Melky won’t win BA title. Will rule change hurt Votto?

Note: Information that came out after the original post reveals that your humble narrator’s judgment was hasty. See bottom of post for update.

_______________

The Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have reached an agreement that evades the possibility of drug-suspended Melky Cabrera being recognized as the National League batting champion:

Baseball rules state a player needs to average 3.1 plate appearances for each of his team’s games to become a batting, slugging or on-base percentage champion. But the last sentence of 10.22(a) says: “Notwithstanding the foregoing requirement of minimum appearances at the plate, any player with fewer than the required number of plate appearances whose average would be the highest, if he were charged with the required number of plate appearances shall be awarded the batting, slugging or on-base percentage championship, as the case may be.”

Under Friday’s deal, MLB and the union agreed that the sentence will not apply this year, leaving Cabrera one plate appearance short. [Emphasis added]

Let’s put aside for now the dubious wisdom of changing the rules in mid-season, specifically to prevent one specific embarrassing result. Instead, let’s consider the unintended consequences. There’s nothing in the story to suggest that this is anything but a blanket lifting of that one provision for this year. Sure, it’s hard to believe that all the lawyers involved in this decision could have ignored the question of “what about other guys?” — but don’t underestimate the power of tunnel vision. Anyway, if they had addressed that question, wouldn’t it be in the story?

So, as far as I can tell from this story, Joey Votto just got screwed out of the on-base percentage title.

Before this agreement, Votto had been recognized as the National League OBP leader under the very provision that has now been abrogated, which I’ll call the hitless-ABs provision. Votto has 201 times on base, and his qualifying threshold right now is 465 PAs, based on Cincinnati’s 150 games played. His adjusted OBP of .432 is well above the no. 2 man, Buster Posey (.410).

Had the hitless-ABs provision not been, uh, suspended, Votto very likely would have gone on to win the OBP title. But now, if this story has been accurately reported, Votto will be ineligible unless he racks up 76 more PAs in the regular season.

Even more delicious: There’s an outside chance that Votto’s batting average will wind up high enough to have won that title under the hitless-ABs provision. Right now, he has 116 hits in 339 ABs, and he’s 39 outs shy of qualifying, so he’s recognized at .307 for title purposes. If he were to close the year on a spree of, say, 27 hits in 47 ABs and 50 PAs, that would give him 143 hits, 386 ABs and 476 PAs. Charge him with 26 outs to reach 502 PAs, that would give him 412 ABs for these purposes — for a .347 average that’s one point higher than Melky.

MLB then would have to choose between:

  • (a) facing the crowning irony that their ad hoc rule had voided a result that, but for their meddling, would have been viewed as a godsend; or
  • (b) reaching a new agreement with the union at the last minute to reinstate the original rule — “Never mind!

And if you don’t think Votto has a 27-for-47 binge in him, then you don’t know Joey. From May 25 to June 8 this year, he hit 27 for 48.

So that’s what I’m rooting for. We’ve seen that the commissioner mainly reacts to embarrassment, so I’m hoping this decision will have an embarrassing set of unintended consequences that will discourage him from further diddling with the rules on the fly just to keep a drug cheat’s name out of the record books.

Of course, I could root for Melky’s drug test to be voided on a technicality, but I’m trying to keep this thing plausible.

____________________

UPDATE:

Published accounts now say that the hitless-ABs provision won’t apply this year to a player who “served a drug suspension for violating the Joint Drug Program” — so Votto and others not under suspension will not be affected.

This is better than my original interpretation; it doesn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. But since the goal obviously is to keep PED cheats from winning batting titles, why focus on the particular narrow provision by which this particular PED cheat would have been eligible?

From what I’ve read, this temporary rule will be made permanent as soon as possible. If so, and if nothing else is done in this regard, then imagine this scenario next year:

Able and Baker, running neck-and-neck for the batting title and far ahead of the pack, are both suspended for PED use on the same day in late August and miss the rest of the year. Able leads by a few points and a couple of hits, but has just 501 PAs; Baker has 502 PAs. By this new rule, only Able would be ineligible, even though both are guilty of the same offense; and Baker would win the crown, even though Able is clearly more deserving.

I suppose that MLB is simply dealing with the immediate problem in the narrowest way possible. Maybe they’ll try for a broader solution in the offseason. Or maybe they’ll just keep coming up with new end runs as the need arises.

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74 Comments on "Melky won’t win BA title. Will rule change hurt Votto?"

