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Friday, September 09, 2011

Bill Lee Says Baseball Will Never Die, But Something Must Be Done to Improve Tempo of Game

Don’t list me in the BJNHBA or Popular Crime…and see what you get!

NESN.com: How much of a problem is the length of games these days?

BL:Terrible. Terrible problem for baseball. The length of games, you have a director from the TV network and every game is televised. He controls the tempo. Every time there’s a break in the action, that break in the action was brought to you by “new back supports—keeps you from breaking your back.” It’s all scripted.

The umpires these days don’t call strikes like they used to. They’re scrutinized by that screen that’s on there constantly. You have to tak that strike zone and just throw it off the TV. Play the game. Let the guys do the commentary, let the umpires ump. Very little instant replay. Let’s play the ballgame, lets increase the tempo, let’s teach pitchers to throw strikes, get the hitters to swing the bat. Everybody works the count to 3-2 now, and that, is a problem. Back then, I’d throw the ball right down the middle with a little sink on it and everyone was first-pitch swinging and the game got over in a decent time.

Whatever it was—a guy named Bill James—Bill James ruined this game. And then “Moneyball.” And then people who use statistics and computers and graphics ... the coaching is not as good. I don’t believe you’re getting a lot of good pros who know the game coaching. Everything is scripted, and it’s not the same game. And that’s sad. It takes too long. The game is supposed to be uptempo. The ball’s supposed to be put in play, and people are supposed to make plays.

Repoz Posted: September 09, 2011 at 02:19 AM | 32 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: fantasy baseball, history, red sox, sabermetrics

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   1. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: September 09, 2011 at 03:03 AM (#3920000)
Back then, I’d throw the ball right down the middle with a little sink on it and everyone was first-pitch swinging and the game got over in a decent time.


Whatever else you think of Lee's comments, he's not lying about himself. For his 17 wins in 1975, the game times ran from 1:48 to 2:41, with a median time of 2:12. His 9 losses had a median time of 2:27, ranging from 2:12 to 2:45. I think I could go for some of that.
   2. Sit down, Sleepy has lots of stats Posted: September 09, 2011 at 08:06 AM (#3920062)
I had only the vaguest idea who Bill Lee was, before clicking on the article, but I'm completely unsurprised by the fact that his argument hinged on

It always boils down to the Yankees and Red Sox. It has, it did for us back in the day.


That was my first cynical thought- this guy must be an AL East fan.

As a west coaster who follows an NL central team, loves baseball, typically wishes every game would go to extra innings, and only ever watches Yankees/Red Sox games when I have to, I admit- Y/RS games are miserable. They are probably good baseball, generically, if you can ignore the annoying pace, but they drag #### out to the point that it's not enjoyable. Granted. I'm usually cranky because those games are in parallel with blacked out games between the cards and cubs, (why would fox think that someone in CA would care more about an east coast team than 2 central teams?) but it just feels like every player on both teams is trying to drag things out as long as possible. I get annoyed when Skip Schumaker steps out to adjust his batting gloves, every couple of pitches- but EVERY DAMNED PLAYER on BOTH OF the Y/RS does it, EVERY PITCH. or so it seems.

That isn't Bill James' fault. I suspect there's some element of gamesmanship, or direction from the teams, involved. Average length of Y/RS games last year was nearly an hour longer than league average. The Y/RS players are the problem, not the game, or the guys who crunch numbers.

[though I have to wonder if, at some point, "guys who delay games unnecessarily" became some kind of market inefficiency, due to increased commercial breaks, or whatever).
   3. Sit down, Sleepy has lots of stats Posted: September 09, 2011 at 08:26 AM (#3920063)
Whatever else you think of Lee's comments, he's not lying about himself. For his 17 wins in 1975, the game times ran from 1:48 to 2:41, with a median time of 2:12. His 9 losses had a median time of 2:27, ranging from 2:12 to 2:45. I think I could go for some of that.


