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Thursday, February 21, 2019

538: Foul Balls Are The Pace-Of-Play Problem Nobody’s Talking About

The number of foul balls has increased by 11.98 percent from 1998, when baseball expanded to 30 teams, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of Baseball-Reference.com data. There were almost 14,000 more foul balls last season than there were 20 seasons earlier. In 1998, 26.5 percent of all strikes were foul balls. That share increased to a record 27.9 percent of strikes in 2017 and 27.8 percent last season, the top rates since pitch-level data was first recorded in 1988.
...
For the first time since pitch-level data has been recorded, there were more foul balls than balls put in play in 2017 — and that trend continued in 2018.

 

Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: February 21, 2019 at 05:18 PM | 27 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: foul balls, pace of play

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   1. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:09 PM (#5817204)
It's been noted here several times that P/PA have steadily increased for the last 30 years. Makes sense that there are more foul balls.
   2. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:15 PM (#5817209)
FG/S (foul ground per stadium) has also been decreasing for the last 30 years. Bring back popouts!

In comparing 21 current stadiums with their immediate predecessor, FanGraphs found that fair territory had decreased by 1.4 percent, but foul territory decreased by 20.5 percent, or about 5,500 square feet on average.
   3. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:26 PM (#5817214)
Tickets closer to the field bring in more revenue and to build those seats, they need to be in what would have been foul ground in the old days.
   4. Greg Pope Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:30 PM (#5817218)
It's been noted here several times that P/PA have steadily increased for the last 30 years. Makes sense that there are more foul balls.

Does it make sense? I thought that the increase in P/PA has been driven by batters taking more pitches. Those aren't turning into foul balls. I suppose you get yourself into more 2-strike counts where you'd like to foul off a borderline pitch. But if players aren't cutting down on their swings with 2 strikes then that might be an issue, either.

   5. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:43 PM (#5817223)

Tickets closer to the field bring in more revenue and to build those seats, they need to be in what would have been foul ground in the old days.

This seems to be a relatively low factor here. There's been a 12% decrease in foul outs since 1998, but that's still a drop in the bucket (0.3%) of overall plate appearances.

It would be interesting to know whether foul balls take significantly longer time between pitches than non-foul strikes (I would guess yes). There were about 13,700 more foul balls in 2018 vs. 1998 (a 12.0% increase), but 27,200 more non-foul strikes (a 15.3% increase).
   6. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:44 PM (#5817224)
[4] More 2-strike foul balls mean longer at bats.
   7. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 21, 2019 at 06:55 PM (#5817226)
I thought that the increase in P/PA has been driven by batters taking more pitches.

That doesn't appear to be the case. Strikes looking increased as a % of pitches, from 16.2% to 16.8%, but balls decreased from 38.3% to 36.6%. Overall, batters took 53.3% of pitches in 2018, compared to 54.5% in 1998, or a 1.2 percentage point decrease.

Balls in play (including homers) have declined by 2.3%, foul balls have increased by 1.3%, and swinging strikes have increased by 2.3% over the same period. That's what's driving more P/PA.
   8. SoSH U at work Posted: February 21, 2019 at 07:38 PM (#5817234)
I would guess you're seeing more foul balls for the same reason you're seeing more strikeouts. Swinging as hard as you can each time (as opposed to trying to make contact) is going to result in both less contact and less solid contact.
   9. dave h Posted: February 21, 2019 at 11:09 PM (#5817260)
One of my favorite pieces of trivia is that half of all 3-2 pitches result in fouls. It's fun to talk to my kids (or anyone who will listen) and then collect some data.
   10. Russ Posted: February 21, 2019 at 11:09 PM (#5817261)
The two things you would be guaranteed to see more of if there were an increase in 2-strike counts are strikeouts and foul balls. It would be interesting to see if the rate of foul balls on 2 strike counts has increased (or equivalently if the rate of foul balls on non 2-strike counts has increased). The increase in 2-strike counts could be causing both foul balls and strikeouts to increase, and that increase in 2-strike counts is plasuibly explained by the increased emphasis on taking pitches and waiting for balls to drive AND/OR swinging and missing as opposed to trying to make contact.
   11. The Yankee Clapper Posted: February 22, 2019 at 12:04 AM (#5817262)
FG/S (foul ground per stadium) has also been decreasing for the last 30 years. Bring back popouts!

No, much better to have a baseball-only configuration with fans closer to the field. Fan preference seems clear on this.
   12. akrasian Posted: February 22, 2019 at 01:16 AM (#5817263)
No, much better to have a baseball-only configuration with fans closer to the field. Fan preference seems clear on this.

And additional fatalities are rare.
   13. Hank Gillette Posted: February 22, 2019 at 05:16 AM (#5817267)
Easy fix. Four foul balls and you’re out.
   14. bbmck Posted: February 22, 2019 at 05:51 AM (#5817268)
Foul balls aren't a pace-of-play issue, they are a length-of-game issue.
   15. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 22, 2019 at 08:26 AM (#5817278)
FG/S (foul ground per stadium) has also been decreasing for the last 30 years. Bring back popouts!


