The Rotation Part 1
The Curious Case of ABC
Ladies and Gentlemen, esteemed readers of Stories House whether new or old, welcome to the best two month stretch of the year for sports fans. March Madness is less than two weeks away. NFL free agency is upon us and players are switching teams left and right. The NHL and NBA playoffs are right around the corner. The NFL Draft rounds out the unbelievable stretch of two months. But that being said, I have neglected to mention what makes spring so grand. Spring Training is upon us, and before an eye can be blinked, Major League Baseball will be back. I can think of nothing in this world which makes me happier than the first two weeks of baseball season. These weeks are the weeks that even the casual baseball fan must love. Parity runs rampant; every team but the Cubs has a shot at the pennant. Every rotisserie baseball team is in first place at one point and even the inexplicably still playing Juan Pierre has a shot at MVP. Yes, baseball is upon us. And in on honor of this joyous occasion, I am beginning my incredibly long winded baseball preview today with part one of my five part television and baseball corollary: The Rotation.
As I have hinted at in the past, my two true loves in this world are sitcoms and baseball. I love baseball and sitcoms so much that I spend more time thinking about the two topics together than I do thinking about most topics separately. And as many of you may remember, last year I formulated the best way to link the two barely related topics. In what is now the second annual edition of The Rotation, I will once again compare starting pitching rotations from certain teams in Major League Baseball to comedy lineups on the five major television stations for original programming. While some may consider this a daunting or extremely useless task, I consider it just an extremely useless task. So, without further explanation, let’s jump right into the swing of things with ABC.
ABC: The Tampa Bay Rays
Rays Pitchers and Their ABC Counterparts
Here is the main comparison between the Rays pitching staff and the ABC comedy lineup: just as the Rays have an extreme excess in pitching, ABC does in comedies. And in both cases, this is far from a bad thing. They both have exhibited the ability raise and maintain an ace, how to suck the life out of those who used to have talented and the confusing mismanagement of a grand asset. Let’s start with the Rays in general.
The Tampa Bay Rays
Obviously, David Price is a great commodity. He is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner. Last season Price had the best ERA in the league, won 20 games and posted a 6.4 WAR. You name the stat, Price looked good in it last season. He hasn’t shown significant injury concerns in his career and don’t forget he has played in what has been historically the toughest division in baseball for hitters his entire career. Following David Price in the rotation is Matt Moore, who almost all in baseball agree is an up and coming star. It’s hard to disagree with the numbers he put up last season. Traditionally, his stats were average. (Quite literally, actually. He had an ERA+ of 100.) Per PitchF/X data though, Matt Moore put 55.3% of his pitches in the strikes zone last season. The velocity on his pitches is outstanding, with both his fastball and his sinker, which comprise 67% of what he throws, both average around 95 mph. Sadly, he suffered a BABIP against of .350 last year on pitches in the strikes zone, which is anomalously unlucky for any pitcher, let alone a rookie trying to get into the groove. After Moore, the Rays will throw the young Jeremy Hellickson, the also young Alex Cobb, and the overpaid Jeff Niemann. Hellickson and Cobb have great amounts of room to grow, and Niemann is really a good option for a five starter. The bullpen is strong with Fernando Rodney, who I have some questions about, closing and Kyle Farnsworth, who may have played for every team in the MLB, a few in the NHL, one professional bowling team and a semi-pro stock car racing league by now, setting up. Overall, this is one of the strongest rotations and bullpens in all of baseball. However, the Rays did make a calculated error in my opinion with a trade that sent James Shields and Wade Davis packing for Kansas City this offseason. Yes, when one has a surplus they should capitalize on it to pick up that which they lack. But that being said, James Shields may well be the best thing ever to happen to the Rays and Wade Davis is a significant upgrade over Niemann. Davis had double the WAR of Niemann last year, projects similarly this year, and is three years younger than Niemann. I understand that the Rays got a dynamite prospect in Will Myers out of KC, but giving up Davis, who put up more significant numbers out of the bullpen than Niemann did from starting. And yes, Niemann was hurt for a significant period of time, but again, that could be a product of age. All I’m saying is that Davis as a setup guy or fifth starter is better than Niemann to me. But more on all of this will come later.
