March 29, 2013

Sabermetrics is making baseball worse

The big lesson in late 20th Century statistical analysis of baseball was that in the ancient debate over baseball strategy between Ty Cobb (make contact, hit line drives, and steal bases) and Babe Ruth (hit homers, take walks, or strike out), the Babe was right, just like his tens of millions of fans believed. Baseball insiders found Cobb's athletic style more elegant, but fans liked the professional wrestling aspects of a huge man bashing the long ball. 

Bill James and his followers proved that Ruth's philosophy was better at winning ballgames, and that baseball men had not fully embraced his philosophy out of aesthetic prejudice: Cobb's style looks better.

Sabermetric sophistication encouraged steroid use and sabermetricians like James overwhelmingly turned a blind eye to the causes of the absurd statistics of the 1990s and 2000s. There's drug testing now, but the sabermetrics continues to make baseball less elegant. Baseball used to have customs about how things were done that were generally good for the game overall if not for the individual team, but today's emphasis on exploiting weaknesses in the structure of the rules to win, win, win is making baseball more of a stand-around bore. When I was a kid, there was slow pitch softball semi-pro circuit where various businesses hired giant oafs to try to hit three or four homers per game. I don't hear about it anymore, but it seems like a lot of the kind of guys who would have been stars in this sideshow game in 1975 are now gainfully employed as MLB first basemen.

I realize that Bill James is a huge hero to a lot of guys like me (including me), but we need to keep in mind that most things in life that succeed run into diminishing marginal positive returns and increasing negative returns. Bill James made baseball more intellectually interesting, but many of the trends he set in motion eventually had negative consequences.

Drug testing has reduced homers, but strikeouts continue to rise (here's the WSJ on the subject, and the NYT). Matthew Futterman writes in the WSJ on the rise of strikeout pitchers:
Sabermetrics, the data-centric approach that prizes doubles and home runs over singles and stolen bases, hasn't done hitters any favors either. ... The problem for baseball over the long term is that the strikeout is the one offensive event that hardly ever sets into motion an unpredictable result. The batter generally mopes back to the dugout. Some fans find it boring, and some purists find it lame.

By the way, I suspect that one thing that's going on in the rise of strikeout pitchers is that tall, athletic white youths have largely given up on basketball, so that leaves more tall talent to concentrate on pitching. 

Coaches now emphasize developing sheer velocity in child pitchers, because the way you get recruited is by wracking up high numbers on the radar gun. You can work on control when you are older. I wonder what this is doing to the enthusiasm for the game of little boys who have to come up to bat against bigger little boys who are trained to throw as hard as possible and not worry about where the ball goes, such as at the batter's face?

73 comments:

Eric said...

As usual, I think you are on to something (actually a couple of things).

Your comment about control reminded me of a youth league coach I had (while I was a high velocity bigger little kid w/ no control). He said, throw at my head and you'll never hit me (w/ apologies to Tony C), throw behind my head and I'm going to have a serious headache.

Anonymous said...

"Baseball isn't statistics - baseball is DiMaggio rounding second."



In soccer you have the Brazilians talking about the "beautiful game." Brazilians would not be happy just to win. They need to win and play beautifully (and they do both).

James Kabala said...

But sabermetrics is anti-strikeout - you are supposed to allow yourself to draw a walk rather than take the risk of swinging and missing at a slightly outside ball. The patron of sabermetrics is neither Ruth nor Cobb but Ted Williams, who was denounced in his time as a selfish player for preferring a cowardly walk to a manly out - and so he is, by eight points over Ruth, the all-time leader in on-base percentage. (Of course, like Billy Beane, he never won the World Series.)

asdf said...

Yes, its cool but it doesn't make the game better. And the advantages for small teams go away once big teams start doing the same thing.

Steve Sailer said...

"But sabermetrics is anti-strikeout - you are supposed to allow yourself to draw a walk rather than take the risk of swinging and missing at a slightly outside ball."

It's more like you aren't supposed to swing at pitches you can't hit for a homer, but if you swing superhard and miss, well, at least you didn't ground into a double play.

Of course, Williams was an eyesight and hand-eye coordination god, so he didn't strike out much at all. In 1941, he batted .406, walked 147 times and struck out only 27 times while hitting 37 homers. I would encourage all young players to try to post vibrant statistics like that.

In contrast, in 2012, Adam "Big Donkey" Dunn batted .204, walked 105 times, struck out 222 times, while hitting 41 homers. And that was his comeback season after hitting .159 in 2011.

In the past, Dunn would have been considered a disgrace to the aesthetics of the game and banished to Triple A, but now he's going to make 15 million dollars in each of the next two seasons.

Anonymous said...

"I realize that Bill James is a huge hero to a lot of guys like me (including me), but we need to keep in mind that most things in life that succeed run into diminishing marginal positive returns and increasing negative returns."

See also: James Q. Wilson (another hero) and mass incarceration.

Steve Sailer said...

Williams never struck out more than 51 times in a season while Ruth struck out 93 times, led the league in strikeouts five times, and was the all time strikeout leader until maybe Reggie Jackson. So, Ruth is more interesting strategically/historically because he willingly accepted striking out in return for homeruns, which simply wasn't part of the game in 1919.

I sort of suspect that Williams should have taken swung harder and accepted more strikeouts. He never hit 50 homers in a season, never hit more than 43, and led the league in homers only four times compared to leading the league in batting six times. It's hard to criticize Williams as a hitter, but he might have more productive if he'd followed the usual path of aging stars with declining batting average in return for stable or increasing power.

