How did the players got where they did?


Richard Hershberger

Richard Hershberger is a paralegal working in Maryland. When he isn't doing whatever it is that paralegals do, or taking his daughters to Girl Scouts, he is dedicated to the collection and analysis of useless and unremunerative information.

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Thoughts on the shift? And the minor rumblings about banning it? I’d hate to see them go that route. As I understand it, the only rules that exist regarding positioning are about the catcher and pitcher. Let’s keep it that way.Report

    • As Casey Stengel once said “You have to have a catcher because if you don’t you’re likely to have a lot of passed balls.”Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      The only restriction on the placement of the fielders other than the pitcher and the catcher is that they start the play in fair territory.

      Moving the shortstop to right short was a proto-shift. There were experiments in the late 1870s into the 1880s with something very much like the modern shift. They died out, but I think this was not because of strategy. They didn’t have spray charts, so use of the shift was based on subjective intuition. The thing is, you’re going to get burned at some point, with a soft ground ball dribbling through the empty left side of the infield. Have that happen a few times and there will be a lot of pressure to revert to a standard arrangement. You need actual data to back up the proposition that the shift wins more than it loses, and they didn’t have the data. Even having that data for quite some years now, the shift only broke through as a generally accepted strategy within the past two or three years.

      As for the idea of banning the shift, I really hate the idea of mandating sub-optimal strategy. The rules-makers’ job is to set up the system. The teams then work within that system to figure out the optimal strategy. If the incentives within the system lead to an undesirable result, change the incentives. Merely outlawing the result implied by the system is fumble-fingered incompetence.

      My guess is that it won’t come to that. Teams will come up with some counter to the shift. This happens in football all the time. Remember when the wildcat was unbeatable? No? Me neither. It was a brief moment.

      How to counter the shift? The obvious response is for leftie batters to practice their bunting skills. You don’t need an especially good bunt if there is no one there to field it. Right now the ideology is that these guys are paid to hit home runs. There is resistance to their giving up the low probability of a home run in favor of a high probability of a single. I haven’t seen the numbers crunched, but my intuition is that this ideology is misguided. In any case, it is not at all obvious to me that the shift is some awesomely unbeatable strategy that will alter the balance of the game unless the rules makers do something about it.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        This was an exquisite explanation, @richard-hershberger , especially the point about incentives. I hate whenever sports folks get all “There oughta be a rule!” Yes, sports is inherently arbitrary (Why four balls and three strikes?). But the point of the game is well established: this team tries to score as many runs as it can while this other team tries to stop them. Putting in even more arbitrary restrictions on one side of the ball or the other just seems like trying to re-game a gamed system. Like you said, don’t outlaw optimal strategy. Actually, I don’t know why I’m talking… you already said this all much better. Great work.Report

  2. You use the phrase “post-war” several times. Am I correct in thinking you mean the Civil War?Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      Was there another moment in time when two men shot at each other in anger?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      It is interesting how, if you say “antebellum,” people immediately think of Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler and Tara. If you say “post-war” they think of the Eisenhower administration. I sometimes forget this in my baseball work, with the Civil War the central event in the broader culture. So yeah, I meant post-Civil War.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        No one where I’m from thinks “post-war” means anything other than after The War.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

          When I am feeling snarky, I respond to a reference to The Civil War by asking if we are talking about the one with Cromwell or the one with Octavian.Report

        • But that’s The War Between the States.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

            I think you meant the War to Free the Slaves.Report

              • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

                Well, there you go: they had slaves needing freeing.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I live in Texas, but where I come from the Civil War is a central component of the town’s identity. There was a large battle there, at which the Army of Tennessee was destroyed and, for all intense and purposes, the state of Tennessee was lost for good (as an afterthought, there was a large skirmish at Nashville before the Army of Tennessee retreated, but it was really over after Franklin). You can’t go there without seeing signs of it and likely hearing people talk about it, especially the people who’ve lived there their whole lives. It is, even today, unavoidable, in a way that people outside of the South probably can’t understand.Report

              • Why do you hate the South?Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                All love contains a little bit of hate. – Lacan, I think.Report

              • “I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark; I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it!”


              • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

                I grew up in California, where they barely heard that a war was going on, but now I live in Maryland, about forty-five minutes from Gettsyburg. My town was the supply depot for the Union army there. There also were a couple of skirmishes, most notably when J.E.B. Stuart was heading north to meet up with Lee.

