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Monday, April 08, 2013

Panas: Defensive Activity at an All-time Low

Cheapest Jeter joke ever.

So, why does Neyer think this is a problem?  Fans love home runs and strikeouts can be exciting especially when your favorite power pitcher is dominating the opposition.  Neyer’s feeling is that baseball has reached the point where too much of a good thing has turned into not such a good thing and I agree with that sentiment.

The result of so many true outcomes is widespread defensive inactivity.  There are fewer players involved in the action than ever before.  That means fewer opportunities for us to see fielders making great catches and showing off their cannon arms.  It also means fewer chances for players to leg out extra base hits and fewer close plays on the bases.  It’s exciting to watch defenders chasing balls and runners speeding around the bases and we don’t get to see so much of that anymore.

How much more often are these true outcomes happening?  I’ll get into more detail below, but they have increased from 17 per game for both teams in 1981 to 24 last year and so far this year.  That is about a 40% increase which is huge.

...The question is whether this defensive inactivity is a problem that needs to be addressed.  Some older fans might think so but, unless attendance starts falling, nothing will be done.  If they do decide, in the future, to change the game to get more players involved in the action, what could they do?

I don’t think “too many home runs” would ever be a concern as fans generally like run scoring and love the long ball.  If a change is made, it would probably be because strikeouts became too frequent.  The obvious solution would be to decrease the size of the strike zone and/or lower the mound as they did in 1969.

For now though, we’ll just have to be content with marveling at the high home run totals of modern-day sluggers and astonishing strikeout rates of today’s pitchers while grumbling about parts of the game that have been somewhat forgotten.

Repoz Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:22 AM | 131 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. AROM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:18 AM (#4407262)
If this is a problem that needs to be addressed, move the fences back. Bring back the 450 center fields that have existed in the past. That would definitely cut down on homers, and probably on strikeouts as well because:

1. Removes the incentive for hitters to swing from the heels.
2. Makes pitching to contact more rewarding.
   2. TomH Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:27 AM (#4407266)
Agree with article, and Arom's 2 points. Hwoever, not every stadium can easily be moved. I'd suggest we merely deaden the ball so it goes about 4% less far. Baseball is more exciting when the ball is in play, not out of play.
   3. Walt Davis Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:29 AM (#4407267)
1981? Who ever compares anything to 1981? There were plenty of games of course so for this sort of macro thing it doesn't matter but ... 1981?

That is about a 40% increase which is huge.

And about a 67% increase in HR. And a 8% increase in scoring.
   4. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:30 AM (#4407270)
If this is a problem that needs to be addressed, move the fences back. Bring back the 450 center fields that have existed in the past. That would definitely cut down on homers, and probably on strikeouts as well because:

1. Removes the incentive for hitters to swing from the heels.
2. Makes pitching to contact more rewarding.

Never going to happen. Teams are never going to do this on their own. And most stadia can~ accommodate it anyway, so the league can~t mandate it. You can~t force 10 teams to move their fences, and not the other teams.

Only way you can do this is by adjusting the standards for equipment (balls or bats), or moving the mound back.
   5. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:33 AM (#4407272)
If you decided this was a problem, the fix is:

1. Call the rulebook strike zone (the high strike, particularly).
2. Enforce a minimum thickness of the bat handle (or more accurately, a minimum handle-to-barrel width ratio).
3. Move the mound back a foot or two.

Result: Fewer home runs, fewer strikeouts, fewer walks.

I honestly think baseball would be more entertaining this way, especially if you combined it with speeding the game up (make the batters stay in the damn box).

EDIT: I should clarify--I feel strongly that if MLB takes steps to reduce strikeouts--which I believe it will within a few years, as sentiment in that direction is starting to build--steps need to simultaneously be taken to reduce walks and home runs. Otherwise you'll get a pile of games decided by scores like 13 to 10, which in my opinion is out of hand.
   6. tiger337 Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:41 AM (#4407276)
Walt, I agree 1981 was a strange choice, especially since there was a strike that year. I guess it was just a good year in my life :-)
   7. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:49 AM (#4407281)
The obvious solution would be to decrease the size of the strike zone and/or lower the mound as they did in 1969.