Paul Mendez said...

I don't know if it's the Flynn Effect or the growing influence of Scots-Irish culture, but it seems to me that nowadays, everyone in every undertaking is quicker to figure out the loopholes and game the system.

From sports to politics to business to warfare, the overall level of craftiness of execution today is simply light years ahead of our parents' generation.

Steve Sailer said...

Computers make a big difference.

Jehu said...

When I was younger, there was much more of a concern for Rules as Intended over Rules as Written. Gaming the system was considered a breach of middle class honor---at least for non-elite white people. Now the taboos against gaming systems are coming down. The new standard, and white non-elites would be wise to adjust to such, isn't rules as intended or rules as written. It is Rules As Enforced. Pretty much every professional sport or thing taken seriously is played by that methodology now. Don't believe me? Consider this, fouls are generally done intentionally in nearly every sport that has them---the fine is the price if and only if you get caught. Holding takes place pretty much every single play, if you apply rules as written.

Anonymous said...

I don't pay much attention to college basketball, but a few days ago I googled "college basketball decline" after noticing so many empty seats during the 1st(or is it the 2nd now) round... there were stories from last year(but none from this year) talking about low attendence... some were talking about "1 and done" players... and there was talk about scouting technology that is greatly reducing the scoring.

http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20130316/PC20/130319402

albert magnus said...

Ty Cobb played in the "Dead-Ball Era" where the rules about maintaing the quality of the baseball were different. Not easy to compare it the era of Babe Ruth.

Sabremetrics also rates people like Michael Bourn, who is an incredible center fielder and basestealer/runner, though an average hitter. It rates entertaining knuckleballers like Dickey, as well. So it has that going for it.

Steve Sailer said...

Players call penalties on themselves still in golf, but everybody knows that golf represents all that has held back America from going to the Moon.

Anonymous said...

Anon@2:21 PM said:

"In soccer you have the Brazilians talking about the 'beautiful game.' Brazilians would not be happy just to win. They need to win and play beautifully (and they do both)."

...and doesn't know what they're talking about.

Things are starting to change as Brazil's economy improves and more money flows into the domestic game. Even five years ago, a player like Leandro Damiao would likely have left for Europe already. However, prior to the very recent past, developing young players to be sold to richer European clubs was the business model that kept domestic clubs afloat. Size and athleticism were prized as they produced players better suited for success in European club football. Large athletic players were what Brazilian clubs sought to develop and produce. Sandro Ranieri, the 6'2", 180 pound holding midfielder is a good example.

This has shaped how the Brazilian national team plays. Midfield is now a big physical barrier, most often with two holding players.

They can turn to individuals with brilliant technical skills, certainly, but that's typically the product of street football in flavelas, not organized Brazilian football's approach.

When Brazil hosts the World Cup this summer, there will be tremendous pressure for their national team to win, and if they do win, Brazilians aren't going to much care how.

With regards to your post, Steve, I think you're wrong about quantitative analysis prizing velocity. It has long been prized by traditional scouting, well before the quantitative analysis revolution in baseball.

The SABR folks, when they began to gain influence, were the people who wanted to give Quad-A type pitchers like (famously) Chad Bradford and (currently) Tommy Milone & Mike Fiers a look because their numbers in Triple-A translated to the Majors well when using equivalency averages, whereas traditional scouts didn't think their stuff would play in the bigs (most commonly due to low velocity). You'll find widespread use of the radar gun predates the acceptance of sabermetrics by decades.

The term projectable frame relates to velocity development, and is a very old scouting term. So is the notion that breaking and off speed pitches can be taught, where arm strength, even in the modern game, can only be improved so much by conditioning and mechanical refinement. Some of the more traditional clubs with regards to scouting are known for targeting hard throwing pitchers in the draft (like the Tigers under general manager Dave Dombrowski).

Anonymous said...

What does Buzz Bissinger think about this? How have sabermetrics affected root statistics?

Anonymous said...

...today's emphasis on exploiting weaknesses in the structure of the rules to win, win, win... tall, athletic white youths have largely given up on basketball... throw as hard as possible and not worry about where the ball goes, such as at the batter's face...

You can see this sort of thing in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament right now - Jay Bilas calls it the "They can't Call 'Em All" theory of simply overwhelming the referees with so many fouls and other violations that the poor refs don't know what to call and what to ignore.

And as Kenny Smith observed last night, two Big East teams [Marquette and Syracuse] simply out-sized and over-powered their respective opponents [Miami and Indiana] in a pair of hideously ugly games.

Anonymous said...

the growing influence of Scots-Irish culture

This.

This. This. This. This.

A thousand times, This.

Steve Sailer said...

Ruth's homerun breakthrough actually came during the Dead Ball era. He hit a record 29 homers in 1919. He hit 54 in 1920, and there's not much evidence of baseball's improving until after Roy Chapman was killed in August 1920 by a dirty baseball that he apparently didn't see. After that, umpires tried to put fresher balls in play and the spitball was slowly banned. The baseball itself wasn't juiced until about 1925, probably in response to the popularity of Ruth's homers.

Anonymous said...

the growing influence of Scots-Irish culture

This.

This. This. This. This.

A thousand times, This.


BTW, speaking of the fiat-electron-mongerers, the guy who has been unflailingly outstanding on the subject of the moral rot which lies at the heart of the modern financial system is Karl Denninger.

Free markets [and freedom more generally] simply cannot exist in the absence of moral behavior.

chucho said...

