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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Goldman: Eliminating the shift a bandage for a phantom wound

Oh Bandage Up Yours!

Fans like offense. That’s what professional writers such as Buster Olney and Tom Verducci are saying as well: We dwell in a low-offense valley, and they miss the offense.

Olney suggested “perhaps lowering the mound again, or changing the composition of the ball.” Verducci wants to outlaw the shift. The terrible, painful irony here is that they fail to recognize that such remedies for the current lack of offense are no different from the use of drugs to get the same effect. What doesn’t seem to have occurred to those asking for more offense is that they are requesting the manipulation of scoring levels by artificial means, which is exactly what Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez supposedly did.

What they are suggesting is actually worse, because the efficacy of PEDs was never untangled from all the other phenomena at work during that period, particularly stadium design, ball composition and a highly variable but generally shrinking strike zone, whereas if you (say) lowered the mound, or lowered it and moved it back from its traditional 60’6” from home plate, if you moved all the fences in to 250 feet, if you shrunk the foul territory in ballparks like Oakland’s and told the Rockies to deactivate their humidor, we know what would happen. You’d fix offense, in the sense that the 1919 World Series was fixed.

Self-appointed purists have complained that baseball’s sacred record-book was pillaged by drug users, but it was always subject to manipulations like these. Remember 1930, the average hitter in the National League averaged .303 and slugged .448. After that season, the NL deadened the ball by publicized choice, whereas the American League stayed with the rabbit ball for awhile longer. That’s why from 1931 through 1938 the AL had 14 seasons of 40 or more home runs and the NL had none, why Lou Gehrig and Hank Greenberg had seasons of more than 180 RBI and the NL topped out with Joe Medwick’s 154 (one of only two NL seasons of more than 138 RBI during that period), the NL had seven seasons with batting averages above .350 while the AL had 18, and so on.

We won’t rehash all the other ways that baseball’s record book is bogus except to mention the biggest one: Apartheid major league baseball was a minor league.

Repoz Posted: July 23, 2014 at 05:00 PM | 39 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history

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   1. asinwreck Posted: July 23, 2014 at 05:44 PM (#4756502)
Verducci's article has merit in that it inspired a Poly Styrene reference on BTF.
   2. PreservedFish Posted: July 23, 2014 at 05:49 PM (#4756511)
I don't think this is the best way to attack the issue.
   3. RMc is a fine piece of cheese Posted: July 23, 2014 at 06:06 PM (#4756525)
Oh Bandage Up Yours!

Run-free Adolescents?
   4. JRVJ Posted: July 23, 2014 at 06:23 PM (#4756543)
Steve Goldman? God, I'd forgotten about this guy (who was good for a while during his Pinstripped Bible days - until he got REPETITIOUS).
   5. Jim Overmyer Posted: July 23, 2014 at 09:06 PM (#4756637)
Goldman refers to changes in "ball composition" as one of the non-PED changes that had something to do with the recent offensive surge. I dimly recall talk about this, but does anyone recall the specifics, of scientific tests, perhaps?

Incidentally, Goldman is a baseball editor at SBNation.com, and I, for one, wish he would write more, particularly against-the-grain work such as this.
   6. McCoy Posted: July 23, 2014 at 09:30 PM (#4756645)
The standing assumption is that somewhere around 1993 the ball changed and that can be seen by the stats. Several years later a very comprehensive study was performed on lots and lots of 1999 and 2000 season major league baseballs, along with minor league baseballs as well. What they found was that both the 1999 and 2000 ball were similar and within spec but at the high range of tolerance. They also found that minor league baseballs were horribly inconsistent and a lot of them were out of spec.

It could very well be that somewhere around 1993 the manufacturer finally made consistent balls but that is just a theory on my part.
   7. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: July 23, 2014 at 09:33 PM (#4756647)
It could very well be that somewhere around 1993 the manufacturer finally made consistent balls but that is just a theory on my part.

