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Jayson Stark | Senior MLB Insider, The Athletic

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March 1, 2023 6:06 am

Jayson Stark | Senior MLB Insider, The Athletic

Amy Lawrence Show / Amy Lawrence

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March 1, 2023 6:06 am

Senior MLB insider for The Athletic Jayson Stark joins the show to talk new rule changes, Spring Training, and the incredible spending of the San Diego Padres.

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That's slash positive. Jason Stark is a long-time baseball writer, reporter, and insider, now with The Athletic. Long-time friend of mine going back to our days at a previous network, and it's wonderful to get his perspective from spring training. Jason, so far these rules changes are attracting a lot of attention. The pitch clock seems to be the one people are focused on the most.

You're in Florida. What are you seeing so far about how these rules are being implemented and received? Well, Amy, we knew this would be crazy in spring training. Basically, baseball actually was rooting for it to be crazy. But I was at that game on Saturday, Braves-Red Sox. It ended with the pitch clock violation that, with the help of my friend Mike Fern, we're going to call the clock off.

And I'm going to tell you something. It's one of the strangest things I've ever been in a ballpark for, to have a game and go to pitch clock violation. And just trying to explain it made my head hurt. But this is what baseball wanted to have happen. They wanted everybody to see that the craziness is going to happen, get used to it, deal with it.

And hopefully it's better that it happens in North Port, Florida, in Yankee Stadium in October. What was the reaction from the players themselves, like Cal Conley, who thought he had secured a walk-off walk, and then the Braves and Red Sox in their own dugouts? Yeah, that was the craziest part of it. This was the ultimate what-just-happened moment.

Because, honestly, nobody knew for a moment there what had just gone on. Cal Conley, the hitter, thought he had just drawn a game-winning bases-loaded walk, even though no pitch was thrown. And the pitcher for the Red Sox thought that it was a walk.

Both managers thought it was a walk. And, you know, I talked to this guy who pitched for the Red Sox. I know I'm going to screw up his name.

Robert Korkowski, I think is the way it's pronounced. And he said, I honestly had no idea what had just happened. I didn't know if we'd won. I didn't know if we'd lost. I didn't know if this guy was out.

I didn't know if he just walked. It was crazy. I didn't know how to act. And that was everybody.

Because, you know, if people didn't see this or didn't really read about it, let me explain to you why it was so crazy. Okay, I expected there'd be some hitters get called for strikes because they weren't in the box looking at the pitcher with eight seconds to go on the pitch clock, which is the way the rule reads. I understood that was going to happen. I understood there would be some times it could happen in this kind of situation where the winning run scored or didn't score or whatever.

But here's why this one was wild. Okay, there's bases are loaded. Three to count. Two outs in the night. And so the catcher throws the ball back to the pitcher, which means the pitch clock starts. Then the catch is standing, pointing at the infielders saying the plays at first. It's three, two bases loaded two outs in the night. Just throw the ball first if it hits you.

Like all that was fine, but now the clock is ticking down. And so the catcher is still standing there. The pitcher is looking at the catcher thinking, I can't throw a pitch because the catcher is standing. And the hitter is supposed to be looking at the pitcher, but he's looking at the catcher because he's like three inches away from him. And so when the umpire starts waving his arm, obviously everybody thought the clock had run out and Cal Conley had just walked. But what they ruled was that because he was looking at the catcher and not the pitcher, the rule says you got to be looking at the pitcher with eight seconds to go on the clock. So that's a strike, which means you're out.

Okay. So there was so this is one of the most confusing things I have ever seen. Seriously, I didn't and nobody quite understood it for a while. But Alex Corey afterwards and he thought they had run out the clock. The clock got to zero. No pitch was thrown. Why would you think you just got out of the inning? And, you know, I had a long discussion with Major League Baseball about the call because they said it was the right call. I don't understand how you've got all this chaos breaking out around the hitter, but it's the hitter who's called out because he's not looking at the pitcher.

It made no sense. There's never been a situation quite like it in any game I've ever seen. And this is what baseball wants, Jason? This chaos? Well, I don't know if anybody wants a game to end that way.

But here's the thinking, Amy. If this happens to you once, there's no chance it'll happen to you twice. So does that work for you? That logic? Well, if it happens in that particular situation, yes. But at the same time, and I saw this on your Twitter as well, it's not like he's the only guy who got called for a strike. It just happened to be in an extreme situation like that one.