ABC has a plethora of sitcoms on the air right now. Modern Family is still a hulking blob of comedy gold. Even this year, when the show has been weaker than ever, it is still good for a high laugh count each episode. The cast is just too funny to not produce good gags. However, I do not believe Modern Family is the best thing that ABC has. If you want to talk about mismanaging a sitcom, look no further than Happy Endings. Critics adore Happy Endings. The six or seven people on the planet that watch the show adore the show. The cast is one of the funniest ensembles we’ve seen in a long time. Yet the show has moved from its Wednesday at 9:30 slot from last year to a Tuesday at 9 slot to a Sunday at 10 and now to Friday at 8. It is a carousel of confusion surrounding this show. It is a shame that ABC can’t manage its funniest original show, because had they kept Happy Endings after Modern Family, the ratings inevitably would have risen and the show wouldn’t be in purgatory. For the record, one show that isn’t in purgatory is Suburgatory, which ABC seems to love. The show is getting a great timeslot this year, following Modern Family, and with it comes a great retention rate. (For those unfamiliar with that term, in television a retention rate is the percentage of people that continue to watch television after a show they were watching has ended simply because they don’t want to stop watching TV. Networks often platoon struggling shows after their best shows so that the struggling shows can get better ratings, i.e. CBS and The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men.) Suburgatory, which for the record I find intolerable, is secure for at least another season despite easily being less funny than Happy Endings. Another example of this is The Middle, which is the weirdest, streakiest show on television. On some nights, The Middle is one of the funniest shows in the world, but on others it is nothing but groaners and sad attempts at family humor. Oddly enough, the most successful show on ABC this year on the comedy front may actually have been the newcomer, The Neighbors. This weird, quirky comedy is surprisingly one of the funniest shows of this year. I can speak from truth when I say I have gotten a large portion of my immediate friend group invested in the show. It actually is quite funny. And I can assert with absolutely no experience, knowledge, or viewership that Last Man Standing and Malibu Country are ABC’s attempts to cash in on big names. Overall, ABC is a funny network, but it isn’t the best by far.
Comparison: David Price and Modern Family
So here is the thing about both of these entities: both of them have probably maxed out the best talent they can scrounge from themselves without making a massive change. Starting with David Price, it’s quite obvious. The Rays are a team of limited capital. David Price is arguably the hottest (attainable) commodity in the pitching market since Felix Hernandez has been resigned. Face it, Price is entering his age-27 season and is arguably already among the three best pitchers in baseball. His numbers last season were ludicrously good, and because of that, he quite obviously deserves to be paid as such. That being said, David Price is owed “just” 10 million dollars this season and will be arbitration eligible in 2014. Assuming that Price is like most athletes and is in it for the money more so than the team, there is no way the Rays can pay David Price comparable money to Hernandez, and upcoming free agents Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw, Yovanni Gallardo et al. This puts the Rays in a predicament. Even though Price is easily the best asset the Rays hold right now, they also possess Evan Longoria, who when healthy is in the conversation for best position players in the game, Matt Moore, more on him later, and freakish minor league talent Wil Meyers, who they grabbed through the Royals trade. The Rays may have a top 5 pitching rotation, but outside of Longoria and Meyers (and maybe Ben Zobrist depending on who you ask) the Rays lack the ability to score runs. The Rays may actually be better served to pitch Price to the pennant race this year, maybe 2014, and dish him at the deadline to a team hungry for a starter like the Brewers and CC Sabathia. The Rays are poised for a pennant race in 2013, but with or without Price this team will lose a lot of games if they can’t find run support. Like the Rays, ABC is in a constant predicament. Where the Rays have been in a decade long struggle to find offense, ABC has been in a struggle of similar lengths to find male viewership. As