Everything You Wanted to Know About Gregory Polanco’s Promotion *and weren’t afraid to ask

By Peter Kreutzer, blog.askrotoman.com

For weeks there has been a lot of chatter about the Pirates uberprospect, Gregory Polanco.

When would he be called up? Why isn’t he being called up? How can a struggling team choose to save money rather than bring up their best prospect? Plus, WHEN WILL HE BE CALLED UP!?!? Dammit.

And then, just as sudden as can be, when the Pirates second baseman suffered an appendicitis on Monday, the world knew. Polanco was coming!

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Pirates fans rejoiced, baseball fans were excited, and fantasy baseball players who had taken Polanco on reserve got giddy. One of those was ESPN’s Tristan Cockcroft, Polanco’s owner in Tout Wars NL.

Tristan, reigning two-time Tout Wars NL champ, like most of us, knew Polanco was coming soon. What we didn’t know was what trigger was going to get the Pirates’ top prospect to the majors. The Pirates outfield wasn’t great, Polanco would almost certainly improve it, but the culture and psychology of the game argued against a direct promotion of Polanco and demotion of Josh Harrison, especially while Harrison was going good.

Tristan, in anticipation, had asked for a Tout Wars rules clarification on Monday. Would he be able to promote El_Coffeee during the week, if he were called up? Yes, he was told. He would be able to call him up the day AFTER the transaction appeared at mlb.com. That’s when onRoto.com, the leagues’ stat service, would make him eligible. He would also have to release, not reserve, the player Polanco replaced, unless that player was on the DL or in the minors. Those are the Tout Wars midweek replacement rules.

That afternoon, after the day’s games were underway, Neil Walker’s appendix took care of everything. Harrison was moved back into the infield, from whence he had come, while Walker moved to a hospital. And Polanco took his suitcase from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh in time for Tuesday night’s game against the Cubs, tweeting along the way. In the baseball world, all was fine.

From a fantasy perspective, what we expected to happen was for the Pirates to activate Polanco on Tuesday, and Tristan would be able to activate him to his Tout Wars team on Wednesday. But when Tristan woke up on Tuesday morning, onRoto.com showed Polanco active. He perhaps couldn’t believe his eyes. He emailed:

“Just making sure what with MLB’s wording technicalities of recalls: OnRoto now lists Polanco as an active MLBer, with no “I,” so I’m going to put him in for today. If that’s an illegal move let me know!”

The “I” is onRoto’s indication that a player is in the minors.

Tout Wars wrote back: “If onRoto picks up the transaction we’re good.” The removal of the I meant onRoto had picked up the transaction.

Tristan had his man. But then things got a little twisted. The Pirates didn’t announce the paired moves of Polanco and Walker until late Tuesday morning. It may have said on the MLB.com transactions list, at 8:30am on Tuesday that “Pittsburgh Pirates recalled CF Gregory Polanco from Indianapolis Indians,” but it appeared that the move happened later. If that was the case, how did onRoto pick it up?

In real baseball the time frame for moves is obvious. A player has to be activated before the game starts, and he has to be physically present. But in fantasy baseball, there have to be rules. The Tout Wars rules, as described above and in more detail in the Constitution, are designed to make the league work like a traditional league with weekly transactions, but allow teams to make moves from their reserve list if a player is put on the DL or returns from it or is promoted from the minors. In order for that to work, we have to define when a transaction takes place.

But it turns out that, while there is a definite official moment when a transaction becomes effective, that moment is not clear to the interested public. It is just a line of data in the official computers in the Commissioner’s Office of MLB. Here’s what happened in this case, to show how all the systems work and interrelate.

Monday afternoon: Neil Walker has an appendicitis. The Pirates know he is going on the DL. They decide this is the time to promote Gregory Polanco. They contact Polanco and tell him to get himself to Pittsburgh for Tuesday’s game.

Monday evening: Reporters in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh report that Polanco is coming. Polanco tweets that he is coming. Neil Walker tweets from his hospital room that he’s ticked he won’t get to see Polanco’s debut in person. ESPN reports that the move has been made. Oddly, MLB.com reports that Walker has been put on the Disabled List. Tristan Cockcroft anticipates activating Polanco on Wednesday, releasing Gerald Laird. There is no official ML move announced involving Polanco, but everyone knows.

