TORONTO – Fitting, really, is the transition for Major League Baseball, spring-boarding from a World Series finale marked by the internecine struggle over data-driven decision-making and COVID-19’s inconvenient realities, into an off-season that will be broadly driven by both issues.
Kevin Cash’s decision to remove Blake Snell from the sixth inning of Tuesday’s title clinching 3-1 win for the Los Angeles Dodgers over the Tampa Bay Rays had barely been made before it turned into the game’s latest referendum on advanced analytics. Predictably, the conversation became emotional and polarized, the-numbers-say-this set getting trashed by the trust-your-eyes-feel-for-the-game gang, all with the usual counter-productive shouting of bromides.
I’ll deep dive into that in a bit.
Bigger picture, that the divide surfaced in such a forceful manner on such a grand stage doesn’t bode well ahead of a free agent market that already in recent years has been upended by data-projection performance models. The subsequent flux in the game’s compensatory structure is the most contentious matter between owners and players with the CBA set to expire at the end of next season.
This season, Dan picks an issue, trend, news item or story from around MLB, and digs in on it with a guest. And he does it five times a week for about 15 minutes a day. Enough time to inform and entertain, but also get fans back to all the sports going on.
Ratcheting up the tensions is the ongoing impact of the pandemic, which had faded to the background after MLB survived the early-season outbreaks on the Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals, both of which nearly killed the entire campaign. A stretch of no new positives among players that lasted for 58 consecutive days came to an end Tuesday when Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner tested positive and was removed from the game in the eighth inning and told to isolate – a jolt that should have reminded everyone of just how fragile this venture was, even within the so-called “bubble” created by MLB for the playoffs.
Unfathomably, Turner returned to the field to join the post-game celebrations, exchanging hugs with teammates and removing his mask for a team photo with the World Series trophy. Cameras also caught him kissing his wife, the entire scene a textbook example of what not to do in the COVID-19 world.
The immediate implications are damning enough.
MLB, in a release, said the Dodgers’ entire travelling party received nasal swab tests Tuesday night and that both they and the Rays were tested again Wednesday. For context, under American CDC regulations, anyone who had been within six feet of Turner for more than 15 minutes Tuesday should stay home for 14 days after exposure and keep six feet away from others.
That would have covered at least a handful of Turner’s Dodgers teammates who dogpiled the mound after Julio Urias caught Joey Wendle looking for the final out. As family members and significant others joined on the field, most if not all without masks, the pinnacle moment doubled as a potential super-spreader event.
Skeptical? Consider this situational risk chart shared recently on Twitter by Dr. Andrew Morris, medical director of the Antimicrobial Stewardship Program at Sinai Health System/University Health Network and an infectious diseases professor at the University of Toronto:
MLB slammed Turner in its statement, saying he “chose to disregard the agreed-upon joint protocols and the instructions he was given regarding the safety and protection of others.”
“While a desire to celebrate is understandable, Turner’s decision to leave isolation and enter the field was wrong and put everyone he came in contact with at risk,” it continued. “When MLB Security raised the matter of being on the field with Turner, he emphatically refused to comply. The Commissioner’s Office is beginning a full investigation into this matter and will consult with the Players Association within the parameters of the joint 2020 Operations Manual.”
That’s good, but it won’t undo the damage done, especially if the Dodgers end up with an outbreak. And while Turner’s actions are reflective of the stark split in American public opinion on how to live with COVID, sensible health authorities will justifiably be far more suspicious of MLB’s assurances of protocol compliance when it comes to potential 2021 exemptions.
For all the talk about avoiding the one selfish act that submarines a team’s season, Turner’s actions have the potential to undermine the fates of a much wider swath of the sport as the when and how of next season become a focal point.
Within that reckoning may very well come the latest bit of navel-gazing within the game about the role of data in on-field decision-making, triggered by the Snell decision.
Cash’s call reverberated through the industry, because the ace lefty had completely dominated through 5.1 innings, allowing only two hits, striking out nine and throwing only 73 pitches. Even after giving up a one-out single to Austin Barnes on a meh slider, there were no signs that he was falling off, but a third at-bat for Mookie Betts, Corey Seager and Turner loomed and this is where the conflict lies.
The third-time-through-the-order data pretty much always points to a pitching change. And Snell’s numbers this season do the same, whether you look at pitch counts or times through a lineup.
From an analytical standpoint, the data is relatively conclusive, indicating that Nick Anderson (the reliever who replaced Snell) facing Betts for the first time was a better option than Snell facing Betts, who struck out in his previous at-bat on a healthy swing at a high fastball, a third time.