much as ABC might have attempted to skew masculine with shows like Man Up and Last Man Standing last year, ABC is still as estrogen-filled as the cast of The View was 20 years ago. (For the record, The View is also on ABC.) Modern Family, as family-oriented as it may be, simply isn’t the best fix for this dilemma. According to the Nielsen Ratings, the only shows ABC has in the top-20 shows in viewership are Dancing with the Stars and Modern Family. Modern Family does have mass appeal in this regard, no? The only two comedies in America with higher ratings are CBS goliaths The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men. Much like David Price, Modern Family is still at its peak for both talent and potential. They are both young. They both have had extremely high levels of success in their infancy. Sadly though, they both have relatively bad supporting casts when they play. For instance, last week Modern Family was a rerun, so its numbers were down below its main competition, Criminal Minds on CBS, in raw numbers, but Modern Family still retained 40% of the 18-49 viewership demographic. But the shows preceding and succeeding Modern Family, The Neighbors and Suburgatory, were both new and had a relatively hard time ratings wise. Don’t get me wrong, they were good numbers but they really don’t solve the whole female skew dilemma. While The Neighbors is a classic family sitcom, it really doesn’t grunt manliness. Actually, almost all of the misogyny was rooted out after a few episodes and replaced with docile male figures being walked all over by their wives and girlfriends. This is a classic TV technique, but ABC loves it more than any other network. Further, Suburgatory is in the top two sitcoms on TV right now for female fanbases. (That is pure conjecture. I assume that it would beat Girls and New Girl, but lose to Two Broke Girls. That’s a lot of girls.) ABC really needs to make a change at the top of their rotation. I’m not saying they should ship Modern Family to A&E for Duck Dynasty, Storage Wars and a spinoff to be named later, but they need to restructure Modern Family to its past glory. Let’s face it; Modern Family is nowhere near as funny as it once was. That being said, it used to be the Jay and Phil Show with supporting casts. Now that the ensemble has taken the same strategy that The Neighbors has and appealed to the least common female denominator, the show frankly isn’t where it used to be. Some shows can be funny with the main male actors’ testicles in their wives’ purses. Modern Family is not that show. The writers need to make a change and put Modern Family plots and jokes where they deserve to be, just like the Rays need to make a change and put David Price where he needs to be. If both the team and the network can do this, they both may be staring down the eyes of a winner soon enough.
Comparison: James Shields and Happy Endings
For those about to jump on me about James Shields no longer being a Ray, they need to learn more about Happy Endings. Yes, the Rays sentenced James Shields to a life in purgatory by trading him to the Kansas City Royals. Yes, the trade probably was a good thing for the Rays as they can now move on to bigger and better things with Wil Meyers. And yes, now Shields can finally be his own man and prove that he can lead a team as an ace. But here is my main complaint: as I’ve already hinted at, the Rays really should be maxing out for this season. The way the American League is currently built, they may in fact be the favorites to make it to October. However, as the Rays try to balance both building for a future and the present, they are allowing other teams to mature or recover. Take the Orioles and Yankees, the two teams most think will be the competition for the Rays for years to come. The O’s were great last season, but they weren’t cut out for postseason play because of how young the nucleus of their team was. In building for the future, the Rays are allowing the Birds to give another year of experience to Manny Machado, Dylan Bundy and the rest of the crew. This makes the future for which the Rays are building look murky in division, because as one team gets better, so too does another. Compound that with the threat of the Yankees, who while they may have a down year this year and maybe even next year, the team will see another in flux of free agent pickups to solidify the age they brought in from the last in flux. It’s the Yankees. When the Bombers brought in A-Rod and Tex and CC and Granderson and Ichiro and Kuroda and even Pettitte, they well knew that a few years down the line