Wyers: The very long night of Melky Cabrera

From SABR member Colin Wyers at Baseball Prospectus on September 21, 2012:

Major League Baseball faced a similar situation with Melky Cabrera, who until today looked like a near-lock to win the league’s batting title while serving a suspension for PED usage. League officials’ only options made them look as though they were impotent or overreacting. They have decided to go with overreacting, amending the rules to deprive Cabrera of the batting title (ostensibly at Cabrera’s request).

I feel like many of my compatriots have gone in for the same thing, though. While I question the point of this decision, upon reflection I feel like it is at worst a minor sin, not a major error.

Let’s review the mechanics of the decision. Cabrera had (and still has) a commanding lead in the batting title race, but doesn’t actually have enough plate appearances to qualify. Now, under the rules, a player in that situation can have hitless at-bats added to his performance up to the point where he would qualify. Melky, being one PA away from qualifying, would still be a substantial favorite under that rule. That is where MLB and the Player’s Association stepped in:

Rule 10.22(a) permits a player to be recognized as the official winner if extra hitless at-bats are added to his average and it remains higher than any qualifying player. (Cabrera’s average would fall from .3464 to .3456—still .346 when rounded up.)

Under terms of the agreement, Rule 10.22(a) will not apply to suspended players.

What this means is that Melky won’t be awarded any hitless at-bats in order to reach the batting title. The hits, at-bats, and plate appearances he currently has all still count, they just are not sufficient on their own to win the batting title.

(As an aside—the reason plate appearances matter for the batting title is that MLB changed the rule to avoid penalizing players for walking. This remains one of my favorite obscure rules pretty much ever.)

So let’s take a moment and talk about the integrity of the sport. There are many who, I’m sure, feel that the integrity of the sport is threatened by a presumed cheater like Melky, doubly so if he is recognized for his accomplishments during the period when cheating is believed to have taken place. There are others who feel that the integrity of the sport is threatened by changing the rules like this. There’s a third path, though, where we can determine that neither is especially threatening to the integrity of the sport. But first we have to define what integrity is.

Read the full article here: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=18429

Originally published: September 24, 2012. Last Updated: September 24, 2012.