Cash would have known the probabilities beforehand and various scenarios would have been discussed between the Rays front office, analytics department and coaching staff. That preparation would have helped them build, in theory, a more objective plan that could be executed in-game without the emotional influences inherent to a contest with such high stakes.
In general terms, relying on objective data and collaboration between key thinkers will more often than not lead to a better decision than simply trusting gut and feel in the moment.
Only in this case, it didn’t.
Betts ripped a double off Anderson that left runners at second and third. A wild pitch plated Barnes to tie the game. A groundball to first scored Betts. The Dodgers had the lead, and, nine outs later, the title.
After the game, the Dodgers spoke of the boost it gave them to no longer be facing Snell, a narrative repeated by other analysts. But was it really a boost? Or did arguably the best player in the sport hit a double and then the Dodgers barely eked out a pair of runs?
The challenge for managers in Cash’s situation is that it’s hard to make an objective case for rejecting compelling data based on an eye-test. Before a game, teams can project how a pitcher’s stuff will play a third time through the order, but those are just baselines that have to be subjectively adjusted in-game. Without a measure more decisive, you’re left with a call on feel, which is something the modern front office seeks to avoid.
Now, a more nuanced view suggests the intellectualization of the sport underweights the feel element that is a product of years of experience. Cash has been there and done that enough to get a sense of when his guy is falling off, based on accumulated wisdom, and he’s earned the latitude to let his sense make the decision.
Given that, the real question is whether Cash was fully convicted in pulling Snell based on his assessment of both how the stuff was looking and what the data said, or if the numbers alone made the call.
Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.
If it’s the former, then both he and the Rays should be able to live with it. If it’s the latter, then relying on data to make decisions is simply convention on the other end of spectrum, using numbers as a crutch, as opposed to feel.
The sweet spot, of course, is in combining the two realms, an inexact science that the Dodgers do better than most. Despite that, Dave Roberts has been skewered for decisions that led to his club’s previous post-season failures, but now that his team won the World Series, is he suddenly a better manager?
Sometimes the best decisions don’t work out. Sometimes the worst decisions do. In a game played by human beings and subject to randomness, no model will ever produce 100 per cent certainty.
That’s why there’s a case to be made for trusting your guy in the moment, a case to be made for giving your good players the rope to be great. Higher risk comes with higher rewards, and as the removal of Snell showed, playing it safe doesn’t always work out, either.
And so, the 2020 season ends much in the way the slow build to 2021 begins, with baseball still wrestling with the data movement over the game’s soul, under the relentless presence of a coronavirus a long way from disappearing.
Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, aka SexDome, may be umm, going down – Deadspin
The end of the Rogers Centre is nigh, according to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail as Rogers Communications is in negotiations to demolish the 31-year-old stadium and build a new one.
The stadium, which opened in 1989, was built as a modern update to the multi-purpose, AstroTurf stadiums of the 1970s. It soon seemed antiquated as the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in 1992 led to a wave of retro, natural grass stadiums being built. SkyDome was the first park to have a fully functional retractable roof (Montreal’s Olympic Stadium also was built with a retractable roof, but, umm, it had … issues), and Mike Lupica once derisively referred to the place as “Disneyland.”
Skydome also featured a Hard Rock hotel in the stadium, which led to it being the only baseball stadium where fans and players could simultaneously circle the bases.
SkyDome featured one of baseball’s most dramatic home runs – Joe Carter’s series-winning blast in 1993 off Mitch Williams. But before that, two fans were seen doing the nasty.
From a 1990 UPI report:
Some baseball fans think the Toronto Blue Jays’ retractable roof SkyDome home should be renamed SexDome after fans watched a couple make love in a hotel suite that overlooks the playing field.Tuesday night, during the team’s 4-3 loss to the Seattle Mariners, those with binoculars could see an older man and a buxom, blond woman having sex in their suite. Although the lights in the suite were off, the couple’s room was illuminated by a bank of television lights in the SkyDome.
The incident Tuesday follows one several weeks ago where a male guest in the hotel, built into the SkyDome itself, masturbated in the window of his suite in front of thousands of Blue Jays fans.
That was not the end of the live sex shows at the SkyDome, renamed the Rogers Centre in 2005. In 1996, during a Blue Jays-Red Sox game, 31,000 fans were treated to what was described as a 30-minute sex show.
“It’s a good thing they finished before the game ended or I don’t think anyone would have seen the game,” Blue Jays first base coach Alfredo Griffin said.
Fantasy: Start, Sit, Stash, Quit – Week 12 – theScore
SSSQ is a weekly look at under-the-radar fantasy players to consider starting and potential busts you should leave on your bench. We also identify breakout candidates to stash on your roster and players you can safely cut.