No, much better to have a baseball-only configuration with fans closer to the field. Fan preference seems clear on this.

Picture of a perfect ballpark: Hilltop Park, New York, ca. 1912

   16. Steve Parris, Je t'aime Posted: February 22, 2019 at 08:36 AM (#5817280)
Foul balls aren't a pace-of-play issue, they are a length-of-game issue.

I think it's both. It takes more time for the pitcher to get a new ball and reset after a foul compared to getting it quickly back from the catcher after a swinging strike or ball. It's not a massive difference but it's discernible.

I would guess you're seeing more foul balls for the same reason you're seeing more strikeouts. Swinging as hard as you can each time (as opposed to trying to make contact) is going to result in both less contact and less solid contact.

That makes sense, though Yonder Alonso gives an alternative theory in the article. He says the increased velocities lead to more emergency hacks. I think both could be true - hitters are waiting more for the perfect pitch that they can club, so they offer more excuse-me swings in two strike counts.
   17. Benji Gil Gamesh VII - The Opt-Out Awakens Posted: February 22, 2019 at 10:59 AM (#5817335)
I think it's both. It takes more time for the pitcher to get a new ball and reset after a foul compared to getting it quickly back from the catcher after a swinging strike or ball. It's not a massive difference but it's discernible.
Depends on the type of foul though, right?

Foul ball that is interesting enough that a camera follows it -- dribbler toward a line, carved foul into the stands, will-it-or-won't-it-be-fair, etc. -- will definitely take significantly more time.

Fouled straight back, foul tip, etc. -- more time than a swing and miss or called ball/strike, but it's much closer I would think.
   18. Crispix Attacksel Rios Posted: February 22, 2019 at 11:06 AM (#5817340)
Picture of a perfect ballpark: Hilltop Park, New York, ca. 1912


This is correct. We need foul territory where fans congregate, but fielders can also run into and catch balls. Why build these walls to keep us apart?
   19. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 22, 2019 at 11:57 AM (#5817355)
Picture of a perfect ballpark: Hilltop Park, New York, ca. 1912

This is correct. We need foul territory where fans congregate, but fielders can also run into and catch balls. Why build these walls to keep us apart?


You said it, Crispy. I defy anyone to say he wouldn't have loved to have been at this 1931 doubleheader in St. Louis, as described by Frankie Frisch in The Fordham Flash:
The mob broke up the Cubs' infield practice, moving in front of the infielders to grab ground balls and run away with them. It was a hot, sultry day, with a threat of rain, and with that rich box office bonanza in danger, [Cardinals' owner Sam] Breadon marshaled help from the office and from the dugout to push back the crowd so the doubleheader could be started.

It was a joke. When they pushed back the center field section of the crowd, the mob bulged out behind first and third base. When they tried to push the ends, the middle bulged toward second base. Fans in foul territory blocked both dugouts and also the view of the box seat customers, who had to stand up to see the players on the field. Spectators in fair territory were only about 70 feet beyond first base, perhaps 100 feet behind third, and not more than 150 feet behind second....

Conditions were worse in the second game, which we won by the ridiculous score of 17 to 13. There were 32 doubles hit in the doubleheader, a record 23 of them in the second game. Not more than 5 or 6 of them were legitimate two-baggers.

During the intermission between games the crowd milled around curiously, surrounding the pitcher and his catcher warming up. By this time the sun was bearing down. It was red hot and the crowd tried to move from the sunny right field locations to shadier spots on the left field or third base side. Most of the mob, as the second game was played, was bunched behind third base, not more than 50 or 75 feet behind the second baseman, and that's where most of the pop flies dropped for doubles.

Fans even climbed to the dusty pavilion roof and many stood on top of the grandstand wall behind home plate. It's a wonder foul balls didn't kill somebody, but remarkably nobody got hurt.

The Fordham Flash, pp. 122-123

The attendance that day was 45,715. The Sportsman's Park official capacity that year was 30,500.
   20. Tim M Posted: February 22, 2019 at 12:32 PM (#5817374)
I've always thought there should be a max of foul balls before you're out. Maybe 3 fouls after strike 2. Some people credit hitters for purposely fouling off pitches, but seems impossible to me ( "ok this pitch is a strike, but a tough pitch to hit, so I'm going to alter my swing and aim at just a snippet of the ball to get another chance...", all in .4 seconds)

That final pitch on a 3-2-2 count would be good drama.
   21. I am Ted F'ing Williams Posted: February 22, 2019 at 02:22 PM (#5817409)
The number of foul balls has increased by 11.98 percent from 1998


The number of strikeouts has increased by 100% since 1998. Walks have been fairly steady.