Yeah, that's exactly right. Now, in this particular game, there were three violations. And two of them were first pitch of the at bat hitter didn't get in the box on time. This is a lot like Manny Machado in that Padres game last Friday. Hitter didn't get in the box on time.

So it's 01 before they've even gotten in the box. And then I noticed that as the game wore on, they learned from that. And hitters were calling time before they ever got set before the first pitch. Because it's really bizarre when nobody's thrown a pitch but the count's 011. That is weird.

Goodness. I mean, think about what happened to end the game. A guy recorded a strikeout on a three and two pitch that he never actually threw. For those people who love to score baseball games, I don't even know how you score that. Like, we don't know how to score that.

That has never happened. And, you know, my friend Scott Fransky, who does the Phillies games, he texted me like a little drawing he did of like, of a backwards K, upside down, like taking a nap. Because we've had strikeouts looking. This was strikeout not looking. Not paying any attention, as a matter of fact.

Right. It's something to see. Like everybody's working their way through it. But the good news is the games have really moved along. They're 22 minutes shorter on average than the games last year this time. Last year, the average game in spring training took more than three hours. This year, going into today, we only had six games in the whole sport that took over three hours in spring training now. And they're all wild games with a ton of runs.

And the longest of those games was three hours, six minutes. So this is going to have an impact on the rhythm of games, the time of games, and when the games are over. And all the time that's coming out of these games is dead time. When we get to the other side of this, I'm going to find it really hard to look at it and think anything about this is negative, unless you're just one of those people who thinks nothing in baseball should ever change.

Okay, well that's really what baseball is going for, though we joke. They want the pace of play to speed up. They want less dead time in games.

They obviously want the hours to be reduced. Though I've heard, Jason, that once we get into actual games with results on the line, umpires are less likely to call it so black and white. Do you agree with that?

Or do you think, no, actually, they're going to be doing the same thing? Well, that's not 100% clear. I mean, you're right that umpires, we're told coming into spring training, don't allow any slack. Call everything to the letter of the law no matter who's batting, no matter who's pitching, no matter what the situation is, even if it's bases loaded in two hours. Because they want everybody to get the message.

I think there's no value more powerful than shock value. Whether that's going to ease up when the season starts, I'm honestly not so sure. Jason Stark is with us from Florida. Always an honor to have him on the show.

We go way back. He's a senior baseball writer for The Athletic, insider with the sport for a long time and it's after hours here on CBS Sports Radio. There's lots of rule changes, actually. Is this the most drastic or are we in store for some other drama as some of these other rules changes play out? Well, the pitch clock, I think, is requiring the most immediate adjustment. But, you know, along with the pitch clock comes some rules that are going to have a big impact on base running, base stealing in the game. The fact that there's a two-pickoff limit is a gigantic difference.

And I've already seen this with my own eyes. There was a game the other day where Richard Blyer, he's now at the Red Sox, last year you might remember he was at the Marlins, got called for three blocks in one inning, bought Jeff McNeil around the bases. So, there's a glitter on first and he made a pickoff move to first base.

It's the first one I've seen all spring. And what happened next pitch? Runner took off.

And I was talking to him about it afterwards and, you know, everybody thought that when there are two pickoffs and the pitcher can't throw to first anymore unless he gets the guy out. But that's when runners would be more aggressive. But that's not how the Braves played it in this game. When they thought they had an opportunity to run, they just took off. They didn't look back.

They didn't dance. And I think you're going to see a lot of that. I don't think that you're going to see anybody steal 100 bases like Ricky Henderson, but I think you're going to see a ton of guys steal 20 and 30 and 40. And that's, you know, we had one player in the whole sport steal 40 bases last year. That's John Bertie.

That's a good trivia question next time you're at the Tavern. This year, I mean, there's no way 40 leads the league. 50, 60, maybe 70 will lead the league. And look, you have a lot of great athletes in the game. This is a combination of rules that is going to encourage great athletes to do their great athlete thing.

And again, I'm off to that. Yeah, you can imagine that fans are really digging it just because it's more action. It's more speed even as the game is playing out.

So, Jason, you're there. You're talking to managers and players. Are they in the same mindset as you where they think this will make the game more entertaining, where they eventually will enjoy the changes?