FWIW, the average MLB game from 2000-2009 was 2:50. The average Y/RS game (included in the 2:50 total) was 3:15. Based on data provided by mlb here (couldn't turn it into an url, for whatever reason):

mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?ymd=20100613&content_id=11167658&vkey=news_mlb&fext;=.jsp&c_id=mlb
   4. Rants Mulliniks Posted: September 09, 2011 at 12:39 PM (#3920094)
He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans. I used to love the NHL in the 80's and early 90's, right up until the Devils starting using the neutral zone trap, won a couple of Cups, and the league followed suit. I only watch 2 or 3 games a year now, because the dump-it-in-and-chase-it offense brought on by the change in defensive philosophy completely ruined the game.
   5. zachtoma Posted: September 09, 2011 at 12:52 PM (#3920098)
That isn't Bill James' fault. I suspect there's some element of gamesmanship, or direction from the teams, involved. Average length of Y/RS games last year was nearly an hour longer than league average. The Y/RS players are the problem, not the game, or the guys who crunch numbers.


Especially because Bill James spent a whole section of NBJHBA talking about how to shorten games, including stopping shenanigans like letting the hitter step out after every pitch.
   6. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 09, 2011 at 01:03 PM (#3920104)
FWIW, the average MLB game from 2000-2009 was 2:50.

That's still too long.

I think the ideal average should be about 2:30.

When I was a kid, the Yankee games started at 8 PM (which was nice b/c you could comfortably finish dinner and settle in for the game) and we're done before the 11 o'clock news 99.5% of the time.

The 7 PM start isn't going away, but it sure would be nice to be able to go to a night game, and still get home and to bed by a normal hour. I almost never will go to a weekday night game now (even if the tix are free) b/c my ETA home is ~midnight (game ends ~10:15-10:30, walk to the parking lot, get your car out ~10:45-11:00, stadium traffic (15 min) & 30 min drive home, and best case you're in bed by 12:30. Doesn't work with a 6:30 wakeup.
   7. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: September 09, 2011 at 01:04 PM (#3920105)
He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans.

Expand the strike zone to the traditional knees to shoulders. If you had the balloon chest protectors, and the old high strike still called, you'd get in a lot of 0-2's if you were too passive.
   8. Matthew E Posted: September 09, 2011 at 01:17 PM (#3920111)
Bill Lee's book, The Wrong Stuff, is pretty much what turned me into a baseball fan. So I like Bill Lee.

But let's not kid ourselves. Lee discovered a long time ago that he's more colourful than just about anybody else in baseball and more thoughtful than most of anybody else in baseball, and that he can work that to his advantage. He also has a very high opinion of himself. So Lee's in a situation where he can just say stuff without regard to how well-founded it is, and people will take him seriously. And so he does that. And I don't really have a problem with it. But it doesn't mean I'm just going to eat it up like it's ice cream.
   9. Don Lock Posted: September 09, 2011 at 01:20 PM (#3920114)
Who is this Bill James you speak of, pilgrim? Is he the great white father in Kansas, the one the elders speak of?
   10. zack Posted: September 09, 2011 at 02:00 PM (#3920144)
He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans. I used to love the NHL in the 80's and early 90's, right up until the Devils starting using the neutral zone trap, won a couple of Cups, and the league followed suit. I only watch 2 or 3 games a year now, because the dump-it-in-and-chase-it offense brought on by the change in defensive philosophy completely ruined the game.


You should know that they updated a lot of rules after the lockout, and the trap is (mostly) absent from the NHL since. It will, thankfully, never be back to the crazy eighty's in scoring, but as someone who also drifted away from the game in the 90's, hockey ####### rules again.

As far as MLB tempo, well lets all say the exact same things for the 15th time this year. And not listen to each other. I'll do my part:

It's not the length, it's the tempo. Stay in the box. Get on the mound. THROW THE ####### BALL.

And change the rules to encourage that, and discourage time wasting. More BIP would be nice, too, but that's secondary right now.
   11. Babe Adams Posted: September 09, 2011 at 02:56 PM (#3920189)
Y/RS


Shorthand for Yankees/Red Sox, it seems.
   12. Jose is Absurdly Unemployed Posted: September 09, 2011 at 03:13 PM (#3920205)
You should know that they updated a lot of rules after the lockout, and the trap is (mostly) absent from the NHL since. It will, thankfully, never be back to the crazy eighty's in scoring, but as someone who also drifted away from the game in the 90's, hockey ####### rules again.