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birtelcom
Editor
It seems a more sensible approach to preventing Melky from winning an official “batting average title” would be to just provide that a player suspended during a season, for more than a certain number of games, for a violation of the PED rules, is ineligible for titles such as the batting average title. It would still seem rather “ex post facto” in coneection with Melky, and legislating generally about statistical matters always seems to me somewhat bizarre (a stat is a stat, a description of what happened, not really a subject for contracts and legislation). But at least MLB would… Read more »
kds
Guest
“a description of what happened”, well sorta. Is it fair, and thus a hit, or foul? Umpire judgement. Safe, and thus a hit, or out? Umpire judgement. Error or hit? Scorer judgement. And then there are arbitrary rules definitions. OBA should be times reached base safely per PA, but they have chosen to not include certain events. Reached on Error, is not counted, or K, WP or PB. Certain Fielder’s Choices, with everyone safe don’t count for the batter as getting on base. Sac Flies do count against OBA, (Which is why OBA can be lower than BA.), but SH… Read more »
Ed
Guest

According to the article on USA Today, the one-time exemption only applies to players suspended under the Joint Drug Program.

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/mlb/giants/story/2012/09/21/nightengale-melky-cabreras-batting-title-decision-may-set-key-precedent/57821600/1

No idea if this is more accurate than other sources but I do think it’s a bit premature to say that Joey Votto’s been screwed out of anything.

Jacob
Guest
Interesting. I know I’m in the minority here, but I actually like the move MLB made, Votto or no Votto. There’s nothing wrong with avoiding embarrassments, and Melky winning would have been an embarrassment. Fans would have hated it, other players would have disliked it, and Melky clearly felt bad about it. So I appreciate the pragmatic approach to make an exception here, it’s a classy move and it’s not like they’re rewriting history: the numbers are still there. As for Votto, yes, his situation could lead to another embarrassment. If he does indeed go 27-for-47 and the world realizes… Read more »
Howard
Guest

This is insane. How can they do this without nullifying all titles won and records held by juicers?

Jacob
Guest

They can’t nullify the records. But I’m sure they could nullify those titles if, say, McGwire and Bonds requested that. Why not? Titles are awarded by interpreting stats, they’re not actual stats themselves, like records are.

Howard
Guest

I’m not suggesting they strike the records from the books but MLB could choose not to recognized certain stats as records. I don’t advocate it but I don’t think the principle would be any different than not recognizing a batting title.

In any case, I just read that MLB made this move at the request of Cabrera himself so now I don’t think it is quite as insane as I did earlier.

e pluribus munu
Guest
Actually, to the degree that we sometimes look at sports as theaters for moral judgment, I think this particular set of actions – Cabrera’s violations, request, and the way the request was handled – is very satisfying (unless you’re committed to MLB being cast as Snidely Whiplash). So I agree with Jacob (#3) and Luis (#10). Moreover, this will not be the first batting title to have been awarded in contravention of technical qualifications: in 1938, Taffy Wright led the AL according to the rules of the time, having appeared in 100 games and led the league with a .350… Read more »
Hartvig
Guest
John- I think your “good result, bad reason(ing)” thinking is right. I think it was in the BJHBA where James talked about a few of the batting title races in the 30’s & 40’s and he came to the conclusion that a) a people make the rules and b) that when those rules produce results that are obviously unfair they should ignore them and do the right thing. One of the issues he was talking about was because of how the rules rounded innings pitched Sammy Stewart beat out Steve McCatty for the AL ERA crown in 1981 even thou… Read more »
Luis Gomez
Guest

I like it. The minute I heard about Melky´s suspension, I went on to see the leaderboards and how far ahead he was in batting title race. I disliked the tought of an in-season proved juicer as batting champion. Nice move by the comish (hey, I never tought I was gonna write that!).

Ed
Guest

There’s one more twist to this…apparently if the Giant’s have a rainout before the end of the season that can’t be replayed, then Melky will still win the batting crown. Under that scenario, a Giant’s player would only need 499 PAs to win the title (and Melky already has 501). Bizarre. Either ban the guy or don’t. Why leave a loophole open?

Luis Gomez
Guest

Ed, is this just possible scenario, or are the Giants one game short already?

Ed
Guest

Luis – Just a possible scenario.

topper009
Guest

Bud has made a point to make all teams play all their games if at all possible, I am sure he is aware of the scenario you raised and will see to it they play all their games.

MikeD
Guest

More concerning is I have no idea who this NL duo of Able and Baker are who will be battling for next year’s batting-title crown. I’m going to be so screwed in my fantasy drafts next year.