I think your theory is bang-on and I've thought that for years
   8. TerpNats Posted: July 23, 2014 at 09:45 PM (#4756656)
Goldman is right in saying that for all the screaming over lack of offense, we're nowhere near 1968. The vast increase in strikeouts, not defensive shifts, is what's making the game less interesting. Put more emphasis on making contact and hitting to the opposite field, and much of your problem is solved.
   9. PreservedFish Posted: July 23, 2014 at 09:53 PM (#4756659)
Do people really want more runs scored or do they just want fewer strikeouts? I grew up with 1980's baseball so I am very comfortable with a world where a 4.00 ERA is below average and 100 RBI is a nice achievement.
   10. McCoy Posted: July 23, 2014 at 10:30 PM (#4756675)
Just lower the mound and be done with it. Oh, and ever so slightly deaden the ball.
   11. valuearbitrageur Posted: July 23, 2014 at 10:41 PM (#4756682)
Whatever they do, please also force relievers to pitch to at least 2 batters. It likely won't make large differences in scoring/game length, but it will help with both.
   12. Dale Sams Posted: July 23, 2014 at 11:36 PM (#4756710)
I say penalize strikeouts like yellow cards. Accumulate a fixed number of them and you get suspended.
   13. boteman Posted: July 23, 2014 at 11:40 PM (#4756713)
July 23, 1941: Jimmy Dykes becomes first manager to implement the shift against Ted Williams. Baseball changes forever.
   14. TerpNats Posted: July 24, 2014 at 01:11 AM (#4756733)
To #9: I want more runs scored, but scored with action. No '50s-style station-to-station baseball, thank you.
   15. jwb Posted: July 24, 2014 at 01:28 AM (#4756737)
I say penalize strikeouts like yellow cards. Accumulate a fixed number of them and you get suspended.

Just for pitchers or for hitters, too?
   16. just plain joe Posted: July 24, 2014 at 08:22 AM (#4756766)
Just lower the mound and be done with it. Oh, and ever so slightly deaden the ball.


Hell, just do away with pitchers entirely and let the hitters tee it up and rip. At the same time we could disallow gloves for fielders, let them catch the ball barehanded like they used to.
   17. bigglou115 Posted: July 24, 2014 at 08:24 AM (#4756767)
That's the thing though isn't it? There's no practical difference between saying the down offense or strikeouts are the problem. Of the three true outcomes approach to hitting is what baseball guys believe is the optimum strategy, they aren't going to change it, especially since the boys out in Oakland would stay with it and gain an advantage. So either way you have to change the rules.

Personally, I don't think a 3-4 year sample is enough to warrant all this freaking out. A) we should wait because I don't think anything is wrong and once people adjust I think they'll agree, and b) it could be a transient phenomenon, and whatever reactionist rules we make now will have to be undone in 4 or 5 years.
   18. McCoy Posted: July 24, 2014 at 09:04 AM (#4756783)
That is why you deaden the ball. If everybody can't rip it over the wall 20 times or more a year then teams have to change their strategies.
   19. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: July 24, 2014 at 09:41 AM (#4756796)
Olney suggested “perhaps lowering the mound again, or changing the composition of the ball.” Verducci wants to outlaw the shift. The terrible, painful irony here is that they fail to recognize that such remedies for the current lack of offense are no different from the use of drugs to get the same effect. What doesn’t seem to have occurred to those asking for more offense is that they are requesting the manipulation of scoring levels by artificial means, which is exactly what Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez supposedly did.

I don't get the comparison to steroids at all. As Goldman himself acknowledges, baseball has tinkered with the rules from the very beginning. I don't see anything inherently wrong with rule changes.
   20. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: July 24, 2014 at 10:17 AM (#4756813)
I don't get the comparison to steroids at all. As Goldman himself acknowledges, baseball has tinkered with the rules from the very beginning.


Until this year, there hadn't been a lot of tinkering done to the rules governing playing the game itself*, rather than adjustments made to equipment or the field, at not in the last 90 years or so.* Mandating defensive positioning would be a huge change.

* Before the change governing home plate collisions, a long overdue correction, what was the last one before that? No running starts on sacrifice flies?

I"m sure I'm missing some, but baseball really doesn't mess around with the rules governing play itself that often.
   21. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: July 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM (#4756825)
The DH. Although I think the point about changing the game is fair -- I'm not in favor of any rules re the defensive shift. But he doesn't seem to be drawing a distinction between changes to the field or equipment and changes to how the game is played.
   22. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: July 24, 2014 at 10:40 AM (#4756834)
The DH.


Duh.
   23. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: July 24, 2014 at 10:45 AM (#4756840)
I just find the comparison to steroids weird. So if Joe Sportswriter complained about players using steroids he's a hypocrite if he wants the mound lowered? (And I say this as someone who doesn't really care about steroids.)
   24. Walt Davis Posted: July 24, 2014 at 07:02 PM (#4757223)
It's all a plot to get the DH into the NL.

