Soccer Rule Changes

NRO has reprinted Sami J. Karam’s suggestions for soccer rule changes under the title Soccer For Americans.  We guess that the title means that Americans would like soccer if it only changed its rules.  The problem that Sami focuses on is nicely illustrated by last night’s baseball game between the Nationals and the Marlins.  The Nats were down nine to nil going into the bottom of the fourth.  The Nats then scored 14 runs to take a five run lead only to see the Marlins score three to make it a nail-biter at the end.  On the other hand, when France scored the second goal versus Uruguay in the 61st minute (of 90) everyone assumed it was over.

Sidebar: When Japan went up two nil versus Belgium in the 52nd minute being earlier wasn’t the big difference.  The big difference was that Belgium had had numerous scoring opportunities and players with the skill to succeed.  Still, in order to win in regular time Belgium needed a blunder by Japan (not taking the corner short) and one of the great goals in World Cup history.  There can be comebacks in soccer but you need to watch lots of unsuccessful ones to see a success.  Sami does a good job of making that point.  End Sidebar.

Sami has three suggestions: change the rules for more goals, change the scoring, do away with penalty shoot-outs.  Sami’s only suggestion for more goals is changing the offsides rule which he concedes won’t produce much.  We are not impressed but there might be an idea out there that doesn’t change the game and produces more goals.

We like part of the scoring change idea.  Particularly we agree that a goal (notice the rhetorical device of implying that a penalty is not a “real” goal) should count twice as much as a penalty kick.  We don’t care if it is two versus one or one versus a half.  This will reduce the number of ties.  The rest we can do without.

Then there is doing away with penalty shoot-out and references this article with a list of alternatives to shoot-outs.  Other than the MWG recommendation that we reduce players we don’t see much interesting.  We do think that reducing players should be tied to increased substitution opportunities.  In this World Cup there is an extra substitution allowed in overtime.  We think that another plus allowing the removed players to be free substitutes would improve the quality of the overtime periods and decide soccer games with soccer.

It is highly likely that Sami’s first two suggestions will come to naught.  We still think fewer players and more subs in overtime means more goals.  Who can we find that can afford to bribe FIFA so we can get this fixed?



MLB Scheduling And Relegation

Relegation in MLB, as we discussed recently, is the only real solution to tanking.  By tanking we mean teams that give up on the current year to either maximize current profits or build for the future.

Sidebar: We saw a nice example of soccer tanking in the 0-0 tie between France and Denmark  both teams were happy with a tie and did little to try and score.  Will Belgium versus England be the same today?  End Sidebar.

It is unlikely to happen but if it does there is one additional problem: MLB doesn’t play a balanced schedule.  For example, consider the situation where MLB relegates exactly one team.  Currently, the Orioles (23 and 56) would be the first choice for relegation and the Royals (25 and 55) would be the second.

In soccer leagues that use relegation it is a fair result because every team plays a balanced schedule of each opponent home and away.  In MLB, teams play division rivals more often.  So far in 2018, the teams with the two best records in MLB are the Red Sox and the Yankees.  The Orioles will play each of them 19 times.  The Royals will play each of them six times.  It seems likely that the ranking of the Orioles and the Royals would be reversed if the teams played a balanced schedule.  Our proposed MLB relegation would raise a ruckus but it would be a triple ruckus, and properly so, without a balanced schedule.

Competitiveness in MLB

Ben Fredericton at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch brings a big baseball issue back into the limelight.  Every sport requires that teams be competitive.  Fans will lose interest if one baseball team wins 130 games.  Local fans will lose interest if the local team loses 130 games.  Ben is fired up and says:

Pointing fingers at the media coverage won’t help. Fans have better ways to spend their money than by watching bad baseball. Even if their team tanks right, like the Cubs and Astros, the empty seats will be waiting when the momentum turns.

Until baseball finds a way to reward competitive teams, or punish the ones that don’t mind losing, there will be clubs that repel fans at home and on the road.