"[...] the Williams Shift—the maneuver, custom-built by Lou Boudreau, of the Cleveland Indians, whereby three infielders were concentrated on the right side of the infield, where a left-handed pull hitter like Williams generally hits the ball. Williams could easily have learned to punch singles through the vacancy on his left and fattened his average hugely. This was what Ty Cobb, the Einstein of average, told him to do. But the game had changed since Cobb; Williams believed that his value to the club and to the game was as a slugger, so he went on pulling the ball, trying to blast it through three men, and paid the price of perhaps fifteen points of lifetime average. Like Ruth before him, he bought the occasional home run at the cost of many directed singles—a calculated sacrifice certainly not, in the case of a hitter as average-minded as Williams, entirely selfish."

- John Updike, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu"

Seneca said...

True story.

Encouraging kid pitchers to pitch fast and to hell with control is an old story.

Thirty years ago I played right field for my hometown championship Little League team (I could hit for power but not field that great and batted cleanup in the order).

We had a 12 year old pitcher, our ace, who looked 15 and terrorized batters on other teams with his speed and marginal control (he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox straight out of high school but never made it past Triple A).

My team played for the state championship against another team who had a 12 year old ace who looked not 15 but at least 17!!!! (In fact he had a mustache)... who threw really hard….. In fact way harder than our ace who I was use to facing in practice.

Early during the championship game (only one was played not a series) ... the batter who hit third right before me got hit in the head by an errant pitch and was knocked cold and had to be taken to the hospital (the ambulance and stretcher came right to the field).

After the game resumed the coach on the other team refused to pull his wild ace.... even though our coach requested that he do so (hey it was the championship game for all the marbles). Needless to say I was less than thrilled to be facing this teenage version of Catfish Hunter sans the control.

We ended up losing 3 to 2... and I went 1 for 4 (with a single, a grounder to second, and striking out twice).

In retrospect the kid probably only was throwing 70 MPH or so…. But when you are 12 years and just witnessed your teammate knocked unconscious and taken to the hospital it sure seems like a 100.

Svigor said...

Steve, you see the one where a Jewish sports caster (Gottlieb) got into hot water for saying he brought the white man's perspective to an otherwise all-black b-ball panel? LOL.

Anonymous said...

I guess that's why the triple crown didn't exist during the pre-sabermetric era. Back then it was called the Rolaids most beautiful player award and was given to the hitter who led the league in average doubles and stolen bases. Oh wait that never happened. Who can forgot when Hank Aaron broke babe Ruth's all time line drive record.

Steve Sailer said...

Thanks for the Updike quote. It reflects a very bright guy's 1960 understanding of the tradeoffs between power and batting average. Updike defended Williams from Ty Cobb's partisans who felt his power numbers were vulgar.

From the perspective of 2013, however, my impression looking at Williams' numbers is that he hit _too many_ singles. He should have swung for the fences more and accepted more strikeouts. With his supreme batting skills, he should have hit 50 homers several times. Instead, he only hit 40 homers once.

Anonymous said...

but never made it past Triple A)

AAA is nothing to be ashamed of - it's many, many, many standard deviations above average.

And it even had its own movie.

Truth said...

There's a long article in SI this month about why Musial, Williams, et all, would strike out a lot more if they played today.

Anonymous said...

Gottlieb is about as goy as a Jew can get married a Mormon spends lots of time in Utah probally voted for Romney.

Anonymous said...

"From the perspective of 2013, however, my impression looking at Williams' numbers is that he hit _too many_ singles. He should have swung for the fences more and accepted more strikeouts."

In Ted's defense, he *IS* second all time in slugging percentage (0.6338) just behind you-know-who. He is first all time in OBP (0.482) and second in OPS ... again just behind you-know-who.

Ted missed 3 seasons during his prime when he probably would have hit an additional 100 HRs ... which would have put his career home run total comfortably over 600.

He seems to be pretty clearly the second best hitter post-1920, and I don't think that dropping his OBP and increasing his SLG% would really change this much.

Anonymous said...

"I suspect that one thing that's going on in the rise of strikeout pitchers is that tall, athletic white youths have largely given up on basketball, so that leaves more tall talent to concentrate on pitching. "

Looks to me like lacrosse is becoming the sport for white jocks.

Anonymous said...

I recall in Money Ball that sabermetrics was attacked for being racist since it criticized the skills where black and hispanics excel, like stolen bases. The numbers routinely showed that the big, slow, oafish white guy (like Chris Pratt who played Scott Hatteberg) were more valuable by closing their eyes and swinging as hard as possible. Meanwhile, the hot-shot 18-year fast-as-lightening prospect from the DR would probably never work out.

Anonymous said...

"AAA is nothing to be ashamed of - it's many, many, many standard deviations above average.

And it even had its own movie."

We should have had relegation and promotion like soccer. There would have been many more "real" teams instead of teams affiliated with major league teams.

There isn't the major and minors in Europe. There have been teams recently in the 3rd tier in England that have won the top division and the European Cup in their past.

I read that the minors in baseball are now half foreign hispanic, which is a disgrace.

I don't support baseball because of all the foreign players.

Basketball is just blacks and foreigners. I can't support that.

People who support this nonsense are brainwashed.

Mark said...

I think it was Seaver who emphasized the three fundamental elements of pitching; location, movement, and change of speed. Maybe velocity is moot for a big league pitcher.

My opinion is that too much emphasis is on hurling rather than pitching. Mechanics is lax for a lot of these guys and maybe that might be why so many blow their shoulders and elbows early.