they would just buy a new group of 27-32 year old superstars to wait out their old age in a retirement home. (Remember, this criticism is coming from a Yankees fan. I mean this completely endearingly. We didn’t copyright “Baseball’s Evil Empire” for nothing!) So, as the Rays see their future getting brighter, so too do their rivals in New York and Baltimore. And don’t think that those two types of improvement don’t also go for Boston and Toronto. Now, had they kept James Shields, they could have maxed out for this season. The only conceivable competition in the AL this year for them is Anaheim, and we’ve all seen how they have imploded over the past couple of seasons. The benefits of the trade they made for Meyers won’t be reaped this year, and that may be too little too late for Tampa. On the flip side of the comparison, it also may be too little too late for Happy Endings. Each year, you can easily see a Mount Rushmore of sitcoms make itself out. This year, Happy Endings would be a surefire inclusion on the monument. Don’t believe me? Read: this. And if none of that is incentive to watch the show, read: this. Seriously, this show is arguably the funniest show on TV. Yet ABC is wasting it on Friday nights, letting it toil around in the garbage with other shows that only niche audiences care about like Grimm, Fringe, and Supernatural. The difference is, this isn’t niche-y Sci-Fi that only at-home Friday nighters understand. This is broad-as-daylight sitcom humor. How does this relate to James Shields? Think about it. If Friday night at 8:00 could be compared to a baseball team, wouldn’t it be the Royals. You’d have to be crazy to watch the Royals. And ABC just relegated its funniest sitcom to the Royals just like the Rays traded their all-time winningest pitcher to Friday nights. I know that’s backwards, that’s how interchangeable the terms are! AH! Seriously, I don’t care about James Shields. Just watch an episode of the show and tell me it’s not funny. ABC.com and Hulu carry episodes. Do it. Now. I don’t care if you stop reading this, the rest isn’t as important. I DON’T WANT THIS SHOW TO BE CANCELED. But it will be. And that is sad.
Comparison: Matt Moore and The Neighbors
I can probably sum up the comparison between these two, my last comparison for the record, in about two sentences. That being said, you know I won’t. These two are both young and the world is their proverbial oyster. As I raved about Matt Moore earlier, you may know that I think that he has the potential to be more than David Price is talent-wise and impact-wise. His velocity and control are impeccable for someone at a young age such as his. However, he came out of the gates to average reviews in his first full season, probably because the expectations were so high. Due to his high expectations and that other rookie who played for the Angels, he didn’t seem too good. But he really was. Now The Neighbors is also a victim of expectations. The show came out of the gate looking like the surest bet for first show of the year to be canceled. But something incredible happened. It didn’t get canceled. It got, dare I say, good. The show reminds me a lot of the early years of 30 Rock. No one expected that show to stay on the air, so they just barraged the audience with jokes and likeable characters and somehow the show stayed afloat. That’s what’s happened to The Neighbors. I was the shows biggest critic before I saw an episode. But the low expectations I had led me to see the show for what it really was: funny. Unlike Moore, who was considered below average despite being average because of the steep expectations he had to satisfy, I think The Neighbors has come to be considered above average despite being average. As true as that may be, both Matt Moore and The Neighbors have everything going for them. Matt Moore has a great bullpen and an improving lineup surrounding him and The Neighbors is bookeneded by seasoned vets in The Middle and Modern Family. Matt Moore may never be considered the best pitcher ever, and The Neighbors may never be an Emmy-winning sitcom, but both of them have bright futures if they can continue to build upon their potentials and reach for excellence, which they should be able to do.
Alright, so that is that. ABC and the Rays have quite a bit in common, don’t they? Check back tomorrow for the next comparison. And trust me, it will be shorter than this one. ALL of the forthcoming baseball previews will be shorter than this one. This one ran long. I know. I also know I’m just making it worse by extending this apology. But trust me. I can change. Forgive me.