On Betterball’s creation of talent, and its danger to MLB’s labor

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The July issue of The Atlantic features a review of Ben Lindbergh’s and Travis Sawchik’s recently released book, The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Noncomformists Are Using Data To Build Better Players. Jack Hamilton, the writer of this review, didn’t just look at whether the book was enjoyable to read, but also at the subject being covered itself, and the problems contained within it: in some cases, he even asked and tried to answer important questions the authors themselves did not.

We’re going to look at the review and those questions today, because they happen to be labor-oriented. Let’s open with this background quote from Hamilton, on recent revolutions in baseball:

The steroid and stat revolutions have unfolded very differently so far, but they arose from a common source: a desire to deploy scientific methods to improve the way baseball is played. Steroid use focused on player enhancement, whereas analytics focused on player value. To put it polemically, one was a revolution driven by labor, and the other by management, which is probably one of many reasons the latter has been more readily accepted.

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MLB’s early collective bargaining sessions might just be theater

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The USWNT’s fight for equal pay takes center stage

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The United States Women’s National Team are your 2019 World Cup champions, just like they were in 2015. This time around, though, there is a discussion going on outside of just how awesome this roster and its players are (incredibly awesome, for the record): it’s beyond time for the women of America’s national team to be paid on par with the men of America’s national team.

It’s not just fans or media who think so, or anything like that: the team itself believes as much, and in fact sued the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination back in March of this year:

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Adam Eaton has deluded himself into thinking suffering is good, actually

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The Washington City Paper ran a story on Sunday discussing the poor working and living conditions of low-level minor-league players in the Nationals’ system. For the most part, it’s full of the kind of information you’re already aware of if you’ve been opening up newsletters like this one, but then it gets to current Nats’ outfielder Adam Eaton, and what he has to say about minor-league exploitation. In short, it’s a net good! Who knew?

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The media isn’t helping

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For some reason, The Ringer published a podcast featuring special guest Ben Shapiro on Thursday. Yes, that Ben Shapiro, the only Ben Shapiro, the one adored by the right wing and mass murderers, as Deadspin reminds. Shapiro was a guest on Larry Wilmore’s podcast, because Larry Wilmore was at one time a guest on Shapiro’s podcast, and I guess we learned nothing from like, Jon Stewart going on Tucker Carlson’s show and how little damage trying to clown on him and his bow tie while having a discussion with him did to his stances and career.

How’d it go? Well, let’s take this bit from Deadspin’s piece, and you’ll understand in a hurry (you should also read that piece in full for the full context, if you’re unaware of who this goblin is):

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Red Sox White House visit illuminates larger MLB-wide problem

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The defending World Series champion Red Sox should never have gone to the White House to visit President Donald Trump. That’s the beginning and end of the story, or, at least, it should have been the end. Instead, the Red Sox did go to the White House — the white Red Sox, anyway — and now we’ve got denials of any kind of clubhouse divide, non-white players put into public positions they never should have been forced to have to take, and Trump taking credit for the Sox’ recent resurgence because they were able to absorb his aura or whatever via soggy and cold McDonald’s lunch ritual.

Even the Washington Post, which is certainly not some bastion of progressive thinking, says the racial divide shown by who went and who did not is “impossible to ignore.” Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser has the right idea, too, writing that if the Red Sox wanted to remain apolitical, the organization never should have put players in a position to choose going or not:

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The latest Addison Russell story is a reminder MLB doesn’t care about domestic abuse

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Major League Baseball has a domestic violence policy, and, on paper, it can be pretty effective. There are internal investigations and suspensions can occur without charges being filed or there being an arrest: that’s a positive workaround for the world we live in, where domestic abusers rarely face punishment or even public scrutiny.

When we see how the policy and punishments are used in practice, though, we get the uncomfortable reminder that, too often, MLB’s view of domestic abuse is mostly one where they’re hoping to minimize the public relations hit. Giants’ CEO Larry Baer was suspended for just half of the 2019 season, despite being caught on video attacking his wife in public in order to wrest a cell phone from her hands. The Yankees traded for then-suspended closer Aroldis Chapman, because his domestic abuse suspension lowered his value, and allowed New York to acquire him for less than he’d usually cost… and then they flipped him to the Cubs that summer, at a premium, because the suspension was over and so to was any stigma attached to his person. The Astros traded for Roberto Osuna last summer to improve their bullpen for similar reasons: this version of Moneyball is an uncomfortable one to witness play out.

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Ozzie Albies’ awful extension makes sense, and that’s the problem

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We’ve been talking a lot about extensions lately, but, well, extensions keep happening. Ozzie Albies is the latest to sign one, and it’s a doozy: it’s basically the culmination of everything MLB has worked for in terms of suppressing potential outlets for earnings, funneling players into one specific direction that benefits teams more than anyone else.

Jeff Passan reported that agents, scouts, and even team executives think Albies’ seven-year extension worth $35 million guaranteed, that jumps to nine-years and $45 million should his options be picked up, could be “the worst contract ever for a player.” Michael Baumann wrote an article in response to that for The Ringer that does not discredit the notion that Albies and his agent put pen to an awful piece of paper. Craig Goldstein tweeted a thread on how Albies’ deal is a reminder that teams are acting like insurance companies, and if you know anything about myself or Craig, no, that is not a compliment.

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Raising minor-league wages is a plus, but there’s still work to be done

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Major League Baseball is likely tired of all of the discussion about the working and living conditions of Minor League Baseball players, and the proof of that is in the latest rumor on the matter. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported on Tuesday that MLB and the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, which runs MiLB, are discussing ways to increase player pay and improve the conditions they deal with.

There are a few things to keep in mind from the start here, and they should temper your enthusiasm for this as anything but MLB trying to get fans and media to stop looking behind the curtain. Harm reduction is great and all, but there remains work to be done.

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Justin Verlander is on to something

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On Monday, Houston Astros’ ace Justin Verlander took to Twitter to complain about the glacial free agent market. (On second thought, glaciers are receding faster than free agents are being signed, so maybe that analogy doesn’t work so well anymore.) I’ve got a nitpick about what he thinks the “great performance window” for non-Justin Verlander players is, but otherwise, he’s spot-on with his take:

100 or so free agents left unsigned.  System is broken. They blame “rebuilding” but that’s BS. You’re telling me you couldn’t sign Bryce [Harper] or Manny [Machado] for 10 years and go from there? Seems like a good place to start a rebuild to me.  26-36 is a great performance window too.

The system is broken from the players’ point of view, but it’s working just fine from where teams are sitting. The “rebuilding” excuse is at the center of all of this, and for some reason fans eat it up while too many media members do not question the real motives behind teams that use it. As Verlander wonders, if a team is rebuilding, then wouldn’t they want to get a young star when they’re available, so that they don’t have to hope there is one out there to acquire at the moment they’re ready to shift from rebuilding to competing?

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