2018 Major League Baseball

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The 2018 Major League Baseball season was the nineteenth season in which the two major leagues, the National League and the American League, were consolidated into a single entity under the authority of the Commissioner, Rob Manfred.

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Major League Baseball changed its approach to Opening Day in 2018, by having all 30 teams scheduled to be active on the first day of the season, instead of having one or two games launch the season a day before other teams jump into action. Thus, all 30 teams were scheduled to open on March 29th, although there were a few rainouts. This was the earliest date for opening day in major league history, excluding the years when an international series was played before baseball's North American opening day, a result of the latest Collective Bargaining Agreement having added some additional rest days to the regular season. The earliest game, between the Chicago Cubs and Miami Marlins started at 12:40 Eastern Time, a half-hour earlier than any other game. The date chosen was also unusual for being a Thursday (previous seasons would normally start on a Sunday or Monday).

Commissioner Manfred threatened on January 20th to introduce unilaterally two important changes to the rules, as it seemed unlikely that these would be accepted through agreement with the Players Association. Both concerned the pace of play and attempted to shorten the time required to play a game. The first was the introduction of a 20-second pitch clock with no runners on base; the second was an extension of the definition of mound visits to include all visits to the mound by players other than the pitcher, and not just those by a manager or coach. Visits by the catcher or infielders were unrestricted until then. On February 19th, the Commissioner did come to an agreement with the MLBPA, or more correctly, the MLBPA decided not to contest the imposition of the changes. The end result was that the pitch clock was not implemented, but that mound visits (as redefined) were limited to six per game, while the allotted time between innings was reduced to 2 minutes and 5 seconds for most games (from 2:25), 2:25 for nationally televised contests, and 2:55 for the postseason. A consequence of this last change was that pitchers were no longer guaranteed eight warm-up pitches before the start of an inning: if they dallied and took too much time to warm up, the umpire would simply signal for the inning to start, no matter how many pitches they had made. While there was some griping by some veteran players, the implementation of the changes came into effect smoothly.

The off-season was dominated by controversy over the slow pace of free agent signings, as it seemed that a dozen teams had decided to strip down and rebuild through the amateur draft that season, most notorious being the Marlins who had conducted a veritable fire sale of their top players. Meanwhile, the traditional big spending teams had all seemingly converted to the virtues of fiscal austerity, wanting to avoid being hit with a luxury tax payment, or keeping their powder dry to invest in the following off-season's free agent class, which was anticipated to be one of the strongest ever. As a result, at the end of January, 130 free agents remained unsigned, including some of the highest-profile names on the market, and very few teams seemed to be interested in bidding for the remaining bounty of available players. This caused anger among players, agents, and fans, with some agents and players calling for a boycott of spring training and claiming that the situation was the result of collusion. However, the MLBPA refuted any talk of a boycott. To highlight the plight of the unsigned players, however, the Players Association decided to open a special spring training site for them, at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, so that they could work out together in a structured environment. As spring training opened, some of the biggest names remaining began to sign contracts, most notably Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer and J.D. Martinez, with lesser names following suit. On February 27th, the MLBPA filed a grievance against four teams benefiting from revenue sharing who, in their view, had simply pocketed the money and not invested it in improving their on-field product, as is the stated purpose of the program. The four teams were the Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Oakland Athletics. When final salary figures were released in December, the average salary had gone down - albeit by a very small amount, $4.095 million compared to $4.097 - for only the fourth time in fifty years. Two of the those years had been during collusion in the mid-1980s and after the devastating 1994 strike, while the other had come in 2004 - a clear indication that something unusual had indeed taken place that spring.

Among the early returns from the season were a confirmation of a polarization of teams, with a cluster of six or seven teams off to great starts in April that would translate into 100-win seasons, and a similar number playing so poorly that a 100-loss season was a distinct possibility. This was consistent with the off-season musings of those who believed many teams had thrown in the towel before even playing a game, but other analysts pointed out that it was far from unusual to have such a spread in the early weeks of a season, and that it would become remarkable only if teams failed to gravitate back towards the mean as they usually do. Others noted that April was the first month in MLB history in which strikeouts outnumbered base hits, a continuation of a trend which had been some time in the making, although the poor weather experienced in much of the northern U.S. in April, which had led to some 25 games being postponed, was also to blame for the lack of hitting, as it is well known that cold weather depresses offensive numbers. The trend was reversed in May, however, with more hits than strikeouts, although the difference was less than 100, and strikeouts were still on pace to shatter the all-time mark established the previous season. A lot of observers were bemoaning the fact that there were fewer and fewer balls being put in play, greatly decreasing the pleasure of fans who actually enjoyed baseball players displaying athletic talent usually evidenced in fielding and baserunning. When the final numbers came in, the major league batting average, at .248, was at its lowest level since 1972, and there were more strikeouts (41,207) than hits (41,019) for the first time in history. Surprisingly, the total number of home runs hit was not a record - they fell to 5,585 from 6,105 in 2017 - but it was still the fourth highest total in history, and the New York Yankees set a record for most homers by one team with 267. When the season ended, there was in fact extreme polarization in the American League, where three teams finished with 100 or more wins, and three with 100 or more losses, but not in the National League, where the win distribution was more normal.