Jameson
Guest
Did anyone else notice a discrepancy between Melky’s elocution in his official statement to the press and his 2012 All-Star Game MVP acceptance speech? I have considered the possibility that he is a very articulate guy en Español, but I don’t know… Here is his letter to the public: “I ask the Players Association to take the necessary steps, in conjunction with the Office of the Commissioner, to remove my name from for the National League batting title…To be plain, I personally have no wish to win an award that would widely be seen as tainted, and I believe that… Read more »
Doug
Guest

Hey John,

Looks like I called it earlier today in the discussion on another post. Who knew?

Wonder what they would have done had Melky been at 502 when he was suspended instead of 501.

The only part I don’t like is the one-time-only aspect of this. I think birtelcom’s approach @1 makes a lot more sense – establish a rule to cover this type of scenario. Hopefully, they will do that over the winter.

tag
Guest
I’m agnostic about the Melky situation. PED-fueled players have won many titles; this would be another. What I find interesting is the philosophy of the hitless AB provision itself. I argued in the Wednesday Whatsits post that this provision didn’t make sense to me, and provided imperfect (impeded by a delicious bottle of ’99 Margaux) analogies why I thought so, which I was appropriately called out for. Basically, I was trying to show that sports require, for lack of a better term, “physical integrity” to make sense to me. Proponents of the hitless AB provision are basically saying that PAs… Read more »
Ed
Guest

Very well reasoned Tag! I’m with you on this.

kds
Guest
Tag, I might have more respect for your baseball reasoning if your history was not 180 degrees from the mark. William Jennings Bryan was a liberal for his day, (1896), especially on economic issues. His famous quote is, “you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold.” He was opposed to the the currency restrictions caused by the gold standard, wanting silver to be used in coinage to increase the money supply. This puts him much closer to Keynes than those who want to go back to a gold standard today. Bryan’s apparant conservatism as seen from today has… Read more »
Mike L
Guest

On history, I have to agree with kds. Bryan represented the heartland, and the free coinage of silver as specie was a way for him to see a little inflation in the system. Since farmers were (and are) debtors (for land and machinery) deflation killed them, inflation meant long term debt could be paid with devalued dollars.

tag
Guest
Thanks for the clarification on the Bryan. I should have not thrown his name in there and should only have mentioned those today demanding a return to the gold standard. But the baseball reasoning in no way depends on the economic analogy. I was trying to make a different point, and your respect for the reasoning should not hinge on the faulty reference. In fact, I think a better metaphor upholds my generally liberal beliefs. “Purchasing” the at-bats using the currency of your BA is more akin to trying to buy your way into an exclusive club that you don’t… Read more »
tag
Guest
Not that anyone cares but one of my undergraduate degrees was in history and I couldn’t believe I made the Bryan mistake. Well, looked it up on my original Word document and saw it was an editing error. I originally wrote, “latter-day Grover Cleveland / anti William Jennings Bryan or, worse…”. When I copied it in HHS I actually worried that the Cleveland reference might be misconstrued as referring to the pitcher. So, late for my tennis match, I deleted it quickly and improperly, mistakenly leaving “latter-day” and taking out “anti.” kds’ and Mike L’s comments are of course correct,… Read more »
Mark in Sydney
Guest
I find this stuff all so dumb. A silly piece of theater to show that MLB is really, really serious about the PED problem, without actually doing anything about it. Say, for example, Melky got through the season clean. Gets the betting title, wins the MVP, whatever. Then a sample comes in December and -bingo- PED-positive. (Gee, just like a certain player last year, more or less.) Titles stripped? Maybe. Give it to the next guy in a kind of sideroom presentation? Anything to avoid embarrassment, including doing what is right. Pathetic.
Albanate
Guest

This reminds me of the infamous Indiana Pi bill of 1897, where a state tried to legislate away mathematical truth.

Hartvig
Guest

Oh. My. God.

On second thought, maybe I should have been all that surprised.

Just this year, the North Carolina Senate passed a bill legislating how much sea level rise there can be.

http://news.sciencemag.org/scienceinsider/2012/06/legislating-sea-level-rise.html

Pretty obvious there’s no intelligence test required for going into politics.

BryanM
Guest
Not to go completely OT , here, but your link shows that , like baseball administration, politics requires a certain KIND of intelligence; unless you were somehow trying to imply that the folks who voted for the bill are less intelligent than the ones who voted against it, which I doubt. Legislators have finely tuned minds that sift every action they take, according to a complex calculus of its effect in the eyes of their constituents, and ultimately their net worth. The NC senators could care less about climate science, and of course the bill does not “deny” climate science,… Read more »
Evil Squirrel
Guest

Put me in the apparent minority who thinks this is just ridiculous posturing, and maybe the start of a frightening trend that reminds me of all those stripped titles and retroactive forfeits from the wacky world of the NCAA.