I'll take a Maddox any day.

Whiskey said...

Steve, the game is evolving. Look at Mike Trout. If you get on base, and can mostly be successful, because you're fast, that likely results in a better outcome than connecting for a double or more only say, 15% of the time.

You'll see more guys like Trout: Power, discipline, speed, an arm, as Black guys muscle out the Whites in Football.

For Football, all you need is shoes and the ability to run fast. Not much training/coaching needed, just raw athletic ability. For baseball, you need skill development starting around age nine or so, which means parental investment/time/money. Single mothers need not apply. That means in real terms, Whites.

Suppose you have a team of guys somewhere around Trout's rookie numbers. A BA of around .320, over twenty stolen bases, around 30 homers. WAR of around 10!

Sabremetrics is nothing more than using analysis to constantly evolve -- always finding the undervalued players. If the market overvalues slugging swing-hard-and hope to hit players; then the fast/high average guys will be a bargain. That's also true for pitching. Knuckleballers dont' spend too much time on the DL. Which is costly, spending millions for a guy doing rehab.

slumber_j said...

If I had a young son (wait: I do!) and had the patience to teach him to pitch a certain way, it wouldn't be about speed--or as baseball people like to call it, "velocity." It would be about trying to replicate Mariano Rivera's technique, which entails a near-perfectly same-seeming delivery and a baffling array of locational outcomes. I'm pretty sure the single best thing I've ever seen from the NYT is this explanation of Rivera's pitching:

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2010/06/29/magazine/rivera-pitches.html?_r=0

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon at 3:23 above: Steve, you're misinterpreting the sabermetric focus on pitchers. The Moneyball crowd weren't pushing pitchers to record more strikeouts, so they were not looking for big kids who throw hard, control be damned. In fact, if anything, just the opposite: strikeout pitchers play into the sabermetric hitting approach in that they are prone to walking batters, which is just what saber-hitters are looking to do. Even though the strikeout pitcher facing such hitters will have a lot of 'success' in that he'll strike out lots of batters, he'll also be walking plenty, and will soon run up high pitch counts, and will tire/get hit hard, or get pulled early from the game and be replaced by an inferior pitcher.

So the ideal saber-pitcher is the one who can resist this kind of attrition by throwing lots of strikes, avoiding walks, and best of all, inducing as many ground balls as possible. This is why the ratio of batted balls a pitcher gives up in the air vs those on the ground has become so central to pitcher analysis in the saber era.

The ideal saber-pitcher's game would in fact be 27 straight groundouts, not 27 straight strikeouts.

the way and the life said...

As a White Sox fan, it's exasperating watching Adam Dunn strike out time after time.

I did enjoy seeing him steal a base last year though. For a big donkey, the guy's got wheels.

I think the Sox need to find a way to take more advantage of his walks. Last year they had they had the great but uber-slow Paul Konerko batting behind him. Whenever Konerko hit a ground ball after a Dunn walk, it was a guaranteed double play.

Anonymous said...

If Gottlieb had said, he was going to speak from a Jewish perspective, would he have gotten in trouble?

goatweed

james wilson said...

Re: Ted Williams

The reason he never hit 50 bombs are the same reason DiMaggio never hit 40 from the other side of the plate. Each worked in the worst possible park to pull a bomb--plus, Williams walked three times as much as DiMaggiao. But if they traded parks each would have hit fifty often.

Sabermetrics are great fun when they tell us something completely counter to our traditional opinion yet are demonstrably true, even as they have become a refuge for some who's understanding of baseball is paper deep. Sometimes the two are even combined and you get Joe Morgan. Morgan, who was a great baseball player and a terrible broadcaster, hates sabermetrics and spouts complete nonsense in support of that opinion. Yet sabermetrics projects Morgan as the greatest second baseman of all time (correctly I would say).

It is always going to be so. Look how many really bad GM's are in baseball year after year. As Yogi must have said, in baseball you don't have to be successful to be successful.

jody said...

"By the way, I suspect that one thing that's going on in the rise of strikeout pitchers is that tall, athletic white youths have largely given up on basketball, so that leaves more tall talent to concentrate on pitching."

uh...what? more like baseball is a much bigger sport now than it was 30 years ago, and the international talent pool is a lot bigger. good pitchers can come from all around the world these days. there are a lot more pitchers from latin america now than there were only 30 years ago. there are pitchers from japan, pitchers from korea, pitchers from taiwan. and they don't even play baseball seriously in europe, or brazil, or russia. imagine if they did, how good the pitching would be. no batters would ever hit anything.

not only does your argument not make sense, but you're one of those guys who've been watching baseball for 40 years, yet is suddenly trying to pretend that nolan ryan and greg maddux weren't all that good, and basketball washouts from 2013 could have outpitched them. what? makes no sense, bro.

i see this a lot from older white guys who actually watched great players for decades, who now suddenly think only blacks could ever play sports, despite actually seeing with their own eyes that it's not the case. i think the constant ESPN style brainwashing has gotten to even the old guys.

i bet pretty soon, in only a couple years in fact, we'll be pretending that some legends of football weren't any good, despite being totally dominant players in a league which had been integrated for decades.

because the idea today seems to be that only blacks can play sports, so white guys from 20 years ago must be made into jokes or erased from memory or there must be SOME excuse brought up for why they could even get on the field let alone excel. because they were white, and played 20 years ago, all the way back in 1993, practically the dark ages when the league was virtually segregated and few black players even got a chance. LOL. come on.

pitching is better today because white guys got beat out of basketball and now they throw baseballs? really steve? how did the baseball thing work out for jordan? basketball players usually can't play baseball. that's one of the biggest switches. from the sport with the biggest, slowest moving ball, to the sport with the smallest, fastest moving ball.

jody said...