   25. Hank G. Posted: July 24, 2014 at 10:12 PM (#4757304)
Before the change governing home plate collisions, a long overdue correction, what was the last one before that? No running starts on sacrifice flies?


The rule-book strike zone has changed a couple of times in my lifetime and seems to have been changed other times without an actual rule change.
   26. Sunday silence Posted: July 25, 2014 at 12:40 AM (#4757373)
Aside from equipment changes, umpire stuff and scoring changes (e.g. saves) since 1931:

1931 ball that bounces into stands is ground rule double
1940 pitcher can take two steps (one forward/one back) if he 's on the rubber; fake throw is a balk
1949 the rule book is rewritten, w/ some minor changes
1955 with men on, pitchers has 20 sec to deliver else MAY call a ball
1956 a runner who inteferes w/ batted ball on DP is out, so is batter
1968 if pitcher goes his mouth, its a balk w/ men on, or a ball w/ no one on
1973 DH rule (forgot about that one? )

SOURCE baseballalmanac.com and baseballlibrary.com

Now I'm curious when that Alvin Dark, running start on sac flies rule came about. possibly in 1949?
   27. Sunday silence Posted: July 25, 2014 at 12:59 AM (#4757376)
the above sources are rather general. For one thing, the rule book constantly has commentary being added to it, so I duuno who's keeping track of that. The Alvin Dark running start on sac fly was banned in Nov 1953 as per the newspaper article below. Also of note fielders cannot stand in the batter's vision, another trick that someone tried to pull...

http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1368&dat=19531104&id=yl4xAAAAIBAJ&sjid=TBAEAAAAIBAJ&pg=5834,5027918
   28. vortex of dissipation Posted: July 25, 2014 at 01:30 AM (#4757379)
Wasn't that rule put in because of Eddie Stanky, rather than Alvin Dark?
   29. Sunday silence Posted: July 25, 2014 at 02:02 AM (#4757382)
have no idea, just repeating what someone else said.

The one I am trying to track down now is that "DiMaggio rule" where the runner can leave the bag once a fly ball is TOUCHED (not caught) since DiMaggio either did this once in a game, or did this on several occasions. this one is a bit harder to track down.
   30. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: July 25, 2014 at 02:18 AM (#4757383)
The one I am trying to track down now is that "DiMaggio rule" where the runner can leave the bag once a fly ball is TOUCHED (not caught) since DiMaggio either did this once in a game, or did this on several occasions. this one is a bit harder to track down.


It was much earlier than DiMaggio. The rule used to be that a runner couldn't advance until the ball was caught. By my recollection*, if there was a runner on third and less than two outs, one enterprising outfielder (memory tells me it was King Kelly, since that glorious specimen specialized in this kind of thing) would intentionally juggle the ball while jogging in toward home, eventually catching the ball when he was close enough the runner couldn't advance. The rule was changed in response.

Oh, and good list in 26, though it's noteworthy that other than the DH, none would be nearly as noticeable or meaningful as some kind of rule banning creative defensive positioning.

And I had no idea that some of those strike zone changes were codified, rather than simply baseball asking the umps to focus on areas of enforcement (i.e., the high strike).


* From one of those Baseball is a Funny Game type collection of anecdotes that I devoured as a kid.
   31. Rob_Wood Posted: July 25, 2014 at 03:23 AM (#4757395)
Jimmy Piersall was famous for jumping up and down and waving his arms in center field with the Red Sox in order to distract the hitter. I think he is the main reason why they introduced the rule prohibiting that in the early-to-mid 1950's.

Also, I too remember hearing that Eddie Stanky was the major culprit in the "running start third base tag up" phenomenon. Many runners tried it after others did it successfully and the word spread around the majors. Lou Boudreau told me he even tried it once (Lou was notoriously slow) but it did not succeed, and he found it too hard to time it. I have found contemporary sources that cite Alvin Dark (like Stanky, another non-blazing rules-reader) and the New York Giants as the main proponents. Of course, Stanky was with the Giants in 1951 so maybe this is something that he passed on to his teammates before he was traded to the Cardinals.
   32. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: July 25, 2014 at 08:30 AM (#4757436)
Do people really want more runs scored or do they just want fewer strikeouts? I grew up with 1980's baseball so I am very comfortable with a world where a 4.00 ERA is below average and 100 RBI is a nice achievement.


