What is Going on with Baseball?

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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22 Responses

  1. Michael Cain says:

    Improved athletes and equipment have rendered many old classic golf courses obsolete: they simply lack the real estate to keep lengthening the holes to compensate. From time to time the PGA discusses using a “dead” ball for its events. For a variety of reasons these never go anywhere. Everyone — not just chicks — digs the long drive. Manufacturers want to be able to sell the same ball the pros use to duffers. The extra testing regime would be a nightmare.Report

  2. Hal_10000 says:

    I like this approach. Get more balls in play, more contests between fielders and hitters.

    It’s funny because a lot of people are blaming this on the stats revolution. But that’s shooting the messenger. Teams have figured out a way to play the game that maximizes the chance of winning while lowering the fun in the game. Football and basketball have both been willing to make changes to stop this sort of thing. Baseball must too.Report

    • It’s funny because a lot of people are blaming this on the stats revolution. But that’s shooting the messenger.

      This is a very good point. There are a few aspects of the modern game that can be ascribed to advanced stats. Emphasizing walks as an offensive skill is the Moneyball example. The general acceptance of the shift in the past few years is another example. A lot of how teams use advanced stats is more about building the team than the play on the field: the general manager rather than the field manager. But even if we blame advanced stats for everything bad that has happened in the past [insert number here] years, the point I am aiming for in this piece is that the trends we see today are older than that.Report

      • InMD in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        I like both the idea of limiting in-inning pitch changes (maybe 2 per game like challenges in the NFL) and considering messing with the ball, or even the bat.

        Of ideas I hear floated the one I’m most against is banning the shift. I’m also squeamish about the pitch clock, even though I get the argument.

        Part of the issue though is I think too many teams have over-learned the lessons of the long ball as practiced by the early 2000s Red Sox for example. Managers have adjusted to the fire power approach and its now boom or bust whereas good OBP still wins consistently over the course of a season. I think rediscovering the concept of discipline at the plate would go a long way.Report

        • Mike Schilling in reply to InMD says:

          Agreed bout banning the shift being a bad idea. What I’d like to see is batters learning to hit the other way. After enough cheap doubles that roll all the way to the outfield, the extreme shift will lose its appeal.Report

          • My objection to banning the shift is twofold. It would be a ban on a team using what it believes to be optimal strategy. This is hamfisted. It also would be unprecedented in baseball history. The traditional placements of fielders wasn’t there in the beginning. They had to figure it out, moving players around. And yes, some people complained. The implicit decision of the rules makers was to let players position themselves where they thought best.

            Few players bunt against the shift today partly because bunting is not a skill they have developed, and partly because of the attitude that their job is to hit home runs. The first will take care of itself. Deaden the ball a bit and so will the second. This is an entirely surmountable problem, given the will.Report

            • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

              I think the defensive shifts destroy the value of a certain class of lefty-pull hitter. When Jayson Werth asked whether he should bunt, the Nats analyticals said no. And they were probably right. I wouldn’t mind a rule that requires at least one infielder on each side of second base.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Have there been shifts with all of the infielders on one side of second? Every one that I’ve seen has 1 on the opposite field side.

                As for bunting, this is a sadly neglected skill in modern baseball. Ichiro batted .577 when he laid down a bunt. This was against a regular defense that was often ready for it. I imagine with his speed he could have turned a lot of those singles into doubles with a shifted infield.Report

              • PD Shaw in reply to Slade the Leveller says:

                See this shift on Joey Gallo for example. The left fielder is the only position player on the left side. There are also variations in which there is no infielder on the left side, but there is a four-man outfield (LF: LCF; RCF; RF). I’ve never seen a shift in which there is not a first-basemen in position to make a force-out, so the extreme shifts are against lefties.

                And in that link, I don’t think the Astros care at all if Gallo tries to bunt. If they could turn back time, the Rangers wouldn’t teach Gallo to be the best version of Ichiro he could be; they would teach him to be the best right-handed power hitter.Report

              • Slade the Leveller in reply to PD Shaw says:

                Well, look at that. That bespeaks a breathtaking lack of ability to hit to the opposite field. A slow roller down the 3rd base line gets him on 2nd every time.Report

          • InMD in reply to Mike Schilling says:

            I’d be curious if anyone has ever done a study on how teachable switch hitting is. When I played growing up the fact that I could effectively hit left handed was probably the only reason I was able to stay in baseball as long as I did. But a big part of that is being left eye dominant (I’m generally right handed but there are certain skill activities where I prefer my left hand). I’ve always just been that way, and while I had a hitting coach who really helped me master it I don’t know if it would’ve been doable had there been no aptitude whatsoever to start with.