Watch a game from 1980 on youtube versus a 21st century game. The batters didn't step out and adjust themselves very much, and pitchers worked faster. That's not something walks, strikeouts, fouls, and the other standard data is going to show.

Why are players farting around? My guess is the strikeout is getting pitchers more money and it is requiring more effort. More effort means getting tired sooner so they take a few seconds rest wherever they can. A pitch clock may help with pace, but injury rates have to be looked at in concert with it.
   22. Howie Menckel Posted: February 22, 2019 at 03:18 PM (#5817423)
I've always thought there should be a max of foul balls before you're out. Maybe 3 fouls after strike 2. Some people credit hitters for purposely fouling off pitches, but seems impossible to me

I have mused about the idea that the batter's turn is simply finished after a number of foul balls.
nobody wins, nobody loses, we just find the next batter and see if the game can get moving again.
an NL pitcher who can "tread water" would get high fives, while an All-Star batter might slam his bat in the ground as he has to depart with a mere draw - likely leaving the task at hand to a lesser hitter.

lots of potential unintended consequences; maybe a lowly independent league can try it
   23. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: February 22, 2019 at 03:24 PM (#5817424)
My word! 538 foul balls certainly are a pace of play problem!
   24. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 22, 2019 at 06:22 PM (#5817485)
I put together the below table which I thought was helpful in terms of seeing what's been going on since 1998.

Basically, the percentage of pitches has declined, and more of those pitches taken are being taken for strikes, but it hasn't been a consistent trend. However, the more obvious trend is on pitches swung at: (1) The % contact on pitches swung at has dropped significantly over the last decade, (2) the percentage of balls in play on that contact has dropped steadily over the past 20 years as foul balls have increased (also, the percentage of those balls in play that went over the fence, after being relatively stable for a while, has shot up over the last few years. But this is a drop in the bucket -- the increase only represents about 0.1% of pitches).

-------------------------------------1998-----2003-----2008-----2013-----2018--
Balls                                38.3%    37.4%    37.5%    36.4%    36.6
Strikes Looking                      16.2%    17.0%    17.1%    17.5%    16.8
Strikes Swinging                      9.3%     8.9%     9.2%    10.2%    11.6
Foul Balls                           16.3%    16.8%    17.1%    17.2%    17.6
Balls-in-play (inclHR)             19.8%    19.8%    19.1%    18.6%    17.4
Total pitches                       100.0%   100.0%   100.0%   100.0%   100.0%
     
Pitches taken Total pitches        54.5%    54.5%    54.5%    54.0%    53.3
Strikes looking Pitches taken      29.7%    31.3%    31.3%    32.5%    31.4
Swings Total pitches               45.5%    45.5%    45.5%    46.0%    46.7
Contact on swings                  79.5%    80.4%    79.8%    77.8%    75.1
In-play on contact                 54.8%    54.0%    52.8%    51.9%    49.7
HR on in-play                       3.7%     3.8%     3.6%     3.5%     4.4
   25. The Yankee Clapper Posted: February 22, 2019 at 06:29 PM (#5817486)
Picture of a perfect ballpark: Hilltop Park, New York, ca. 1912.

Good seats. How much did it cost you back then?
   26. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: February 22, 2019 at 06:46 PM (#5817488)
In terms of pace of play, here's another table:

------------------------1998-----2003-----2008-----2013-----2018--------
Avggame time (9 inn.)  167      166      170      178      180 minutes
PA
/G                    77.4     77.1     77.3     76.0     76.1
Pitches
/PA              3.71     3.74     3.81     3.84     3.90
Pitches 
G              287      288      295      292      297 
BIP 
(inclHR) / G       157      156      155      151      148 
Pitches 
Hour         103.1    104.2    103.9     98.4     98.9
BIP 
(inclHR) / Hour   56.5     56.3     54.8     51.0     49.2 


To me, this shows that MLB has a few different problems:

(1) Games are taking longer -- a 7.8% increase over the past 20 years (average game time actually did decline by 5 minutes from 2017. This is driven in part by an increase in the number of pitches per game (a 3.4% increase), but moreso by the fact that
(2) The game is slowing down. There's been an increase in the time between pitches (4.1% fewer pitches per hour).
(3) Even more noticeable is there is less action during the game. There's been a 6.1% decline in balls-in-play per game, and because there's more time between pitches, you have a 12.9% decline in BIP per hour.

I had actually expected some of these changes to be more pronounced, but still, that's not a good trend, especially if it continues.
   27. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: February 22, 2019 at 08:55 PM (#5817509)
Picture of a perfect ballpark: Hilltop Park, New York, ca. 1912.


Good seats. How much did it cost you back then?



With my Senior Citizens discount, it only set me back two bits.

Of course that'd be about six and a half bucks nowadays, but we were a lot closer to the pitcher than the players in the dugout.

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