It's time for baseball to adopt a new stat: team earned runs

Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Tepera throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Toronto. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)
Caption
Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Ryan Tepera throws against the Tampa Bay Rays during the second inning of a baseball game, Sunday, April 30, 2017, in Toronto. (Fred Thornhill/The Canadian Press via AP)

Credit: Fred Thornhill

Credit: Fred Thornhill

Tony Clark, the chief of the players' union, grabbed a seat at a picnic bench outside the Cardinals' clubhouse this past February and apologized for not being able to make eye contact with a few of the reporters. The sun was right in his eye from certain directions, and if he winced at the question it wasn't because of the topic.

So I asked about baseball ditching its fundamental element to shave a few seconds off a few games a few times a year: Did the union have any issue with the no-pitch intentional walk?

"This is one of those conversations where we had guys on one end of the spectrum and guys on the other end and a huge majority in the middle," Clark said. "Truth be told, I was one of the ones in the middle. It is one of those things that when you talk about how it's going to effect the players on the field — appreciate that there shouldn't be a significant effect here. Does it save a little bit of time? Maybe it saves a little bit of time. We'll have to see if that rule changes the way certain teams function."

I see now I asked the wrong question.

I should have asked if the union has any issue with what no-pitch intentional walks could mean for player salaries and the arbitration process.

That would have gotten a glare.

This past week, the Cardinals took advantage of the no-pitch intentional walk by wasting no time to walk-off Toronto with a grand slam.

Blue Jays reliever Ryan Tepera entered in the bottom of the 11th and allowed a leadoff triple to Kolten Wong. His manager then did the strategically right thing to do: walked the next two batters. Baseball's new rules, adopted this past spring, allows for the manager to hold up four fingers and give up a base. For the first time in baseball history, the defensive team is giving up first base without releasing a pitch. For the first time in history, the defensive team is giving up any base without an active ball.

Tepera had allowed three baserunners and loaded the bases — but he had thrown only two pitches, a feat not possible before this new rule.

He "faced" four batters, threw three pitches:

Kolten Wong triples (2 pitches)

Randal Grichuk IBB (0)

Dexter Fowler IBB (0)

Aledmys Diaz F7 (1)

Tepera got the one out before turning the inning over to J.P. Howell to face Matt Carpenter. The Cardinals' No. 3 batter slugged the first grand slam of his career, and the game was over, 8-4. Tepera, from the dugout, took the brunt of the earned runs with three.

This is why baseball's new rule requires a new stat: Team ER.

In the NBA, every shot must be accounted for in the box score. It either snaps net or rebounds off something, someone, or lands out of bounds. If the rebound goes out of bounds or for some other reason wasn't corralled by an individual that rebound goes as a "team rebound." It brings balance to the stats.

Team earned runs (Team ER) and the companion stat team baserunners (Team BR) would not upset the balance of baseball's box scores and it would bring fairness to the stats.

Tepera starts this week with a 5.93 ERA, and yet locked within the nine earned runs and 17 baserunners he's allowed in 13 2/3 innings this season are two that he had no role in. His ERA and his WHIP should reflect that.

His manager executed the move, not him.

Baseball is, at its core, a game of contrasting executions — with each player being measured for how he executed. It's a dance of executions. A strike is a pitcher executing a pitch. A ball is a hitter executing patience. A groundout is a fielder (or two) executing a play. A double is a batter executing a swing. A hit-and-run that opens up a hole in the defense and gets a runner from first to third is a team executing a sign from the dugout. It is not the manager holding up his hand and getting two bases for the runner in the interest of saving time and skirting the execution.

As dull as they could be, intentional walks did fit into this category. The pitcher had to execute four balls out of the strike zone.

When they are not executed, sometimes exciting things can happen. Miguel Cabrera reached out and poked an intentional-walk pitch for a game-winning single. The Tampa Bay Rays intended to intentionally walk Gary Sanchez before one of the pitches got too close to the outside edge of the plate and Sanchez lofted a sacrifice fly. Tony Pena once faked an intentional walk before slipping back behind the plate to sneak a strike past John Olerud. Now that's execution. And Vlad Guerrero, when standing by for one of those unintentional intentional walks, hit a home run on a stray pitch. Of course.

In each of those examples, the execution of the intentional walk is up to the pitcher. He must perform the task assigned by the dugout (or the moment), not watch that task just happen.

Tepera knows the pinch of execution. Seven of the nine runs he's allowed this season have come in two appearances, and there's little doubt who is deserving of the four runs that came against him April 16 against Baltimore. Tepera allowed a single, a wild pitch, a walk, a Trey Mancini home run, and then another single. He threw 26 pitches — yep, actually put a pitch in play to see what happened — and allowed four runs in 1/3 of an inning. The fourth run scored after he left the game, as an inherited runner.

See, baseball already has a mechanism in place for runners to go to the pitcher responsible for them. When Howell entered Thursday's game with the bases loaded, the three runners on base were Tepera's problem, not his. If any of them scored, they would go, by rule, on Tepera's ERA. Heck, even though Howell delivered the pitch that determined the game, Tepera took the loss in the game because, again by rule, he was responsible for putting the decisive run on base. That he did. Wong was the decisive run, and Tepera allowed the triple.

That is where past truths of the game coexist:

A pitch is put in play for first base to be earned.

A pitcher is responsible for players he allows to reach first base.

A pitcher's ERA reflects the number of runners who he allowed to reach first base and then later score, even if he is not on the mound, without the help of an error or passed ball.

In the 11th inning last week, Tepera did not put a pitch in play and had two more baserunners. His ERA inflated with those runs when, after he left the game, they scored. And yet it was not his decision or his execution that put the runners on base. He had no role in putting them on — didn't even get the chance to mess it up with a wild pitch that would have scored Wong and ended the game. The earned runs should go to the person truly responsible for putting those runners on base, the person who is responsible for those runners thanks to baseball's new no-pitch intentional walk rule.

The manager.

Back on the bench outside the Cardinals clubhouse, Clark cautioned about making too many changes all at once to baseball's rules. He and the players recognize the commissioner's urge to speed up the game's pace, to modernize it for an audience that has a shorter and shorter attention span. But, Clark explained, too many moves at once and it's impossible to know which work — and which don't.

Incremental moves allow the game to map "inadvertent consequences."

"I think it's a more dangerous conversation to have if you have a number of changes that suddenly hit the decks," Clark told us. "You know you know how they may manifest themselves in the course of the game, over the course of a season. You think you know that. But the truth is, we don't."

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