Punish the cheater all you want. That doesn’t bother me one bit. But you can’t alter history. What’s happened has happened. If Melky’s at the top of the leaderboard come October 3rd, then he is the batting champion, period.

Baseball will go on, and the sun will rise the next day….

Andy
Admin

I strongly agree.

Jacob
Guest

Come on, guys, you’re overreacting. Nobody is altering history – the 2012 batting title will be handed out in the future! If they’d erase Melky’s stats, I would be livid, because that WOULD be altering history. As it is, they’re simply adjusting the rules to accommodate a loophole accidentally found by a cheater.

topper009
Guest
Jonas Gumby
Guest

Haha, great link.

Paul E
Guest

I’m a little late to the party here, but isn’t the whole point of this Cabrera forfeiture merely based on the fact he was caught IN-season? Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, even Caminiti’s M V P award, the truth about their PED usage came out years after….Cabrera is the only “category” leader who got struck down/caught IN-season.

MLB isn’t going to take away Bonds’ 73-homer season, Sosa’s three 60-HR seasons, nor McGwire’s 70 HR season. The writers may keep them out of Cooperstown, but that’s even later in the ballgame

Mike L
Guest
John A, Baseball, just like football, is first and foremost a business. They are never proactive in inhibiting anything that sells tickets/TV time until they absolutely have to be. Look at football with concussions and helmet design, and all those wonderful NFL Films classic hits(as in smack someone silly)DVD’s. The same applies to the MLB. Bud doesn’t want to talk about it, but he’s fully aware how tremendously difficult it is to catch all the cheating-and the agents and the unions tacitly agree, because the more money there is, the more money there is to spread around. If you gave… Read more »
Jason Z
Guest

Pathetic.

Reminds me of Bud “Lite” giving home field to the league that
wins the All-Star Game.

That was more an awful decision, but this disgusts me in the same way.

Suffer a little embarrassment, and this fool makes a reactionary, short
sighted decision that causes damage to the game.

Obviously, nothing is more meaningful every year than the World Series.

As for numbers, I don’t need to explain to the readers of this site the
place that numbers occupy in the culture of this game.

Pathetic.

MikeD
Guest
I’ll take the counter to Jason above me. I don’t know if I agree with the decision either (hmmm, guess I’m not going to counter too hard) because it does strike me as a bit reactionary and I’d rather MLB address this issue in the offseason and search for a longer-term solution, if one even exists. Yet there’s little here that can be applied to other PED issues with any consistency. It’s not as if MLB is going to go back and alter Barry Bonds’ career HRs record, for example. MLB is not going to go back and change the… Read more »
topper009
Guest

Didn’t Jose Canseco offer to give his 1988 MVP to Mike Greenwell who took second that year in his book? Or at least during some interview? Was that ever seriously considered?

And I hope everyone who acts like steroids is such a horrible thing has not watched an NFL game since the 1960s.

RJ
Guest

Clearly the Giants told Melky to give up the batting title so Posey would have a shot at it, thus potentially gaining him more MVP votes if he beats out McCutchen. Obvious conspiracy at work here sheeple.

topper009
Guest
Ok after reading through all of this, 1) I have no idea what Bud Selig has to do with any of this, the request came from Cabrera, not the league. Selig simply acknowledged his request to not be in contention for the title, I guess he did it in a round about way by using the PA cutoff thing but who cares, this is clearly a 1 time thing. 2) In general, having smart people use judgement on a case by case basis is much, much better than having a giant bureaucracy implement tons of complex rules that are to… Read more »
BryanM
Guest

Topper; according to the press release, MLB is complying with Melkys request to DQ him from the batting title. From the tone of your post above it would seem that you believe that to be true; I guess it could be, but I think most posters (including me ) imagine that Melky was volunteered for his role; no evidence ,of course, just feels suspicious. I expect the difference in belief results in different conclusions we come to.

topper009
Guest

Selig is not a dictator, Im sure if he had his way he would just wave a magic wand and get what you want, but as usual the players union is getting in the way.

“Therefore, at least one side doesn’t want the stronger rule.”

I think without the question the party in question here is the union, whereas the tone of basically everyone here is assuming it is Bud.