You know, everybody's trying to figure out what they need to do to get through this. One of the big topics with the stolen base stuff that we're just talking about is, okay, it's going to promote the running game. If you're on defense, how do you control the running game? And I've seen more teams working on pitch outs this spring than I have in a long time. Brian Snicker from the Braves was telling me he only called six pitch outs all last year. And a bunch of their minor league affiliates didn't call any to the point where they had some catchers in camp who had never called, caught, or thrown a pick off before in their life.

That's how much the game has changed and now it has to adjust back. You're seeing a lot of, because the pitcher can't throw over to first more than twice, I'm seeing catchers after the pitch, throwing behind the runner, throwing over to first. You saw Max Scherzer yesterday, nobody on base.

He was just ripping through the inning at Usain Bolt pace. And then as soon as somebody got on base, you saw him get into the set as soon as he could, and then hold the ball until there was a fraction of a second left on the clock to mess with the hitter and the runner. So it's such a cool new world in this sport to see guys like Max Scherzer trying to lean into these rules and how they can make these rules work for them. And managers are trying to figure it out. Front offices are brainstorming how they're going to do the stuff that they do.

Not everybody wants to reveal their hands in spring training. So this is going to be stuff that's going to create intrigue right into the season as we see how teams are going to play this. And at least there's a whole new level of strategy for all of these rules. Hey, we haven't even talked about the shift yet. Well, I was just, oh my gosh, you read my mind, Jason.

I was just about to bring that up. You said strategy, and that's where I was going. What about banning the defensive shift? How does that impact what you've seen so far? Or how do you think it will impact the season?

Yeah, there's going to be a lot more hits. First inning of the season, Matt Olsen, the Braves, steps up there. And this is a guy who's shifted on 81% of his plate appearances last year. Good hitter, but 81%. And Matt Olsen arrived in baseball at a time when the shift was already pretty prevalent.

So he doesn't even know a world without shifts. And first swing of the season, a little ground ball single right through the right side. That is 100% and out last year because there'd be somebody playing on the outfield grass.

But not only do you not have two, three infielders on one side of second base, but nobody's on the outfield grass. So balls that were hits for 100 years are hits again. And I've seen estimates, we could see 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 more hits this year because of the lack of the shift.

Now, averaged out over the number of games. It's only a hitter two extra per game, but it changes the value of the single, which will change the way teams approach offense. And I think maybe over time could change hitters approaches.

That's going to take a while. But the way teams have played it in recent years, you weren't going to get three singles an inning off Max Scherzer, so you better try to hit the ball out of the park. But now the single is more attainable.

It can really change a lot of things in subtle ways that we haven't even thought through. It's After Hours with Amy Lawrence, CBS Sports Radio, Jason Stark, longtime senior writer, reporter, insider, now with The Athletic, has the Starkville podcast. And we talked about the rules, changes, all the various ways that baseball is wreaking havoc and giggling about it. But let's talk San Diego Padres. Jason, what are you seeing with this team, even as they deal with some of their stars and hand out massive wads of cash?

Peter side there, Amy, this is incredible. You know, we've never really seen anything like this. They play in, I believe it's 23rd largest media market or the seventh smallest media market is probably a better way to put it in baseball. And because they have Mexico to their south and L.A., Orange County to their north, they're very limited in how much their market can grow and their revenues can grow. And yet Peter Seidler, their owner, he just decided that the way you excite your fan base and the way to win is with star power.

And, you know, it's time to do the math in my head today. He's got many Ramirez now extended for 350 million dollars through. 2033, he's got Alexander Bogart hadn't even started his contract, 11 years, 280 million dollars to 2033. And the Fernando Tethis deal runs through 2034 for like 30 something. Just those three players committed for the next 11 to 12 years for close to a billion dollars. And this is before they make a run at trying to keep Juan Soto, who, by the way, is still on their team before they make a run at trying to lure Shohei Ohtani, who they would love to have on their team. And, you know, it's the talk of baseball because the revenue streams, as we've traditionally viewed them, don't support this.

They don't have that kind of revenue. This is the owner saying, we're the only big league sport in town. I want to win.

I want to draw. I want to excite my fan base. This is how it's done. It's incredible. We really have. I don't think we've ever seen any team do anything like this in a market this size. And then you think about the pictures of Joe Musgrove getting his extension and you Darvish too, right?