"When Brazil hosts the World Cup this summer, there will be tremendous pressure for their national team to win"

well, next summer, but yeah. no idea about the brazilian domestic league thing, but could be true. however, from people who consider pele to certainly be one of the all time greats, but not exactly the single greatest player ever by far who cannot even be approached, that is one of the knocks on him. that he played too much brazilian domestic league.

"You can see this sort of thing in the NCAA Men's Basketball tournament right now - Jay Bilas calls it the "They can't Call 'Em All" theory of simply overwhelming the referees with so many fouls and other violations that the poor refs don't know what to call and what to ignore."

i notice that in NCAA play some of the black players just start fouling all the time and bullying the other players, both black and white. i've seen that increase over the last 10 years. hacking, reaching in, charges that are called the other way, over the back, and their favorite, whacking the other guy in the groin. they learned they can get away with this, just foul almost every possession and the referees don't want to stop play every 60 seconds, so in the second half these guys just resort to this strategy sometimes. at least now the analysts are willing to admit this is happening.

"BTW, speaking of the fiat-electron-mongerers, the guy who has been unflailingly outstanding on the subject of the moral rot which lies at the heart of the modern financial system is Karl Denninger."

yeah but karl swears constantly so he's never going to have a large audience.

"Looks to me like lacrosse is becoming the sport for white jocks."

some of this going on, yeah. the sport is still total crap in terms of participation rate, sports science, all that. at least NCAA play is ok. NLL is just stupid. would any fan admit NLL goalie armor is ridiculous and worthy only of derision and laughter?

"For Football, all you need is shoes and the ability to run fast. Not much training/coaching needed, just raw athletic ability."

depends on the position, but they do overstate how much skill is involved in some of the game, yes. other positions, it's not all that overstated. takes several years to learn how to play it.

of course, now the game is completely racially divided, and any excuse is made for why a freak white athlete "can't play", but a good but not great black athlete with inferior measurables is a "talent with upside". the combine is a straight out fraud at this point, they just throw out any good results for white players or completely ignore them like the didn't happen, write "slow, marginal athlete, can't play, do not draft" on the scouting report, and that's that. when black players test out as slow, weak, smaller than ideal, not as agile as ideal, that's all completely ignored. write "intriguing, raw talent who could potentially develop into a real contributor" on the scouting report and set phasers for first round. rinse, repeat, year after year. it's clockwork, it's boring, and my interest has really dropped.

dearieme said...

I played cricket at school. I was a big, strong lad with a good bowling ("pitching") action, but bowled off-spin. I just wish our coach had told me to stop fannying around bowling the slow, subtle stuff and instead bowl as fast as I could. I suspect I'd have been much more effective.

Anonymous said...

C'mon Steve! In order to be more productive, Ted Williams should have kept playing instead of spending time in the Marines as a fighter pilot.

In 1942 he led the AL in runs, RBI, HR, BA and finished SECOND in the MVP voting. He spent 3 years in the Marines, and came back in 1946 to post slightly less god-like stats and WON the MVP. What would he have done with those three years given over to service? Or the two years when he went back to fight in Korea? Even if he only averaged 35 HR per year for that time he'd have been within striking distance of Ruth's 714.

Williams and Joe Dimaggio both suffered because their home parks favor hitters on the other side of the plate. When Williams came back after WW II the Red Sox moved the bullpens to right/right-center, essentially changing the many Williams line drives to the warning track into homers. They called the new area Williamsburg, and one Christmas I gave my dad a framed photo of Williams, newly returned from the war, standing on the the freshly-dug bullpen dirt in a suit with a bat on his shoulder.

For the HBD crowd, Teddy Ballgame was half Mexican.

William Boot said...

It's up to MLB to create rules that make the game fun to watch and up to individual teams to try to win within those rules.

I think they could easily double MLB viewership with just three rule changes:

1. Real pitch clock. 8 seconds from the time it hits the catcher's glove till the next pitch. Batters may not step out for any reason.

2. A pitcher can only be removed after giving up an earned run or at the end of an inning (unless injured, but if removed for injury he cannot pitch for another 15 games). No one can come to the mound to discuss anything with the pitcher at any time.

3. For every three times a pitcher throws to first when the runner is so close he does not even have to dive to get back, the batter at the plate gets a ball.

I think these three rule changes get the time of a game down under two hours without reducing the action at all.

Anonymous said...

Mark said...

"I think it was Seaver who emphasized the three fundamental elements of pitching; location, movement, and change of speed. Maybe velocity is moot for a big league pitcher."

Velocity is far from moot. Velocity reduces the time a batter has to react. It's a margin for error. The greater the velocity, the greater the margin in favor of the pitcher. The slower a pitcher pitches, the more refined his location must be, and the more movement he needs to get big league hitters out.

Watching Aroldis Chapman close games, it's blatantly apparent what truly elite velocity can do to top professional hitters.

Chapman pitched 71 2/3 innings last season and allowed just 62 base runners while striking out 122. His fastball is all over the place, but it generally travels at 98+ miles per hour, reaching 103 at times. From less than 60 feet, six inches away (as only the pitcher's back leg need contact the pitching rubber), there simply isn't time to react.