Seconded. One of the things that they have done is create a variety of outcome. You can go to a hockey game and see a 6-5 game or you can see a 1-0 game, the predictability of the late 90s is gone.
   13. Non-Youkilidian Geometry Posted: September 09, 2011 at 03:42 PM (#3920217)
Seconded. One of the things that they have done is create a variety of outcome. You can go to a hockey game and see a 6-5 game or you can see a 1-0 game, the predictability of the late 90s is gone.

Thirded. I also drifted away from hockey for a while, but got back into it during last year's playoffs and was impressed by the quality and tempo of play. Having high-def TV coverage is also a big plus.
   14. Russ Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:01 PM (#3920232)
Thirded. I also drifted away from hockey for a while, but got back into it during last year's playoffs and was impressed by the quality and tempo of play. Having high-def TV coverage is also a big plus.


I think that high-definition TV changed hockey more than any other major sport with respect to watching the game on television. They can show so much more of the ice and in so much more detail that it's almost a different game. When you watch the televised games on ESPN classic, they look really slow and you can't see anything that's going on. Now you can see almost the entire offensive zone during a power play, you can see the puck go in live on most goals.

Combine the prevalence of high-definition TV with changes to loosen up the game offensively and you get a vastly improved experience.
   15. SandyRiver Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:19 PM (#3920249)
FWIW, the average MLB game from 2000-2009 was 2:50. The average Y/RS game (included in the 2:50 total) was 3:15.

Also FWIW, removal of those 18 annual Sox-Yanks marathons from the 2,400+ total on the MLB schedule would shorten the average by 11 seconds. Doesn't excuse the extra 25 minutes per game, but not much skewing of the averages there.
   16. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:35 PM (#3920261)
For his 17 wins in 1975, the game times ran from 1:48 to 2:41, with a median time of 2:12. His 9 losses had a median time of 2:27, ranging from 2:12 to 2:45.

How much of the increase from then to now is due to umpires not calling strikes, conferences at the mound every time a runner reaches 2nd, and batters and pitchers preening after every pitch, and how much of the increase is due to more commercial time between each half-inning?
   17. rconn23 Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:42 PM (#3920268)
"Back then, I’d throw the ball right down the middle with a little sink on it and everyone was first-pitch swinging and the game got over in a decent time."

Because hitters weren't as good as they are now had little plate discipline. Watch any game on MLB Network from the 1970s, players weren't as in shape as they are now, and they gripped and ripped at almost every pitch.

That's why when Jim Rice went on his little tangent about how the players of today can't compare to this of his era it was laughable.

There are other ways to shorten the game — limit the amount of times hitters can step out of the box, or pitchers off the rubber, etc. — but don't ask hitters to be stupid like they were back then and swing at awful pitches.
   18. Dr. Vaux Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:49 PM (#3920275)
That's why he says plate discipline (which he couches as "Bill James . . . Moneyball") ruined the game. That's a reasonable aesthetic point of view.
   19. McCoy Posted: September 09, 2011 at 04:50 PM (#3920276)
If we expand the strike zone then scoring plummets. Think about how over the years the strike zone has shrunk and yet the scoring has stayed the same. Nowadays the strikezone is about the size of a mailbox and scoring is still about the same. Now just imagine if we had a full regulation strikezone and what scoring would look like with that zone.
   20. Dan Evensen Posted: September 09, 2011 at 05:05 PM (#3920299)
The length of games, you have a director from the TV network and every game is televised. He controls the tempo. Every time there’s a break in the action, that break in the action was brought to you by “new back supports—keeps you from breaking your back.” It’s all scripted.

This is Lee's strongest point, and, in my opinion, the worst part about FOX's baseball broadcast. The "local" FSN networks are no better. All the broadcasts look the same, and no contemporary broadcasts have anything even close to local flare. That counts for both television and radio, but especially for radio, particularly as the generic ESPN generation of radio broadcasters get more top jobs. We don't have the equivalent of the 1984 Cubs on WGN, I'm sad to say.

The ironic part is that we had an idea that this would happen. There have been countless Sporting News articles and debates on this very subject, going all the way back to the 1950s, if not earlier. Once you let television take over the game, baseball loses its spontaneity and magic. Would you believe there was actually a time when the starting time of World Series games was not catered to fit the optimal ratings time for the network covering the game -- and that a higher percentage of the population followed the game then?