That first part baffles me. As bad as excessive strikeouts are, the last thing on earth baseball needs is more walks.

But reducing strikeouts--lowering the mound would be the obvious way you might do that--without reducing walks or home runs is going to result in a return of the hitting numbers of the 1920s and 1930s (with somewhat fewer base hits and more home runs). Miguel Cabrera will hit .382 with 58 bombs; Giancarlo Stanton will hit .348 with 71 bombs. Honestly, casual fans might find they like that, but The Establishment would wail and wail without end about it.
   8. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: April 08, 2013 at 09:09 AM (#4407291)
Calling high strikes is just going to add more strikeouts...
   9. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 09:20 AM (#4407298)
Yes, but slowing down the bats and moving the mound back will dramatically reduce strikeouts. Calling high strikes will help reduce walks as well.
   10. DL from MN Posted: April 08, 2013 at 09:52 AM (#4407315)
Moving the mound back would never happen. Pitchers skilled at throwing a breaking ball at 60'6" aren't going to want to adjust to 62'. I agree with moving fences back, or just making them taller. A deader ball accomplishes the same thing. I don't agree that this is more "exciting" baseball. Grounders to SS aren't that exciting.
   11. TomH Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:08 AM (#4407321)
unless Betancourt is playing short...
   12. SoSH U at work Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:20 AM (#4407334)
Calling high strikes is just going to add more strikeouts...


In the short term, yes. But over time, as walks and homers became less likely outcomes, then Ks should also increase as well (both due to hitters changing their approach and teams selecting less for power).

I think the first steps to take are to increase the handle width and deaden the ball. If that doesn't work, you can try less predictable measures.

And I wish they'd do it soon. I've long been railing against the TTOification of the game for several years.

(Randy, the floor is yours).

   13. GregD Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:29 AM (#4407337)
It would be interesting if stats people make huge advances in understanding defense exactly as it becomes less important to the game.
   14. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:40 AM (#4407352)
Moving the mound back would never happen. Pitchers skilled at throwing a breaking ball at 60'6" aren't going to want to adjust to 62'. I agree with moving fences back, or just making them taller. A deader ball accomplishes the same thing. I don't agree that this is more "exciting" baseball. Grounders to SS aren't that exciting.


Yeah, and pitchers would scream bloody murder about the mound being lowered for the same reason. But it is an easy solution if you decide too many strikeouts is enough of a problem not to care what pitchers think.

I think the deader ball is a bad solution because that would lead to an increase in the aforementioned routine grounders to shortstop and cans of corn. The too-many-strikeouts perspective says we want to see more fielding plays, and I don't think routine fielding plays are what they have in mind. We would just need to reduce the three true outcomes; all three of them, if we want to lower strikeouts but keep general scoring levels about the same.
   15. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: April 08, 2013 at 10:46 AM (#4407358)
as the saying goes about salespeople, you want them to sell a different product in the company portfolio, make the compensation plan reward that activity

along with tinkering the game if you want players to play differently you need to reward the right behaviors

I know this is a pipe dream but if you wanted 'good collusion' if that's possible this is something to consider.
   16. Spectral Posted: April 08, 2013 at 11:18 AM (#4407397)
I guess I don't really see the aesthetic problem. The game looks fine to me, and striking defensive plays still happen sufficiently often to impress me.
   17. zack Posted: April 08, 2013 at 11:41 AM (#4407427)
If you want balls in play, then strikeouts are the real problem, not HRs or (especially) walks. The last three years, walks have been incredibly rare. The only time walks were less common per-game in a "modern" (post-1955) era was 1963-1968. Hell, HBP's are still double what they were historically, though they too are coming down. Only strikeouts are ever-increasing, lowering the mound just set the rise back 20 years.
   18. John Northey Posted: April 08, 2013 at 11:54 AM (#4407436)
One wonders how an automatic strikezone (ie: pitch f/x based rather than umpire eye based) would affect things. Suddenly how a catcher 'frames' a pitch becomes irrelevant, rookie or vet doesn't matter as a strike is a strike is a strike. Probably would change things a bit and make it a more 'fair' game thus easy to sell to fans (who probably wouldn't even notice).