                When Meade took command, just a couple of days before Gettsyburg, he drew up a plan for a defensive line here in my county. The idea was to set up the line with the middle and rear parts of the army, then have the lead elements in Pennsylvania pull back into it. Instead those lead elements got sucked into fighting at Gettysburg. Meade realized they had stumbled into a strong position, so he changed his plans.

                The upshot is that the local Chamber of Commerce is deeply bitter about the change in plans. At least we aren’t overrun by tourists every summer.Report

              • Avatar Burt Likko says:

                The Compromise of 1850 was all about California. Competing sympathies within the state led to geographic polarization of coastal-versus-inland politics that persistently echoes to this day. Inland California became a place where former Confederate soldiers could go to start new lives under new identities and people didn’t ask too many questions about their pasts.Report

              • Avatar Michael Cain says:

                Ah, places that have some history. I spent most of my childhood in places that didn’t even officially exist until after the Civil War. My parents grew up in places that didn’t exist until after the Civil War. Now, the final eviction and confinement of the Native Americans, that was a thing where I lived.Report

  3. Avatar Jim Tarrant says:

    Fascinating history of baseball. I had always assumed that the rationale for a left-side shortstop was that, statistically-speaking, most people are right-handed and hence bat right, which means they are also likely to hit more balls to the left side of the field than the right side. Hence, the need to fill that gap. Certainly, the role of the left-side shortstop solidified after the second baseman became, essentially, the right-side shortstop, as you have observed.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Yes, and I’d thought the rightward creep of the second baseman was a function of the professionalization of the game, the active recruitment of lefties and switch-hitters who would be more likely to hit towards right field.

      Interesting to learn that factors other than that were at play.

      As always, @richard-hershberger ‘s early baseball posts are like catnip to me.Report

      • the rightward creep of the second baseman was a function of the professionalization of the game

        It’s the old story: you start to make some money, your youthful ideas fade, and you begin to move to the right,Report

  4. Avatar Kolohe says:

    On a somewhat different note, I had never even heard of Tal’s Hill until they talked about it on PTI this week.

    Has there ever been anything like that in any other Major League park, either back in the day or more recently? That is, an area of the field (besides the pitcher’s mound) which is intentionally not level with the rest of the field?Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      I’m not expert on the subject, but early ballparks tended to be idiosyncratic. The ideal was to start with a large level lot, put up a fence, and add seating and buildings piecemeal as needed. Less ideal, but not uncommon, was the find a levelish lot large enough to cram a ballfield into, putting seating and buildings in any nooks and crannies you can. You often also find them in flood planes, since these often were cheap undeveloped lots near the center of town. So pretty much any conceivable idiosyncrasy you can think of has occurred at one place or another.

      The cookie-cutter multi-purpose stadia of the 1960s and ’70s conspicuously lacked any of this. The retro parks beginning with Camden Yards often put odd angles in the outfield fence as a self-conscious throwback to the earlier era. Some critics consider this twee. The hill in the Houston outfield is the same idea taken a step further.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      I believe Tal’s Hill (which I knew about but I didn’t know it had a name) itself was a call back to Fenway Park originally having a hill up against the Green Monster. And the flagpoles (past? present? not sure…) were reminiscent of old Tiger Stadium back in the day.

      My specifics may be off but, yes, quirks like that used to be the name of the game. I don’t know if any stadiums still have it, but a number used to have the bullpen in the field of play but in foul ground.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

        Bullpens in foul ground are still pretty standard in the minors. I believe that there are a handful of major league parks with this configuration.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          The Omaha AAA club opened a new stadium in the suburb where my mom was living until last year. My annual handyman trip had expanded to include a game there (but Mom’s moved into an old folks place now). Really nice little stadium seating 10,000 when you include the grass berm beyond the outfield. Bullpens are in dead center. Omaha is the AAA club for the Kansas City Royals, but plays in the Pacific Coast League. You could do a nice little history piece on the PCL.Report

  5. I thought this was interesting: a new rule about what happens when a switch-hitter faces a switch-pitcher. Briefly, for each hitter, the pitcher has to declare which arm he’ll throw with, and then the batter can choose which side to bat from.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger says:

      Newish. Watch the embedded video. The rule question was brought to the fore by that at bat, in 2008. I read some commentary at the time that there actually was a rule, or at least an official interpretation, at the time, and that the umpires got it wrong. So the rule was clarified.

      There have been occasional switch pitchers for a long time. The first known was in 1882. Greg Harris pitched a game in 1995 for the Expos using both arms. Presumably it is nearly impossible to do effectively, or we would see more of this.Report