He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans. I used to love the NHL in the 80's and early 90's, right up until the Devils starting using the neutral zone trap, won a couple of Cups, and the league followed suit. I only watch 2 or 3 games a year now, because the dump-it-in-and-chase-it offense brought on by the change in defensive philosophy completely ruined the game.

Exactly right. I couldn't stand watching Spain in the 2010 World Cup, no matter how well I knew their "score one and close up shop" tactical approach worked. I also can't stand the contemporary defense-heavy NBA; give me 1980s showtime any day.

As #14 says, though, HD makes hockey a really exciting television sport. Watching old games from the 1970s (I'm thinking 1972 Summit Series) isn't easy after watching a bunch of current games in HD. The sport is faster, yes, but it's also a lot easier to follow with a wide screen. Baseball would be, too, if we could only get FOX to lose the close-up fetish.

As far as MLB tempo, well lets all say the exact same things for the 15th time this year. And not listen to each other. I'll do my part:

It's not the length, it's the tempo. Stay in the box. Get on the mound. THROW THE ####### BALL.

And change the rules to encourage that, and discourage time wasting. More BIP would be nice, too, but that's secondary right now.


My thoughts exactly. Go watch Game 6 of the 1975 World Series. The length is long, but the tempo is quick, and it's easy to keep your eyes on the action.

There are other ways to shorten the game — limit the amount of times hitters can step out of the box, or pitchers off the rubber, etc. — but don't ask hitters to be stupid like they were back then and swing at awful pitches.

I've watched a lot of games from the 1970s (and 1950s, 1960s, 1980s -- none of them on MLB Network, by the way), and I think you're exaggerating here. Plate discipline at the MLB level is not as easily fixed as you imply, and hitters today swing at plenty of bad pitches as well. The difference is that they can foul bad pitches off, since bat handles are extremely thin compared to the standard in the 70s (which was thin compared to the 50s, which was thin compared to the 30s, and so on). The real difference you see is swinging at the first pitch and putting the ball in play, which was much more common before the offensive explosion in 1993. The strike zone differences play a major role as well: I don't see how you can watch any games before the mid-1990s and not notice how much the strike zone has shrunk since. Hell, go watch some 2011 NPB games and compare the strike zone to the MLB: the MLB umpires are extremely picky.

I had only the vaguest idea who Bill Lee was, before clicking on the article

I just did a double take. How could you not know who Bill Lee was? I was born in 1984, and I've known who he was for at least 10 years. Seriously, how could you not know? Did you never watch Ken Burns' Baseball? Did you never read a book about baseball in the 1970s? Did you never read about the 1975 World Series?
   21. BDC Posted: September 09, 2011 at 05:23 PM (#3920319)
I watched Joe Morgan, Pete Rose, and Mike Schmidt play a lot in the 1970s; out of shape and swinging at everything doesn't exactly describe them :)

Now it could be that there were more scrawny, free-swinging players then, and having watched Larry Bowa too, I wouldn't necessarily disagree. There were a fair number of glove-man infielders who saw mostly strikes (because they lacked power, but because of a larger strike zone, too, as Dan says). Their game – the Larry Bowas and Tim Folis of the world – was to make contact and hope for the best, a hope often crushed because Bowa would hit the ball to Foli or Foli would hit the ball to Bowa; but the alternative was simply being struck out; they weren't going to see a lot of balls or hit a lot of doubles off the wall. In the sense that good infielders are now more likely to hit like Pedroia or Cano or Kinsler, that's a difference. But it's not that the '70s glove men were bad athletes or idiotic hitters.
   22. Wayne Newton's pet monkey (gef, talking mongoose) Posted: September 09, 2011 at 05:37 PM (#3920330)

I just did a double take. How could you not know who Bill Lee was? I was born in 1984, and I've known who he was for at least 10 years. Seriously, how could you not know? Did you never watch Ken Burns' Baseball? Did you never read a book about baseball in the 1970s? Did you never read about the 1975 World Series?


I have no idea of the percentage of "baseball fans" who don't know actually know much of anything about baseball, but I suspect it's fairly high. (Granted, most of them don't post here, but still.)
   23. Dock Ellis Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:07 PM (#3920371)
How could you not know who Bill Lee was?

