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Mastrodonato: MLB delusional to think sport will improve by paying players based on FanGraphs calculations

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Mastrodonato: MLB delusional to think sport will improve by paying players based on FanGraphs calculations

Imagine the FOX broadcast with Joe Buck and John Smoltz, who spent so much of the MLB postseason talking about prop bets, watching a shortstop call off a center fielder for a mid-range pop-up and immediately analyzing the UZR rating and how much money the shortstop just made himself in salary arbitration.

A joke, this is not.

After a month-long postseason in which MLB sent a loud message to the country that it would rather spend what must’ve been at least 10% of the game promoting gambling than showcasing the sport itself, the league took another sadistic jump this week when it proposed to the players’ union that free agency shouldn’t start until a player is six months from 30, and that arbitration salaries would be determined entirely based on FanGraphs’ WAR calculation.

It would actually be laugh-out-loud funny if the sport hadn’t already made a habit of taking sharp objects and jamming them into its abdomen.

We’ve annihilated situational baseball by teaching young players that launch angle and spin rate are the fastest ways to the big leagues. Let’s take it one step further and tell the players that baseball instincts are worthless compared to your ability to impress a computer.

Maybe this column is just another old man yelling at a cloud, but the league deserves a mouthful after this one.

This new payment structure, which should be rejected by the players’ union faster than Rob Manfred could lock in a prop bet on the number of days this looming lockout will last, is undoubtedly a farce. It must be MLB’s way of holding up a big red balloon and saying, ‘LOOK OVER HERE!’ while it crafts an actual strategy behind the scenes.

Because if this is the offer MLB is choosing to take to the players’ union just three weeks before the collective bargaining agreement is set to expire, a lockout is coming.

Why MLB thinks this is a good idea is beyond reason, particularly coming off a year in which it hired Theo Epstein to help make the game more watchable for young audiences. Epstein’s message was simple: let’s tone back the analytics-driven game and try to make this a more instinctual and athletic game designed to showcase the incredible talent of the modern player.

The modern player is slimmer, faster and more agile than MLB players have been in a long time, if not ever. Stolen bases are down, but that’s not because of a lack of speed. It’s because the numbers say if you aren’t stealing bases at an 80% clip, a remarkably difficult thing to do, it’s actually hurting a team’s chances of winning.

Defense has never been more valuable. Diving catches and Poppeye-strength throws are not out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, putting balls in play is an act that’s going extinct. And if MLB thinks paying its players based on WAR will change that, the league is delusional.

WAR loves the three true outcomes — walks, strikeouts and home runs — which eliminate all the gray area of what happens when a baseball gets put into play, an act that scrambles the computer’s brain.

WAR doesn’t love pitchers who are masterful at their craft and rely on instincts and intellect over pure stuff. It doesn’t love hitters with Dustin Pedroia’s ability to read a situation and poke the ball in the direction it needs to go to advance a runner 90 feet. It doesn’t love timely sacrifices or knowing when to take a strike or paying attention to baserunners.

The finer details of the game aren’t calculable. And even the big ones are often calculated with bias.

Coaches of young players in high school or college are often obsessed with getting their hands on a TrackMan machine so they can measure their players the same way big league front offices do. It’s attractive for the kids to see how they stack up. It’s also imbecilic to think it’ll help them learn how to play the game situationally, instinctually and with the team’s result in mind.

Players like Pedroia could soon become extinct. Smart catchers who make a living off durability, framing and pitch-calling might lose their jobs.

Look at the Red Sox, for example. Second baseman Jose Iglesias, who was claimed off waivers in September and played 23 games, in which the Sox went 13-10, was worth 0.6 WAR.

Christian Vazquez, who managed a pitching staff that over-performed, ranked third in MLB in innings caught and played 138 games in which the Sox went 78-60, was worth 0.5 WAR.

If both players were arbitration-eligible and being paid by WAR, Iglesias would go home with a fatter paycheck than Vazquez.

How about Kiké Hernandez? He had a nice season, playing 134 games while hitting .250 with 20 homers and playing great defense in center field. He was worth 4.0 WAR, or more than double that of Alex Verdugo (2.0 WAR) and Hunter Renfroe (1.8 WAR), who each had more hits, total bases and games played than Hernandez.

At least right now, teams and players can negotiate salaries with a panel of arbitrators who can go back and forth on which statistics are more valuable. Teams can use their eyeballs, players can tout their instincts and both sides can argue it out.

Trading in people for computers to decide on player salaries is not the answer.

MLB has to know this, right?

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

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49ers hang on late for 23-17 wild-card victory over Cowboys

ARLINGTON, Texas — Versatile receiver Deebo Samuel ran 26 yards for a touchdown the play after an interception by Dak Prescott, and the San Francisco 49ers held on for a 23-17 wild-card victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The Cowboys had a final chance with 32 seconds remaining and were at the San Francisco 41 with 14 seconds to go when Prescott took off up the middle intending to slide and spike the ball for a final play.

But Dallas didn’t get the snap off from the 24 until after the clock hit 0:00. After a brief delay, referee Alex Kemp announced the game was over.

The 49ers overcame an interception by Jimmy Garoppolo when they led by 13 in the fourth quarter. Prescott ran for a touchdown to get within a score, and had a chance to drive Dallas to a go-ahead score. But the 49ers got a stop at midfield when Prescott’s desperation fourth-down pass was just out of the receiver Cedrick Wilson’s reach.

