actually. When you get to October, and you’re facing top of the line starting pitching every night, offenses that rely on home runs and pulling for power are doomed to fail.

If a player that’s made it to the majors can’t make the adjustment to their approach at the plate, then frankly they deserve to hit whatever low average is coming their way. Hopefully we can end the talk of banning the shift this year with players smartening up and starting to go the other way again.

Second Base: Money Talks

Every now and then you’ll see a fool online that says “baseball is dying” or “there’s no money” in baseball. I’m here to debunk that myth.

Money talks. While each team has their own individual attendance and revenue situation, baseball as a whole has grown to exponential heights. Thanks in large part to TV deals and merchandise, Major League Baseball has seen $500 million in growth from 2014 to 2015 and is now approaching $9.5 billion revenue.

Man, I would love to be “dying” at $9.5 billion.

Attendance is up between 2014 and 2015, and has been on the steady incline throughout the last five years, contrary to popular belief. Understanding that some fans are still being driven away by high ticket prices and concessions in certain larger markets, attendance will only trend upward in the future.

While more and more teams are opting for TV deals, you’ll continue to see contracts get bigger and bigger. National League MVP and future hair model Bryce Harper caused stir when he said “don’t sell me short” on a potential $400 million contract. It remains to be seen, but with the money floating in baseball, don’t be surprised when Harper becomes baseball’s first half billion dollar man.

Third Base: The Parity is Real

The reason that baseball is the best sport on the planet is because of the parity.

Looking at all thirty teams in baseball, you can make a solid case for 20 of them to make a run at a series title. We’re not seeing teams anymore that are built around one superstar, now you’re seeing teams that have one great player and so many complimentary players that help them succeed.

With more teams opting the path of developing their youth and keeping them at a cheaper price than eventual free agency would dictate, team’s windows are opening and stay that way for a longer period of time than before.

With the raging fire that is sabermetrics and advanced analytics sweeping the Show, teams are finding new ways to build teams and circumvent old habits and theories to build ball clubs to organizational ideologies. No two teams are built the same, and that’s what makes baseball so fun to watch.

Rounding Third, Heading Home

There’s a lot of things going on heading into the 2016 season.  With baseball’s seeming purity (Jenrry Mejia aside…sorry, Jenrry), parity and youth, 2016 will be very fun to watch.




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