For pitchers, effectiveness is a balance between a number of factors. Inducing ground balls is preferable to inducing fly balls, as the vast majority of home runs do not bounce several times before reaching the outfield, plus, ground balls generate double players. A consistent release point for all a pitcher's offerings prevents good batters from sitting on pitches. Good location makes it harder for batters to drive the ball and avoids issuing walks. Movement can cause batters to swing and miss, or induce weak contact. Good velocity gives a batter less time to react. The ability to change speeds disrupts a batter's timing. Pitch sequencing is also important, but having an intelligent catcher calling games can take care of that for a pitcher.

The majority of professional pitchers do some, and not all of the above well.

Anonymous said...

"from people who consider pele to certainly be one of the all time greats, but not exactly the single greatest player ever by far who cannot even be approached, that is one of the knocks on him. that he played too much brazilian domestic league."

Those people you mention have a poor grasp on soccer's history.

In Pele's day, professional soccer players of all nationalities tended to stay in their own domestic leagues, far moreso than they would play abroad. As a result, Brazil's domestic league offered just as good a standard of play in the late 1950s and 1960s as did the top European domestic leagues, which covered Pele's prime.

It was the mid to late 1970s that saw South America become a mass exporter of soccer players to Europe. This was the point in Pele's career that he came out of semi-retirement to sign with the New York Cosmos, long past the point where he was a first team regular for his only Brazilian club Santos.

John Seiler said...

When writing about Ted Williams' career, remember that he lost 5 prime years to service in World War II and the Korean War. Along with going up against stacked Yankees teams every years, the wars were the reason he played in only one World Series.

Anonymous said...

i notice that in NCAA play some of the black players just start fouling all the time and bullying the other players, both black and white. i've seen that increase over the last 10 years. hacking, reaching in, charges that are called the other way, over the back, and their favorite, whacking the other guy in the groin. they learned they can get away with this, just foul almost every possession and the referees don't want to stop play every 60 seconds, so in the second half these guys just resort to this strategy sometimes. at least now the analysts are willing to admit this is happening.

True, but flopping in basketball has increased a lot as well.

Anonymous said...

For Football, all you need is shoes and the ability to run fast.

At 4.7 for the 40 Victor Cruz and Jerry Rice are slower than Bill Romanowski and the guy the Raiders just released because he had speed and nothing else.

Anonymous said...

"Coaches now emphasize developing sheer velocity in child pitchers, because the way you get recruited is by wracking up high numbers on the radar gun. You can work on control when you are older. I wonder what this is doing to the enthusiasm for the game of little boys who have to come up to bat against bigger little boys who are trained to throw as hard as possible and not worry about where the ball goes, such as at the batter's face?"

As I recall, I stood as far away from the plate as I could, and stared at the ball as long as possible to make sure that I could get out of the way quickly if it went anywhere near my face... which unfortunately left little time or mental energy for pesky things like "swinging the bat". And that, in a nutshell, explains why I hated every minute of my one season of little league.

pat said...

It came to me all at once. This was the solution to Steve Sailer's continual obsession with steroids in the standard spectator sports. It occurs to me that it will also free us from sabermetrics and MoneyBall.

I saw all this a week or so ago when I stumbled onto "The Robot Combat League". When I had seen "Real Steel"- a Hugh Jackman Sci-Fi film. I had wondered if the public would really identify with machine pugilists.

My worries were soon over. This reality TV series used very crude robots but I'm sure they will evolve to be at least as sophisticated as those in the movie. Wladimir Klitschko super fighter indeed!

This is also good news for whites who have never been completely comfortable with black athletic prowess. Soon no humans. If you want a white athlete just paint it white.

I'm always a little uneasy about machines taking over. At one time we had people like Renoir and Michelangelo. Now we have cell phones with cameras. Much better of course, but how long before they automate me? How hard can it be to develop software that writes half-assed blog comments?

Albertosaurus

eh said...

The problem with this analysis is that in the old days many of the big home run hitters hardly ever struck out. And the Giants put Rob Deer in the majors before anyone had ever heard of Bill James.

not a hacker said...

Morgan, who was a great baseball player and a terrible broadcaster...

Greatest Morgan quote ever, from a 1995 game: "The Dodgers seem to play better when they're hitting the ball out of the park."

Anonymous said...

Much better of course, but how long before they automate me?

They have fleshlights already.

Anonymous said...

And as Kenny Smith observed last night, two Big East teams [Marquette and Syracuse] simply out-sized and over-powered their respective opponents [Miami and Indiana] in a pair of hideously ugly games.

Well, it's the next day now, and Syracuse & Marquette just played a 55-39 barnburner in the regional final.

On the various ACC bulletin boards, folks are despairing that Syracuse will be bringing this garbage ball into the ACC next year.

Alan Stewart said...

1) Just where and when has James ignored or hid PED use? He wasn't writing annuals about baseball after 1997, until 2003 when he started doing statistics-first type annuals;

2) James has deplored strikeout-laden baseball, and actually suggested a (partial) solution for it (making bats have to be thicker, thus discouraging the swing-as-fast-as-you-can and hit it out of the park mentality, increasing singles and doubles and decreasing homers and strikeout);

3) James has never had any use for homer-only type players, for example once describing Cecil Fielder as a "big fat guy who hit a lot of homers for a few years' and ridiculing his idea that he was the league MVP; One-dimensional players of any kind are those James thinks are overrated; players with a variety of skills are underrated.