After a 14th penalty from the NFL’s most-penalized team in the regular season that helped San Francisco run out most of the clock — and the frantic final seconds as Dallas tried for the win — the 49ers (11-7) clinched their first playoff victory at the Cowboys in a storied postseason rivalry.

Now they head to Tampa Bay for a divisional game, looking for another trip to the NFC championship game.

The wait for Dallas (12-6) to get that far in the playoffs will reach at least 27 years after another first-game flameout in the postseason for Prescott, the second in three trips for the star quarterback. It was his first playoff game since signing a $40-million-a-year contract in the offseason.

The 49ers were in control in the fourth quarter, but not leaning on the running game they figured could carry them to a win when Garoppolo threw an interception to Anthony Brown that set up Prescott’s 7-yard scoring run.

Garoppolo’s mistake wasn’t long after Prescott was picked off at the Dallas 26 by K’Waun Williams and Samuel ran untouched on a cutback up the middle to the end zone on the next play for a 23-7 lead.

San Francisco lost star pass rusher Nick Bosa to a concussion just before halftime when he was crunched in the head and neck area by teammate D.J. Jones. But the 49ers kept enough pressure on Prescott, finishing with five sacks while holding the NFL’s No. 1 offense to 307 yards.

San Francisco scored on its first four possessions, but three times settled for field goals from Robbie Gould to help keep the Cowboys close.

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

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‘Scream’ scares off ‘Spider-Man’ with $30.6M debut

NEW YORK — After a month at no. 1, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” has finally been overtaken at the box office. Paramount Pictures’ “Scream” reboot debuted with $30.6 million in ticket sales over the weekend, according to studio estimates Sunday.

“Scream,” a self-described “requel” that is both the fifth film in the franchise and a reboot introducing a new, younger cast, led all releases over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. Paramount forecasts that it will total $35 million including Monday’s grosses. “Scream,” which cost about $24 million to make, added another $18 million in 50 international markets.

That made for a solid revival for the self-aware slasher franchise.

Rights to the “Scream” films, once a reliable cash cow for Harvey and Bob Weinstein’s Miramax Films, were acquired by Spyglass Media Group, which produced the new film with Paramount. This “Scream,” helmed by Matt Bettinello-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, was the first not directed by Wes Craven, who died in 2015. It features original “Scream” cast members Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox and David Arquette alongside new additions Melissa Barrera, Jenna Ortega and Jack Quaid.

“All of our traditional measures were indicating a solid opening, but as I kept telling people: We’re still in this thing and it’s very difficult to determine what will actually happen,” said Chris Aronson, distribution chief for Paramount. “Now we’re open, people have seen the movie and we’re off and running. Hopefully this becomes another building block toward building the business back and getting it back to some semblance of normalcy.”

Meanwhile, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” slipped to second place but continued to rise in the record books.

“No Way Home” grossed $20.8 million in its fifth weekend of release. Sony Pictures predicts that with another $5.2 million on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, “No Way Home” will reach a domestic cumulative total of $703.9 million Monday, edging “Black Panther” and moving into fourth place all-time.

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

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Dolphins’ first-round pick pushed further back by 49ers’ win over Cowboys

The Miami Dolphins didn’t play a wild-card round playoff game, but they still found a way to lose over the weekend.

The Dolphins’ first-round draft pick took another blow with the San Francisco 49ers’ upset win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday evening.

Now, Miami will be selecting No. 25, at best, in the draft’s first round after the 49ers advanced to the divisional round of the postseason.

San Francisco now plays at the NFC’s top-seeded Green Bay Packers. With another upset, the pick that goes to the Dolphins falls to 29. A 49ers loss Sunday would’ve likely given Miami the 22nd pick.

The Dolphins own the 49ers’ selection while the Philadelphia Eagles have Miami’s pick due to the two trades the Dolphins pulled off with the NFC teams last offseason ahead of the 2021 NFL draft. Miami traded back to No. 12 with San Francisco, sending the No. 3 pick, which previously belonged to the Houston Texans, to the 49ers. A move up from 12 to 6, where wide receiver Jaylen Waddle was selected, followed and sent the Dolphins’ 2022 first-rounder to Philadelphia.

In the movement, the Dolphins are now selecting at least 10 spots lower than they would be had they traded the 49ers’ pick to the Eagles instead of their own. The Miami selection going to Philadelphia in the upcoming draft is No. 15. The Dolphins also got a 2023 first-round pick from the 49ers in the deal.

San Francisco offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, who is one of the Dolphins’ seven candidates being interviewed for their head coaching vacancy, could theoretically play a role in negatively affecting his first draft pick as Miami head coach should he be the choice for the job.

The Dolphins appear more likely than they once were to keep their first-round pick after the Saturday news that the franchise plans to continue working with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

The NFL draft is ordered by first having the 18 non-playoff teams pick in reverse order of record, with lower strength of schedule serving as a tiebreaker. Picks 19-24 are then reserved for the wild-card round losers in reverse order of regular-season record. Picks 25-28 go to divisional round losers and so on until the Super Bowl champion picks 32nd.

Bears interested in Dolphins exec

The Chicago Bears are already seeking interviews with ex-Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland and ex-Dolphins coach Brian Flores for their two vacancies in the respective roles.

Now, they have requested permission to interview current Miami executive Reggie McKenzie for the general manager job, according to The MMQB.

McKenzie has been with the Dolphins as senior personnel executive since 2019 after spending the previous seven seasons (2012-18) as the Oakland Raiders’ general manager. In 2016, McKenzie was named the NFL’s Executive of the Year by Sporting News, The MMQB and the PFWA.

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