Mike L
Guest
I’m a labor guy, and Selig’s tenure, to my mind, has always been “distinguished” by a keen focus on the bottom line leavened only by more than occasional bouts of cronyism. In short, he more than tolerated steroids. There was a simpler way out of this than this back door rule change. Selig could just have announced “Melky Cabrera has requested that he not be recognized as the batting champion. We are very appreciative of his contrition, however, we cannot erase his statistics. To honor his request, should he end up with the highest batting average, we will also recognize… Read more »
MikeD
Guest

Bud Selig is the target of the anger of many fans, includuing myself at times. Yet an can can be made that Bud Selig is not just among the best, but perhaps is even THE best Commissioner MLB has ever had.

Mike L
Guest

Mike D, Bud is unquestionably the most visionary and successful business oriented Commissioner. Revenues and franchise values have skyrocketed, and the public has contributed enormous amounts of taxpayers dollars to private enterprises. If I were an owner, Bud would be my guy.

BryanM
Guest

Topper – i meant to add that I agree with your point that the players union is the main stumbling block to better enforcement.

mosc
Guest
Unions on a whole seem to have fallen out of favor. We’re quick to jump on their negatives and have lost all context on the positives. We enjoy our 40 hour workweeks, our vacation days, sick days, personal days, paid overtime, and health care. We seem to have forgotten that these things come out of creating so much pain for the other side that it’s easier just to provide inherently non-cost effective benefits than it is to continue fighting. Don’t be so quick to denounce the benefits of collective bargaining just because you don’t like one extreme of it. The… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
@66 Mosc, beautifully said. There are a lot of fans who resent the unions because they resent the high pay, but these players are people who do something at a level very few of us can even dream about. I had the pleasure this last weekend in running in NYC Fifth Avenue Mile (I’m in the slow old geezer category) and, standing on Fifth, watching the elite runners go past you a few feet away, is an incredible experience. 14 men under 4 minutes, including the great Bernard Lagat, and 10 women under 430. You can’t believe their form and… Read more »
topper009
Guest
What we really need today is a fan’s union, in what other marketplace do the consumers have no say whatsoever on the price? Soviet Russia? Seriously, everyone thinks its players vs owners but its really players vs owners vs fans except there are only 2 seats at that table. If the fan union demanded that say the highest ticket price allowed could be $20, the owners and players could then argue with each other about how to distribute that money. Instead the owners just jack up the prices continuously because they have no other competition for the fans to “shop… Read more »
mosc
Guest
It’s no different than any other industry. You don’t have a say in the bargaining between Ford and it’s employees but you can pick which car you buy. If MLB ticket prices are too expensive, you can vote against it by not buying them. People buy them it seems, so they disagree with you. Both the players AND the owners share the common interest of lightening the fan’s wallet to the largest extent possible. You have the biggest seat at the table, you’re the one putting food on the table for both sides. The monopoly point does make professional sports… Read more »
topper009
Guest

Yes it is very different, if you dont like Ford you can buy a Chevy. If you like baseball you have no other option. Yes in theory you could just boycott it but that is a bad last resort for a fan. And if all fans were organized enough to go on strike I guarantee you they would.

If you told fans they could pay $50 less per game if no one attended an entire homestand it would happen, the exact same thing has happened with other unions.

mosc
Guest

If nobody bought tickets for a homestand, the red sox wouldn’t even notice. They sold out all the seats as season tickets.

Seriously though, you think teams wouldn’t change anything if nobody came to games? The ticket prices are specifically calculated to bring in the maximum amount of revenue. Higher prices means fewer people but it also means more profit per person. You balance that out, along with a lot of operating costs that are fixed, and you get your ticket prices. If people boycott a team, the ticket prices would fall. It happens to a lesser extent all the time.

topper009
Guest
Fine then assume the fans would do something that would hurt. I am saying the teams would change something if nobody came to games. Higher prices does not mean fewer people. Look at ticket prices and attendance now vs the 1980s, both are WAY up. The Yankees have jacked up their prices a lot for their new stadium and attendance is the same. Normally competition forces companies to sell products for the lowest price they can charge and stay in business, that does not happen in MLB. Say the average car price is $25,000 now (just a random number). If… Read more »
Mike L
Guest
We are really back on the same topic. Why do people pay higher prices for major league ball than minor leagues? Because they want to see the best talent, just like they will pay more for Springstein than the Topper/Mosc/Mike Trio. The market is being set by what the fan is willing to pay. If the fans, en masse, suddenly decide they won’t show, well, then maybe prices would come down. But they don’t-the market is transparent. We are all paying for a spectacle-to be entertained by the best. And, the TV contracts aren’t going to pay big bucks to… Read more »
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