This gave me pause, too. Bill Lee is not the most obscure ballplayer, and has been linked to often around these parts, so this is surprising, given the level of discourse here.

But I kinda like that he doesn't know much about Bill Lee. It just proves that there's always something new to learn, and if Sleepy is so inclined, he will have a blast learning about Bill Lee.
   24. BDC Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:16 PM (#3920384)
I am very familiar with Bill Lee (I've even read The Wrong Stuff) – but I guarantee you there must be somebody that I've never heard of leading the 2011 National League in some important statistical category. I think our expertises overlap more than they're mutual.
   25. Dock Ellis Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:18 PM (#3920389)
but I guarantee you there must be somebody that I've never heard of leading the 2011 National League in some important statistical category.

There's this guy named Prince Fielder who is leading the league in RBI. Remember Cecil Fielder, who hit all those home runs for the Tigers in the early 90s? Prince is his son! Isn't that wild?!
   26. BDC Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:29 PM (#3920407)
Prince is his son!

(a) now you're just making stuff up; and (b) I said important category.
   27. A triple short of the cycle Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:33 PM (#3920416)
He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans.

This dynamic is really strong in my mid-level, co-ed, slow-pitch softball league. Some pitchers have a tough time throwing strikes, and some batters will stand there and take pitches - INCLUDING EVEN A STRIKE OR TWO - until they draw the walk. Personally, I heckle people who go up looking to walk, but what can you really do about it, except pitch better?
   28. Jose is Absurdly Unemployed Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:48 PM (#3920436)
leading the 2011 National League in some important statistical category


Per Baseball Reference the current leaders;

avg - Jose Reyes
OBP - Joey Votto
SLG - Ryan Braun
AB - Starlin Castro
PA - Michael Bourn
Runs - Braun/Justin Upton
Hits - Castro
2B - Upton
3B - Reyes
HR - Pujols (holy crap, I thought he was having a "bad" year)


ERA - Johnny Cueto
W - Ian Kennedy
Win Pct - Kennedy
WHIP - Cole Hamels
App - Jonny Venters
Sv - Craig Kimbrel
IP - Chris Carpenter
K - Clayton Kershaw
BB - Jhoulys Chacin
   29. phatj Posted: September 09, 2011 at 06:53 PM (#3920443)
I didn't know it was possible to walk in slow-pitch softball.
   30. tfbg9 Posted: September 09, 2011 at 08:16 PM (#3920543)
20, 22-

Go easy on the guy. Its not like he didn't know that Ted Williams was a fighter pilot who saw action, or anything unbelievably stupid like that.

BTW, Bill Lee brings to mind the old Dennis Hopper quote about the reason he did so many drugs was to keep everybody from noticing what a monster alkie he was.
   31. Squash Posted: September 09, 2011 at 08:51 PM (#3920567)
He's right about batters working the count, in my opinion. An optimal strategy to win games is rarely an optimal strategy for attracting and retaining fans. I used to love the NHL in the 80's and early 90's, right up until the Devils starting using the neutral zone trap, won a couple of Cups, and the league followed suit. I only watch 2 or 3 games a year now, because the dump-it-in-and-chase-it offense brought on by the change in defensive philosophy completely ruined the game.

More so than the trap and the accompanying change in offensive styles, what I think reduced scoring in the NHL more than anything is that goalies got good, i.e. the Butterfly style came into vogue. Watch highlights from the Gretzky heyday and the goalies look like drunk six-year-olds, huddling in a corner of the net and then lurching in whatever direction the puck comes from as it whizzes past them. They were helpless on any shot low to the ice that wasn't directly at them, which is where most goals are scored. The game got faster through the 70s and 80s and goalies didn't keep up - even into the 90s guys would be described as Butterfly goalies if they were so - now nobody bothers because they're all Butterfly goalies or a variant of. Then the trap came along and got all the publicity, but goalies had as big if not bigger of an effect than anything.
   32. Ron J Posted: September 11, 2011 at 08:24 AM (#3921677)
#31 Goalkeeping equipment too. The stuff is lighter and yet covers substantially more area.

Seriously, if you get a chance to watch any older games look at how much less padding the goalies are wearing. Sheer bulk matters.

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