So they've sunk a lot of money into those two guys. Do you think their pitching rotation matches up with what they've got at the plate? I would pick them to win the division right now. Dodgers, listen to that. Yeah, well, Dodgers, the Dodgers aren't the same.

You know, I just did a big survey spring preview survey. You can find it on the athletic and the Dodgers got the third most votes for least improved team in the National League because, you know, they've had a lot of subtractions. Most prominently, Trey Turner, who they would have missed in any case, but now Gavin Lux hurts his knee in spring training. Like the Dodgers are great. The Dodgers will make the playoffs, but the Dodgers have more holes, more questions than they've had in a long time. And the Padres are a team that could win the World Series period.

They need things to go right. It's amazing the talent level and the star power on that team all over the field. When they reached the NLCS last year, that small fan base was loud, vocal, electric, over the top. They really let their team know that they were behind them and I loved it.

Maybe a little bit of fresh blood. They hadn't had that kind of a team in a while, but also a preview of things to come. Yeah, I was there for that NLCS. It was awesome. The way that stadium shook in game two when they fell behind and came back and won.

Man, that was special. And it's a little taste of what it's like there now. There's so much electricity rippling through San Diego over to that team. I don't care what it means for their bottom line this year. It's so good for baseball to have a team like that do what they're doing because they're going to be as fun to watch as any team in the sport. Alright, so we've talked about a lot of the big news for spring training, but if I know you, there's always some other topic, something else that you've been thinking about or reading about or working on. What else do I need to know about the pending season, Jace? What does Amy Lawrence want me to say? Oh, stop it.

You know I love whatever you say. Yeah, well, I think this season in so many ways is all about Otani. You know, every season at this point, the rest of our lives may be all about Otani, but what happens with him this year, with that team this year, with whether or not they can keep him, and if they can't, where he goes? We're going to talk about this every day, every time he does anything. Like the Aaron Judge story from last year. It might be bigger because he's unlike anyone we've ever watched play baseball. He's the best pitcher of their team, he's the best hitter of their team, he's one of the best hitters in baseball, and he's one of the best pitchers in baseball. And I don't know how you value that.

I don't think anybody knows quite how you value that. We'll find that out if he reaches free agency. But hanging there, if the Angels don't win, is do they trade him?

I'm going to vote no. I'm going to vote that Artie Moreno will never trade Shohei Otani, even if it means letting him walk. I understand all the baseball reasons to trade him, but there's another reason why people don't talk about it enough. He's where the money comes from. He's an incredible revenue generator worldwide for that franchise. And I don't see them trading him because his value, even if they don't win, is greater than probably any other player globally. Is there an argument for anyone else?

Not across the globe, absolutely not. There's players that transcend the sport, there's obviously a lot of Hispanic players that have entire continents behind them, but in terms of a guy who is making waves from one side of the globe to the other, no. So just to clarify, obviously the Angels don't think it's a foregone conclusion that he leaves. You don't either, because there are a lot of people who look at it as though it's just one more year with Anaheim and then he's gone somewhere else. I don't know that they can re-sign him if they don't win.

I don't think there's a scenario where he wants to be there if this is another one of those years when they're not playing postseason baseball. But suppose they do. They're better. They're definitively better and deeper than they've been.

Their pitching staff is better. Suppose they actually get lucky with the help of somebody like Anthony Rendon. Suppose Mike Trout has another one of those years and he does it in 150 games instead of 127, whatever it turns out to be. And suppose there is another level for Shohead and it works.

They find some way to conjure up some magic. Then I don't think it's impossible, but we haven't seen that ever. So because we haven't seen that, it's easy to assume it'll never happen. I don't assume anything in baseball.

No, definitely not. See, I knew you would not disappoint. Honestly, I want to tell you the truth about this. Otani had not even crossed my mind in this conversation because I was so locked into the rules and the Padres.

So see, you're right. It's going to be a huge story this year. Oh my goodness, so much to talk about. Alright, so find Jason Stark on Twitter at Jason St.

So it's J-A-Y-S-O-N-S-T, is now a senior baseball writer with The Athletic, has the Starkville podcast, which is great. Always such intriguing guests and you know how I feel about you. It is a privilege to have you on the show when we can catch up. So thank you so much for a couple minutes. And we always love talking to you. Thanks for having me.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-01 08:52:38 / 2023-03-01 09:02:23 / 10

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