Monday overnight: What apparently happened is that sometime after midnight, the Pirates entered their moves into the official MLB transaction system, which is called eBIS. Michael Teevan, at MLB, told me that “transactions officially occur when Clubs enter the move into our computer system.” That’s the moment when the deal is done.

Michael also said that the Commissioner’s Office “has a Baseball Operations department that works closely with each Club’s Baseball Ops officials,” apparently to make sure everything is done correctly. It is common, he said, for the clubs to call or email the Baseball Operations department, to notify and clarify things.

Tuesday morning MLB: Teevan didn’t know what time the Walker and Polanco moves were made, but he said that they definitely took effect officially on Tuesday (with Walker’s DL move retroactive to the ninth, so that he might be eligible for return earlier).

MLB VP of Stats, Cory Schwartz, told me that for the MLB.com transactions list, “we list transactions once they are official, that is confirmed by either a press release from the club, or a statement on their Twitter account, or when the transaction appears as approved in the MLB transaction system (eBIS).”

Cory forwarded the top of the Pirates press release, with a timestamp of 1:12P.M. ET. (click to enlarge)


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He said that the time stamp was when the press release was posted, but that the release was issued in the morning.

Tuesday morning onRoto.com: onRoto.com’s Scott Wilderman told me that “we get the statuses from just two sources, since these are the only two that have not routinely made errors in our experience: 1) the rosters at MLB.com, and 2) the transactions at STATS.com.

Scott said that the transaction list at MLB.com “frequently lags reality,” and ESPN.com’s list “were twice premature with call-ups that never happened last summer,” so he stopped using them.

For Tout Wars, Scott said, onRoto “updates the whole system with new data and updated transactions at about 6am each day.”

A picture of what happened emerges:

4am: Cory Schwartz told me that the “MLB.com editors start working about 4am. They read the news stories about Walker being DLed and Polanco being called up, and they check eBIS to see if it was official.” Apparently, Cory says, it was in the system, so they updated the rosters and posted on the MLB.com transaction list.

6am: The operator at onRoto.com, arrives at work and checks the changes in the MLB.com rosters, as scraped by his system minutes before. The Polanco and Walker transactions were both there. This usually, in like 99 percent of cases, means that the transaction took place the day before. So he enters the transaction date as June 9, though we now know that the official date was June 10. This is intentional. Wilderman explained:

“One thing that probably caused/is causing some confusion is our dating system. To
keep the file dates in line with the dates on the stat files, when we pull
transactions or rosters at 6:00 AM on 6/10, we consider those the ‘overnight 6/9’
rosters and transactions, just as the morning stats on 6/10 are through games played
on 6/9. So what we have listed as a 6/9 transaction can be either a 6/9 move from
during the day on 6/9, or a 6/10 move from the morning of 6/10.”

Sometime later: Tristan Cockcroft wakes up and is surprised to see Polanco eligible. And glad.

When questions come up later, I begin researching this story. It’s hard not to agree with Wilderman’s conclusion about this process: “I know this is not perfect, but it’s consistent (on our end) and not subjective, and I think that’s the best we can do.”

For now, sure, but I have a feeling a solution is readily available. If the Commissioners Office set up eBIS to tweet each official transaction there would be a timestamped record of when all these moves took place officially. I’m sure no one on the pure baseball side thought of this because for pure baseball purposes it doesn’t really matter much. But for fantasy baseball service providers, league commissioners and players, it would be a boon.

Or maybe it is boon already. Michael Teevan responded to my query: “MLB.com has a twitter feed devoted to roster moves.  Clubs do a good job on their accounts of spreading the word on their roster moves, especially through their PR accounts.”

Cory Schwartz said the editors at mlb.com use those Twitter feeds to update, maybe in conjunction with eBIS. The best of both worlds.

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Finally, in researching this whole process I got in touch with STATS, onRoto’s other reliable source of transaction information. It turns out they are very conservative. They don’t apparently have access to eBIS. STATS Operations Director Allan Spear described their process to me:

“We cannot report anything until there is an official press release by the team.  In this case, the Pirates made an official announcement Tuesday of the Polanco / Walker transactions.  Within minutes of the release, we enter the transaction into our system. From there, we have triggers that deliver it to our customers on the time frame they have setup with us to receive the information.  Most are real time, some may be once a day, etc.  This goes for starting pitchers when TBD is the probable starter, etc.  Even though everyone speculates that the new stud pitcher is getting called up, we can’t report it until we receive the official release from the team.”

I wonder when Andrew Heaney is going to be called up?