The most worrisome trend of the season, however, was the fall in attendance at games. Heading into the last week-end of the season, attendance was down 4.2%, with more than half the teams reporting a drop over the previous season, with 8 teams having drops of 12% or more. The last season to have experienced a drop was 2009, and that was attributed mainly to the two New York, NY teams moving into ballparks with smaller capacity. At 28,774, attendance was well below the 30,000 mark, which had been topped every season since. Poor weather was a factor, with 54 games postponed, the most since 1989. The two biggest drops came in Miami and Toronto, two teams that saw a huge drop in on-field performance, with Miami's average crowd size dropping by a staggering 51%. The awful Baltimore Orioles, having the worst season in franchise history, also experienced a large drop in attendance, and Pittsburgh had its lowest attendance in over two decades. These were not compensated by the few teams making gains, such as the Houston Astros, with a 24% increase after winning their first World Series. Tampa Bay played much better than expected, with 90 wins, but that did not translate in an increase in attendance: in fact, they lost 100,000 fans compared to their previous mediocre season.

In an unprecedented finish to the season, two of the six division races were still tied after 162 games: the Los Angeles Dodgers and Colorado Rockies finished with identical records in the NL West, and the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers did the same in the NL Central. This necessitated the holding of two one-game playoffs on October 1st, with the winners gaining home field advantage in their respective Division Series, and the two losing teams facing off in the winner-take-all Wild Card Game. It was unprecedented as never in major league history had there been the need for more than one playoff game (or series, back when the NL used a three-game playoff as its tie-breaking mechanism) to determine postseason participants. In the 2018 Postseason, the Cubs disappointed their fans by losing the Wild Card Game at home, making for an unexpected early exit, while the Milwaukee Brewers had their best run in more than three decades, making it to Game 7 of the NLCS. However, the biggest story was the Boston Red Sox, who lost just one game in each of the three postseason series they played, winning the World Series over the Dodgers for their fourth title in 14 years since breaking the infamous Curse of the Bambino in 2004.


Further Reading[edit]

  • David Adler: "MLB announces pace of play initiatives for '18", mlb.com, February 19, 2018. [1]
  • Anthony Castrovince: "It started with 1st pitch: 25 stories we loved in '18: From Ohtani to the Red Sox winning it all, the year was full of excitement", mlb.com, December 27, 2018. [2]
  • Mark Feinsand: "Report: MLBPA rejects pace of play changes", mlb.com, January 18, 2018. [3]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Agent Brodie Van Wagenen accuses MLB owners of collusion, threatens spring training boycott", USA Today Sports, February 2, 2018. [4]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Players union files grievance vs. Rays, Pirates, Athletics, Marlins over revenue-sharing spending", USA Today Sports, February 27, 2018. [5]
  • Gabe Lacques: "After long winter, slow starts, MLB's frozen-out free agents still mad: 'It was ridiculous'", USA Today, August 28, 2018. [6]
  • Gabe Lacques and Scott Boeck: "MLB at the All-Star break: Seven eye-opening numbers from the first half", USA Today, July 16, 2018. [7]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Baseball will experience its first big attendance dip in a decade. Can MLB regain lost ground?", USA Today, September 27, 2018. [8]
  • Gabe Lacques: "Game 163! Historic day on tap as Dodgers-Rockies, Cubs-Brewers set for NL tiebreakers Monday", USA Today, September 30, 2018. [9]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Agent Scott Boras: 'Non-competitive cancer' ruining baseball"", USA Today Sports, January 29, 2018. [10]
  • Bob Nightengale: "Cold war between MLB's Rob Manfred and players continues", USA Today Sports, February 1, 2018. [11]
  • Bob Nightengale: "With fiery statements, MLB, union show labor peace may look quite ugly until 2021", USA Today Sports, February 6, 2018. [12]
  • Bob Nightengale: "There's no ducking the numbers: MLB has a bad baseball problem that's only getting worse", USA Today Sports, June 20, 2018. [13]
  • Bob Nightengale: "MLB at a crossroad: As game changes rapidly, its leaders seek peace amid growing tension", USA Today, July 17, 2018. [14]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "MLB's first month: Five undeniable conclusions", USA Today Sports, April 30, 2018. [15]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Five truths at the quarter mark of the MLB season", USA Today Sports, May 15, 2018. [16]
  • Mike Petriello: "Mark it down: These things will happen in 2018: Record for homers, starting pitcher usage, velocity will fall", mlb.com, March 19, 2018. [17]

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