I agree with this. Fielders are better now too, so I assume there are fewer unearned runs, so you have lower offense for the same ERA (but that's probably a minor point).

I like offensive levels where they are, Having the SB as a reasonable strategy is great for the game. I also wish there was more contact, not just because it's more exciting but it also shortens the game. K and BB take longer to resolve.

As far as reducing the strikeouts, Bill James used to advocate eliminating the thin handle bats. The theory was that batters couldn't generate the same kind of bat speed so they would have to try to make more contact instead of swinging for the fences as much.

He also said recently that the constant pressure since the early days has been to find more strikeout pitchers, while hitters k's haven't mattered. Basically pitchers that had more Ks tended to be better ... But the same held true for hitters (obviously there is selection bias there, this assumes you are already a good enough hitter to play MLB).

But this has finally changed, hitters that strikeout more are actually a little worse on average now. So we may have hit the breaking point on the K rise.
   33. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: July 25, 2014 at 08:32 AM (#4757439)
I also read a suggestion that reducing glove size could help, if fielders weren't so good there'd be more incentive to make contact. I like that one as much as anything I've heard.
   34. Joey Numbaz (Scruff) Posted: July 25, 2014 at 08:37 AM (#4757441)
One thing that scares me about the push to reduce K is the law of unintended consequences. If we encourage more contact, power will go down. But power isn't out of control anymore, which means we could go from 40-45 HR leading the league, which is good, to 30-35 leading the league which bad. We could easily make run scoring levels too low by reducing Ks, as counter-intuitive as that might seem.
   35. bobm Posted: July 25, 2014 at 09:05 AM (#4757448)
[26] 1931 ball that bounces into stands is ground rule double

It's interesting that everyone refers to this as a "ground rule" double when it is a universal rule and not specific to any particular park, ie grounds.
   36. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 25, 2014 at 09:56 AM (#4757469)
Goldman is right in saying that for all the screaming over lack of offense, we're nowhere near 1968. The vast increase in strikeouts, not defensive shifts, is what's making the game less interesting. Put more emphasis on making contact and hitting to the opposite field, and much of your problem is solved.


Do people really want more runs scored or do they just want fewer strikeouts? I grew up with 1980's baseball so I am very comfortable with a world where a 4.00 ERA is below average and 100 RBI is a nice achievement.


Agree and agree. We're nowhere near 1968, but strikeouts are way too common, to the point of almost near predictability during many particular matchups. OTOH I'm not sure how to prevent it without a major shift on the part of low power hitters to making contact more of a priority. You can't stop the trend by rule changes without unwanted or unintended consequences.

--------------------------------------------------------------

Jimmy Piersall was famous for jumping up and down and waving his arms in center field with the Red Sox in order to distract the hitter. I think he is the main reason why they introduced the rule prohibiting that in the early-to-mid 1950's.

Eddie Stanky of the Braves was kicked out of a game in 1950 for doing jumping jacks in the batter Andy Seminick's field of vision. The Giants' protested the game, but NL President Ford Frick upheld the umpire's decision. I'm not sure when the rule against "jumping jacks" was formally written into the books, but from the time of the Frick's upholding of the Stanky ejection it was a de facto cause for banishment.

Piersall came up to the Majors in 1952, and wouldn't have had anything to do with this.
   37. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: July 25, 2014 at 10:16 AM (#4757480)
To elaborate on the "Stanky rule": According to Peter Morris's encyclopedic level reference book, A Game of Inches, Frick's instructions to the umpires were to eject fielders for "antics on the field designed or intended to disturb or annoy the opposing batsman."
   38. Ron J2 Posted: July 25, 2014 at 12:23 PM (#4757600)
#6 I'm probably just restating your theory, but it seems likely to me that the factory just put better selection processes in place. The whole issue is perfectly explained by better quality controls at the factory -- no conspiracy required (and to be clear, you didn't invoke any conspiracy. Others commenting on the change in the balls have)
   39. Sunday silence Posted: July 25, 2014 at 02:02 PM (#4757655)
The jumping jack rule was put in place in Nov. 1953, if that was not clear from above. Andy says Piersall came up in 1952 so maybe it had something to do with him.

To Rob Wood, or anybody who knows. What was the reason that they banned fielders from leaving their gloves out there? This also early 50s. My uncle who played in the high minors 48-50 always said it was because someone got hurt. He may have been thinking of Mantle (that was a drain cover though). Was there a specific incident where someone slipped on a glove?

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