4) on the specific case of Adam Dunn, James dislikes his readers' seeming fascination with him so much that he has refused to answer any more questions about him on his paysite;

5) far from encouraging homer-only players, James likes and expects a return eventually of the leadoff-type players who line singles into the outfield (helped by the mandatory thicker bats) and walk a lot;

J6) James's favourite era was the 70s which had a balance of homer hitting, doubles hitters, stolen bases, speed on the artificial turf, strikeout pitchers,
and control pitchers. He has said years ago that the homer-dominated era of the present wore out its welcome years ago (and scoring is now going down.)

Alan Stewart said...

1) Just where and when has James ignored or hid PED use? He wasn't writing annuals about baseball after 1997, until 2003 when he started doing statistics-first type annuals;

2) James has deplored strikeout-laden baseball, and actually suggested a (partial) solution for it (making bats have to be thicker, thus discouraging the swing-as-fast-as-you-can and hit it out of the park mentality, increasing singles and doubles and decreasing homers and strikeout);

3) James has never had any use for homer-only type players, for example once describing Cecil Fielder as a "big fat guy who hit a lot of homers for a few years' and ridiculing his idea that he was the league MVP; One-dimensional players of any kind are those James thinks are overrated; players with a variety of skills are underrated.

4) on the specific case of Adam Dunn, James dislikes his readers' seeming fascination with him so much that he has refused to answer any more questions about him on his paysite;

5) far from encouraging homer-only players, James likes and expects a return eventually of the leadoff-type players who line singles into the outfield (helped by the mandatory thicker bats) and walk a lot;

J6) James's favourite era was the 70s which had a balance of homer hitting, doubles hitters, stolen bases, speed on the artificial turf, strikeout pitchers,
and control pitchers. He has said years ago that the homer-dominated era of the present wore out its welcome years ago (and scoring is now going down.)

astorian said...

Sabremetricians don't LIKE players to strike out. Nobody does. Striking out is ALWAYS a bad thing. What the number crunchers DO assert is that

1) Striking out is no worse than making any other kind of out, and

2) Striking out isn't necessarily the worst thing you can do.

Joe Sewell struck out less often than any other player in baseball history. Mickey Mantle struck out more often than any player before him. And yet, Mantle had a much higher on-base percentage than Sewell, as well as a higher slugging percentage.

So, a guy who strikes out a lot is not NECESSARILY hurting his team, nor is a guy who rarely strikes out NECESSARILY helping his team.

Anonymous said...

Is there any post dumber or duller than a "Show me where..." or "Prove to me water is wet" comment? Steve isn't making up James' turning a blind eye to steroid use, if someone thinks different - OFFER PROOF. Or confess your ignorance.

Or just shut up and quit boring us.

rcocean said...

Outs aren't created equal.

After hitting into a double play "Striking out" the worst out you can make. You don't put the ball in play, so you have zero chance to advance the runners or get on base through an error.

Anonymous said...

This is not just in baseball. It happens in all endeavours whenever there are incentives (often statistical). In MMA you get wrestlers like GSP who fight to win but not necessarily to knock out or submit. UFC owners respond by encouraging riskier styles monetarily etc.

In police work, focus on clearances and revenue can lead to under-reporting of difficult to solve homicides, and focus on speeding tickets rather than enforcing more important laws.

In business focusing on wringing the maximum value out of each person without concern for their health and families is not a good thing and has given rise to unionism etc.

I'm sure there are other examples.

Anonymous said...

Jody said:
“of course, now the game is completely racially divided, and any excuse is made for why a freak white athlete "can't play", but a good but not great black athlete with inferior measurables is a "talent with upside". the combine is a straight out fraud at this point, they just throw out any good results for white players or completely ignore them like the didn't happen, write "slow, marginal athlete, can't play, do not draft" on the scouting report, and that's that. when black players test out as slow, weak, smaller than ideal, not as agile as ideal, that's all completely ignored. write "intriguing, raw talent who could potentially develop into a real contributor" on the scouting report and set phasers for first round. rinse, repeat, year after year. it's clockwork, it's boring, and my interest has really dropped.”

This is the analysis of white WR Ryan Swope on the NFL combine site:
“His height, straight-line speed and acceleration are only average, limiting him to a slot or number three receiver role at the next level.”
Swope (6’, 205 lbs.) ran a 4.34 40 yard dash – tied with two other players for 2nd fastest man in the combine this year. He is significantly taller and heavier than the three others who were either as fast as or faster than him.
Do they even look at the combine results before they write this garbage?
http://www.nfl.com/combine/top-performers#year=2013&workout=FORTY_YARD_DASH&position=QB-RB-WR-TE-S-DL-LB-CB-OL-SPEC

Anonymous said...

On the various ACC bulletin boards, folks are despairing that Syracuse will be bringing this garbage ball into the ACC next year.

It's that 2-3 zone defense Syracuse uses exclusively.

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Looks to me like lacrosse is becoming the sport for white jocks.

In a previous thread, I talked about how the younger generation in my hometown was eschewing/avoiding/escaping basketball. They play lacrosse instead.

GLS said...

I'm a fan of your contrarian viewpoints here but the idea that more tall athletic white kids are going into baseball and becoming pitchers is pretty weak. Maybe you're just being snarky. I don't see how you can possibly prove or disprove something like that. There are 50 rounds in the draft plus tons of prospects acquired through international signings. Those players all have to make it through six or more levels of the minor leagues and it isn't just about athletic ability. Lots and lots of great athletes wash out because they don't develop the skills to succeed at the next level.

Steve Sailer said...