Cam Newton, Patriots
After missing time following a COVID-19 diagnosis and taking a couple of games to settle back into the offense, Newton has emerged as the QB10 based on fantasy points per game over the last month.
He’s also coming off his second 300-plus-yard passing effort as a Patriot after benefitting from the Texans’ defense and its lack of resistance. Fortunately for Cam, the Cardinals are nearly just as generous, offering the eighth-most favorable matchup for fantasy quarterbacks this season.
Continue to start Newton as a low-end QB1 in Week 12.
Boone’s projection: 241 passing yards, one passing TD, 38 rushing yards, one rushing TD
Other QBs to start
- Derek Carr at Falcons
- Taysom Hill at Broncos
- Tom Brady vs. Chiefs
Kareem Hunt, Browns
Hunt has averaged 15.8 fantasy points per game in PPR formats during the six contests he’s shared the backfield with Chubb, compared to 13.6 without him.
On Sunday, Cleveland’s rushing attack will be in one of its best spots of the year as 6.5-point favorites versus a Jaguars team starting Mike Glennon. The Browns shouldn’t struggle to control this game, and they’ll also take advantage of Jacksonville’s bottom-five defense against opposing fantasy backs.
Both Chubb and Hunt can be started as top-12 options at running back this week.
Boone’s projection: 83 rushing yards, 29 receiving yards, TD
Other RBs to start
- Wayne Gallman at Bengals
- Jonathan Taylor vs. Titans
- David Montgomery at Packers
Justin Jefferson, Vikings
Adam Thielen was placed on the COVID-19/Reserve list earlier this week, but at the time of this writing, we still don’t know whether he tested positive or was identified as a close contact.
We’re waiting for more information on Thielen’s Week 12 status. In the meantime, Jefferson has become a fantasy must-start no matter who’s in the lineup around him.
Since Week 3 when he became a full-time player, Jefferson is averaging the seventh-most fantasy points among receivers, right behind Thielen.
The Panthers don’t offer the best matchup, but they’ve given up 75-plus yards to five different wideouts over their last five games. Jefferson is about to make that six.
Boone’s projection: 107 receiving yards, TD
Other WRs to start
- D.J. Moore at Vikings
- Chris Godwin/Mike Evans/Antonio Brown vs. Chiefs
- DeVante Parker at Jets
Austin Hooper, Browns
Hooper has dealt with heavy winds and rain over his last two games since returning to the lineup in Week 10. That’s put a damper on the Browns’ passing attack, but there are still positives to be gleaned from Hooper’s performances.
The tight end has resumed his role as the team’s full-time starter, seeing five targets last week. If he gets better weather conditions, Hooper is sure to deliver against a Jaguars defense that’s allowing the third-most fantasy points to tight ends.
Even though he hasn’t played like it yet, Hooper can be treated as a TE1 in a year when plenty of fantasy managers are still looking for stable options at the position.
Boone’s projection: 59 receiving yards, TD
Other TEs to start
- Evan Engram at Bengals
- Mike Gesicki at Jets
- Robert Tonyan vs. Bears
Ryan Tannehill, Titans
Since becoming the Titans’ starter, Tannehill has struggled against the Colts while posting passing yards totals of 182 and 147 – the most recent coming in a loss two weeks ago.
That’s not surprising, as the Colts present the third-most difficult matchup for fantasy passers, behind only the Steelers and Rams.
Better days are ahead for Tannehill, with the Browns, Jaguars, and Lions on the schedule over Tennessee’s next three games. But he should remain on your bench for one more week.
Boone’s projection: 176 passing yards, TD, INT, nine rushing yards
Other QBs to sit
- Ben Roethlisberger vs. Ravens
- Jared Goff vs. 49ers
- Kirk Couins vs. Panthers
Melvin Gordon, Broncos
Gordon posted his best stat line in over a month last week, putting up 84 yards and two touchdowns against a Dolphins defense missing linemen. But don’t be fooled.
Though chasing those points and putting him back in your lineup may be enticing, his situation hasn’t changed. In his previous three outings, Gordon was held to 46 yards from scrimmage or fewer with no trips to the end zone.
The Saints’ defense is also one the league’s stingiest against fantasy backs and perhaps the biggest reason to shy away from Broncos ball carriers on Sunday.
With Phillip Lindsay siphoning touches and capping his ceiling, Gordon is more of a risky RB3 in Week 12.
Boone’s projection: 43 rushing yards, nine receiving yards
Other RBs to sit
- Leonard Fournette vs. Chiefs
- Darrell Henderson/Malcolm Brown/Cam Akers vs. 49ers
- Frank Gore vs. Dolphins
Tyler Boyd/Tee Higgins, Bengals
We’re in wait-and-see mode with the Bengals’ talented receiving duo following Joe Burrow‘s season-ending injury.