            Maybe we just need to start em young.Report

  3. PD Shaw says:

    I guess I’m “meh” on limiting bullpen usage. It seems to me that the teams that are going more aggressively to their bullpen are the smaller market teams that are using them to compensate for not having top tier starters. This year, the Pirates (who were in contention until the last few weeks I believe) had the most bullpen innings and the Astros had the least (and who enjoyed having the Pirates’ former ace).

    Also, I think the reduction of the average innings per start have reduced the value of the relief specialist that comes in for one or two batters. The LOOGY As Baseball Knows It Is Going Extinct. Teams are looking to develop more long-relief guys or use piggyback starters. I don’t like the pace of play with frequent substitutions, but I also don’t a pitcher who “doesn’t have it today” being left in there.Report

    • Interesting article on LOOGYs. I had missed it the first time around. LOOGYs per se are not the issue, but mid-inning pitcher changes. I honestly have no idea how frequent these really are. It seems inevitable that restricting them would force a more conservative approach to relievers, with the side effect of helping pace of place, and the most tedious part of pace of play at that. I am totally open to someone else having better ideas then mine.Report

      • PD Shaw in reply to Richard Hershberger says:

        One thing about that article I didn’t like was to hear was that one of the definitions of LOOGY includes “averaging fewer than 1.20 innings per appearance” (which I assume means less than five outs). I think of the pitcher with extreme splits coming into face a very good lefty and frequently leaving right after, unless there are lefties following. It particularly breaks up the flow of the game in an unappealing way when the lefty gets on base, because playing the odds doesn’t guarantee outcomes.Report

    • Mike Schilling in reply to PD Shaw says:

      The LOOGY As Baseball Knows It Is Going Extinct.

      Actually, the spitball was banned almost a century ago.Report

  4. CJColucci says:

    By and large, I don’t think the hardest-throwing starters are throwing any harder than the hardest-throwing starters 40 years ago. (A few relievers, like Chapman, seem to throw harder than anyone used to.) But now most teams seem to have a couple of starters who can consistently hit 95-plus, when there used to be two or three in all of baseball.
    I’ve always been fond of mid 1970’s-1980’s baseball because there were so many different ways to win.Report

  5. Marchmaine says:

    If you look at the charts and focus on Three True Outcomes (TTO – HR, K, BB) what’s pretty clear is that the ONLY thing trending wildly up is Strikeouts… BB and HR remain at or around 8% and 2% respectively… K’s are up, up, up. What this means in fact is that we are trading Batted Ball outs for Strikeouts… fewer balls are being put in play and here’s a nifty article/chart illustrating just that.

    The difference between 1920 and 2020 trending is that many more balls would have been put in play with all the “excitement” that entails… a runner taking an extra base, a missed cut-off, Javy Baez doing anything at all in the field, and a plain old catch-and-throw out… but that’s what we’re trading with the current pitching dominance.

    It’s maybe counterintuitive to argue in favor of more batted-ball-outs, but the focus on TTO combined with the shift and the optimal outcome for hitters is the trade-off we’re actually making. It’s the “boring” that we’re all sensing but can’t quite articulate.

    Is the game unwatchable? Hardly. But optimizing the game so that balls are *not* put in play is a trend that I’d consider evidence that, like the mid-1960s, pitching needs deprecation… perhaps in tandem with a slightly deadened ball (since embiggening the ballparks would be harder and aesthetically less desirable).Report

    • That fangraphs chart can be misleading, depending on how you use it. The point is well taken that on the at-bat level it is Ks that are driving the TTO trend. But while Ks are pushing being three times as frequent as they were a century ago, HRs are six times more frequent. Baseball has always understood that if you are going to swing for the fences, you have to accept more Ks. I believe that the drive for HRs is partly behind the increase in Ks. If we stipulate that this is a problem, the fix has to address both sides.Report

    • PD Shaw in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Yeah, I agree w/ Richard, moving from an average of 1% HR per plate appearance to 2% to 3% is essentially how his Figure 3 chart shows a significant increase across nine innings.

      Selling for power should mean more home runs, otherwise one wouldn’t sell. But also harder hit bills should increase the batting average for balls in play (BABIP). This chart shows BABIP increasing from around .255 in 1970 to around .300 today. (The chart doesn’t quite make it to today, but .300 is what the league average was in 2017)


  6. Cliff Blau says:

    In addition to deadening the ball, they should move the pitcher back a foot or two. And make them keep a foot on the rubber, as the rules say they must. That will allow more balls in play. Since the players are bigger and stronger now, they could consider making the basepaths 93 feet long.Report

  7. Marchmaine says:

    Opps responded to wrong thread.Report