"I don't see how you can possibly prove or disprove something like that."

So? I put the idea out there. Maybe somebody else can come up with a way to test my hypothesis.

When I was a freshman in high school, the center on the basketball team was a 6'7" senior named Dan Selleck. He came from a baseball crazy family (his older brother Tom is a famous Detroit Tigers fan), but back then, when you were that tall you concentrated on basketball. A decade later the same school had a 6'5" guy who was an even better athlete, but he focused on pitching and wound up making 8 digits in MLB salary.

Anonymous said...

Alan Stewart, James self-published his first Baseball Abstract in 1977 while he was still a night watchman at a cannery.

I always thought it humorous that so many people talk about PEDs skewing the game of baseball but these same people never mention the effect of artificial turf, which had the tendency to turn routine ground balls into gap doubles. James' hero Pete Rose would have had a lifetime .285 average if he played his whole career on grass.

More important than the SABR crap is the burgeoning body of work on pitching mechanics and arm/shoulder health. The proliferation of Tom House's pitching mechanics theories, the successful comeback of Steve Delabar using said techniques and the new inclination to do Tommy John surgery on pitchers as soon as possible (like Strasburg at age 21) have shown that baseball is much less hidebound than it used to be.

For all the adulation of never-World-Series-champion Billy Beane and Moneyball, the guy across the Bay, Brian Sabean, has won two using the old Earl Weaver method of pitching, defense and three-run homers.

James Kabala said...

"For all the adulation of never-World-Series-champion Billy Beane and Moneyball, the guy across the Bay, Brian Sabean, has won two using the old Earl Weaver method of pitching, defense and three-run homers."

This thread (and probably I am as guilty as anyone else) reminds of the old fable of the blind man and the elephant. Everyone seems to have a completely different idea of what exactly sabermetrics/Moneyball is. I was under the impression that Weaver was a sabermetrics hero and his style was considered proto-moneyball.

And apparently I was right:

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2013-01-19/sports/bal-earl-weaver-preached-moneyball-before-it-became-moneyball-20130119_1_moneyball-earl-weaver-buttons

http://www.baseballthinkfactory.org/newsstand/discussion/george_will_on_earl_weaver_moneyball_the_nationals

http://www.pressboxonline.com/story.cfm?id=6655

James Kabala said...

The last of those three articles was actually anti-Moneyball and made some rather wrong predictions about the success of the movie version.

Anonymous said...

That is lazy analysis saying sabermatricians and Bill James "ignored" the effect of steroids. Unless they were collecting blood and urine and not telling anyone, how would they know any more than you?

I could say the same about you, you ignored steroids so your argument is invalid.

Furthermore, even today there is no consensus about the effect of steroids on baseball. So exactly how were sabermatiricians supposed to react? All they do is run the numbers.

Baseball is better now than ever because of sabermetrics. Fewer terrible players get big deals, fewer terrible players make rosters and get playing time because we can see how terrible they are.

I am especially amused by the commentor who says Brian Sabien used Earl Weaver baseball rather than all that newfangled numbers to win 2 series. Go google Manager';s Corner and listen to what Earl thought about your precious stolen bases. Earl was moneyball before moneyball.

Steve Sailer said...

"That is lazy analysis saying sabermatricians and Bill James "ignored" the effect of steroids. Unless they were collecting blood and urine and not telling anyone, how would they know any more than you?"

Statistical analysts like James could have raised warning flags by analyzing statistics.

"I could say the same about you, you ignored steroids so your argument is invalid."

I published a breakthrough statistical analysis of the impact of steroids on track & field in 1997:

http://www.isteve.com/gendrgap.htm

JeremiahJohnbalaya said...

Jay Bilas calls it the "They can't Call 'Em All" theory of simply overwhelming the referees with so many fouls and other violations that the poor refs don't know what to call and what to ignore

Down 17, 3 minutes remaining, Dook finally got a loose-ball foul called in their favor. And I hate, hate, hate Dook.

Truth said...

"... A decade later the same school had a 6'5" guy who was an even better athlete, but he focused on pitching and wound up making 8 digits in MLB salary..."

There are going to be a minimum of 5, up to a maximum of 10 (yes, that's right I wrote TEN) white big men taken in the first round of the NBA draft this year; Alex Lin, Cody Zeller, Kelly Olynyk, Steven Adams, and Mason Plumlee are locks for 4-year guaranteed contracts, and none of them are Tim Duncan.

Anonymous said...

Moneyball ain't sabermetrics. Moneyball is assembling a competitive team for relative peanuts. Oakland and Tampa Bay are playing Moneyball; the Red Sox, for all their alleged attention to sabermetrics and employing Bill James, with a $150 million payroll, are not.

But did Earl Weaver intentionally formulate the philosophy he used, or did the fact he inherited what may have been the best four-man rotation in baseball history (Palmer, Cuellar, Dobson and McNally all won 20 games in 1971), two first ballot Hall of Famers in the field, maybe the best defensive shortstop and 3rd baseman in history and the best defensive center fielder in baseball at the time? Talk about a 16-year old being given to a Ferrari! But which came first, Weaver's ideas or finding the best methods for the team he took over?

Re: Weaver and steals. He may have talked a good game, but he didn't live by it. The Orioles never finished last in steals during his entire tenure, actually leading the league 1973. They did, however, lead in times caught stealing a couple seasons, and rarely finished below the middle of the pack in getting caught, which is a huge sabermetric no-no, the equivalent of cutting your own throat. Was it shouldn't steal or can't steal?