That’s bad news for Boyd and Higgins, who have operated as WR2s in recent weeks, and they’ll now fall into the risky WR3 range. Though big games are still possible, inconsistency and a lack of scoring opportunities are the new reality in Burrow’s absence.
Boone’s projection for Boyd: 56 receiving yards
Boone’s projection for Higgins: 45 receiving yards
Other WRs to sit
- D.J. Chark vs. Browns
- Jerry Jeudy vs. Saints
- Travis Fulgham vs. Seahawks
Jimmy Graham, Bears
Before getting too excited about a possible revenge game for Graham against the Packers, it’s important to acknowledge his situation.
Graham is a touchdown-dependent fantasy option, and he’s topped 35 receiving yards only twice this year, scoring once over his past five games.
Meanwhile, the Packers present the fourth-most difficult matchup for fantasy tight ends in 2020. We might see the Bears go out of their way to get Graham a red zone target or two, but there’s likely a streaming option with more upside on your waiver wire.
Boone’s projection: 31 receiving yards
Other TEs to sit
- Jared Cook at Broncos
- Trey Burton vs. Titans
- Jordan Reed at Rams
Andy Isabella, Cardinals
Larry Fitzgerald will be sidelined for Week 12 and maybe longer after testing positive for COVID-19. And while we wish the veteran a speedy recovery, his absence opens the door for Isabella (1% rostered) to finally see increased playing time.
The Cardinals have yet to unleash their second-round pick from 2019, holding him to 50% or less of their snaps in every game this year.
Gabriel Davis, Bills
In the three games Brown has missed, Davis has produced stat lines of 4-81-0, 5-58-0, and 1-11-0 while playing at least 70% of the snaps in each contest. In fact, the 21-year-old has put up 55-plus yards and/or a touchdown in five of his 10 appearances.
If Brown’s ankle injury lingers, Davis could be a sneaky add for the stretch run in one of the league’s best offenses.
Marquise Brown, Ravens
Even with Jackson healthy, Brown has been a major disappointment this season. The 2019 first-round pick hasn’t posted double-digit fantasy points since Week 5, and he’s recorded just six catches for 55 yards and one touchdown over his last four outings.
He can’t be trusted in your lineup, and there are surely better waiver-wire options.
Kalen Ballage, Chargers
Ballage (68% rostered) was banged up in last week’s game and re-aggravated his lower-leg injury in practice on Thursday. His Week 12 availability is now in doubt after a couple of solid outings as the Chargers’ lead back.
With Austin Ekeler nearing a return, Ballage can be dropped for the next hot waiver-wire back who might be thrust into a bigger role. Potential candidates include Brian Hill (Todd Gurley missed practice Wednesday and Thursday), Samaje Perine (Giovani Bernard is trying to clear the concussion protocol), or Ballage’s teammates Troymaine Pope and Joshua Kelley (potential fill-ins if Ekeler isn’t ready yet).
‘There’s got to be natural grass’: Richard Peddie on the Rogers Centre’s future and past – Toronto Star
Longtime sports industry executive Richard Peddie, who was president of the Rogers Centre (then SkyDome) between 1989 and 1994, said it was clear almost from the time it was built that it was on the wrong side of history.
“I walked into (Baltimore’s) Camden Yards for the first time and went ‘oh, s—.’ SkyDome was really the last of the big multi-purpose stadiums that were built,” Peddie said Friday after a report that Rogers, which also owns the Blue Jays, might knock down the stadium and build a new ballpark as part of a major downtown redevelopment.
The stadium’s revenue took a big hit, he said, once the Air Canada Centre — now Scotiabank Arena — was built.
“We had to do a forecast just before I left. The biggest risk — which we noted in the forecast — was the possibility of a real arena being built, and that’s exactly what happened,” said Peddie, who was also CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment from 1996 to 2011.
Peddie added that the idea of building a new stadium on the existing parcel of land simply isn’t practical.
“There’s no way you could do it on the same site, because it would mean the team needing to play somewhere else for three or four years. You’d need to keep this open while you built somewhere else,” said Peddie, noting that the land is still owned by the federal government. “Rogers has a lease which says the land is being used for a sports stadium. They can’t just change it by themselves.”
He also had a few suggestions for what a new stadium should look like.
“There’s got to be natural grass. It should be an open-air stadium which you can cover up, rather than a domed stadium where you can roll the roof back. It should be smaller. And wearing my progressive hat, there shouldn’t be money from any level of government going towards this. Pro sports team owners are very wealthy people. A lot of them are billionaires, who have seen their franchise values increase by a lot.”
Rogers Centre, formerly SkyDome, aka SexDome, may be umm, going down – Deadspin
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