We are not convinced of Ben’s assertion that “tanking right” is a bad idea.  His example of the Cubs and the Astros seem to be doing fine.
Competition has been an issue for some time.  It was a big concern of the Commissioner’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Baseball Economics.  Because of revenue sharing teams can be profitable without drawing many fans at home.  As many teams have shown, like the Astros, Cubs, and Pirates, it is a reasonable strategy to sell off established players and build for the future.  Tanking can and does work.  Tanking can also be very profitable for owners even if it doesn’t produce winning teams in the future.  The problem for Ben and everyone else is that it is hard to identify good tanking (creating a better team in the future) and bad tanking (just doing it for the money).
The problem for Ben and MLB is that there aren’t any good options.  You could hire MWG at exorbitant rates and we could decide who to penalize and who to absolve but baseball prospects are notoriously hard to evaluate.  Relegation is a great idea but where are the teams to promote?  The farm system in baseball where the MLB teams control almost all minor league teams means there are no real opportunities for promotion to MLB within the US.
One relegation solution would be to allow international teams into MLB.  We create a league with, say, ten teams in various cities outside the US.  The top three go into MLB and the bottom three MLB teams go into the international league.  It is unlikely to come about because the small market teams will stop it but it is a real solution.


Yin And Yang In Baseball

In Toronto James Paxton, a Canadian, threw a no-hitter for Seattle.  At the other end of the spectrum, Dylan Bundy threw a no-outer versus Kansas City at home in Baltimore.  Dylan’s line was zero innings pitched, five hits, two walks, and four homers.  We wonder what the worst no-outer in history is?  We checked the AL record for runs in the first inning, 14 twice and neither had as bad a start.  The NL record was in 1894 so there was no box score.  Mike Wright, jr managed to trade outs for runs in the first (three outs and three more runs) so KC got ten in the first.  Good luck to Dylan on his next start.  He might need it.

Baseball, Conservatism, Expertise

Baseball and conservatism are at least loosely tied together.  George Will is the classic, but not only, example.  We read all sorts of blogs and other communication devices to take advantage of gathering expertise.  Unfortunately, everyone that puts out these communications is going to say something that he shouldn’t.  The reason that it gets said is we can’t help ourselves.  There was an NRO article that asserted that the NFL undervalued black quarterbacks.  Perhaps only because we were busy, we just managed to refrain from commenting.  We are convinced that neither the author nor MWG is an expert on the qualities of an NFL quarterback.

We all want to go beyond our expertise.  Although we sometimes refrain, it is a problem for everyone who opines for fun or profit.  In his newsletter, Jonah Goldberg, who admits to being not much of a sports guy says:

Baseball, as Al Capone explains in The Untouchables, is a game that marries team effort with individual achievement. But the team effort is only on defense. On offense, the player stands alone.

The last bolded sentence is false.  If you are the hitter do you want Rickey Henderson (1406 stolen bases) or Harmon Killebrew (19 stolen bases in 23 years) on first?  If you are the hitter do you want Babe Ruth or Mario Mendoza coming up next?  If you are trying to score from third do you want to stand alone or do you want the on-deck hitter to tell you how to slide?  Yes, the batter does literally stand alone at the plate versus the pitcher but it is more complicated than that.  We are sure that like Jonah we will be equally guilty of opining beyond our expertise soon.  It is a danger and we should welcome the feedback.

Panda Pitches

Pablo (Panda) Sandoval pitched an inning for the Giants against the Dodgers.  He retired all three batters he faced and he was the only pitcher for the Giants to have such an inning.  Much has been made of this.  We would like to discuss if and why it was necessary.

We don’t want to make too much of this but the Giants, like many teams, have 12 pitchers on their roster.  The Panda was the fifth of five Giant pitchers in the game.  The Dodgers used six.  Yes, most of the Giant pitchers were pummeled but they didn’t pitch that much.  It was the second game of the day because of a make-up and the Giants used four pitchers in the first game.  The starter went six and none of the relievers pitched more than four outs.  To summarize, the Giants had a day off on the 26th, one game on the 27th, two games on the 28th and one on the 29th.  They played four games in four days.  With 12 pitchers they couldn’t do that without The Panda pitching?  Still, well done Panda.

Olympic Rings For Batting

Giancarlo Stanton became a baseball immortal, sort of, on Tuesday.  He struck out five times in a nine-inning game joining 65 other players (you can check our counting) in ignominy including Alex Rios who did it twice.

Several of the players on the list are pitchers so they are less compromised because batting five or more times as a pitcher almost always means a win.  For example, Lefty Grove won while striking out four Yankees but being struck out five times.  Ray Jarvis did it for the Red Sox by giving up one run and getting a win while pitching eight and two-thirds innings in relief of Ken Brett, George’s younger brother.  We did not do a comprehensive search but we are willing to bet that Ray is the only person who earned Olympic Rings without starting the game.