After that adjusting the bat rules would be next, thicker handles being the easiest shift that, again, 99% of fans would never notice.
   19. SoSH U at work Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:03 PM (#4407444)
Suddenly how a catcher 'frames' a pitch becomes irrelevant, rookie or vet doesn't matter as a strike is a strike is a strike. Probably would change things a bit and make it a more 'fair' game thus easy to sell to fans (who probably wouldn't even notice).


It would definitely change things. I'm not sure how it would change things on the TTO front.

Personally, I think catcher framing and indivual (if consistent) strike zones by umpires make the game more interesting, though I seem to be in a tiny minority on that count.

   20. bigglou115 Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:09 PM (#4407451)
Probably would change things a bit and make it a more 'fair' game thus easy to sell to fans (who probably wouldn't even notice).


I think it'd be interesting to see how it affected the catching market. You'd immediately eliminate a couple of guys, McCann comes to mind, who's only defensive saving grace is framing. It'd be interesting to see if that lowered C output, or if it would reduce the emphasis on Catcher D and we'd see fewer guys moved off the position who can hit.
   21. Swedish Chef Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:10 PM (#4407452)
That first part baffles me. As bad as excessive strikeouts are, the last thing on earth baseball needs is more walks.

Easy fix: bring back 9 balls for a walk.
   22. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:13 PM (#4407456)
Baseball is more exciting when the ball is in play, not out of play.

I would disagree. Generally, I find home runs more exciting than singles, and strikeouts more exciting than groundouts.

If you really want to limit strikeouts (the only common event that 'runs the clock' without the ball in play), limit the number of pitchers that can be used in 9 innings to two. You can then deaden the ball or whatever to keep offense from exploding out of control.
   23. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:20 PM (#4407464)
And I wish they'd do it soon. I've long been railing against the TTOification of the game for several years.

Seconded. It's embarrassing to watch major league hitters so often swing at pitches 5 feet out of the strike zone and miss them by six feet. Quibblers will posit that it's happening because pitchers are so much better, but no.

Compared to the 80s the game is just really boring now.(*) The strikeouts, the taking pitches, the swing for the fences, the fielders standing around, the interminable pitching changes. It's almost unfathomable that they're going to add regular instant replay delays and guesswork to the current package of snooze.

(*) Once teams and players began to consciously work to raise the other team's starters' pitch counts, it was inevitable. The erosion of the cultural shame of striking out amplified it. Hitters take hittable pitches just to take the pitch, which puts them in pitchers' counts, which makes them flail embarrassingly.
   24. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:25 PM (#4407470)
If you really want to limit strikeouts (the only common event that 'runs the clock' without the ball in play), limit the number of pitchers that can be used in 9 innings to two.

I'd say four. That would help a little.

The game was never intended to have American League teams use 7 and 8 pitchers in a 9 inning game. That should be changed by next season at the latest.
   25. DL from MN Posted: April 08, 2013 at 12:44 PM (#4407489)
There is one other thing that hasn't been mentioned that will shift the balance away from pitchers and toward hitters - expansion. It is probably time for MLB to add two more teams. That will dilute the talent pool enough to add more balls in play. It will also add more non-power hitters to the big leagues.

Adding the DH to the NL would also decrease strikeouts and put more balls in play but I doubt the people who want to bring back smallball consider that the solution.

Getting Oakland a new stadium with less foul territory would be a marginal improvement.

If "too many relievers" is the problem I would favor limiting the # of roster spots for pitchers to 11.
   26. Voros McCracken of Pinkus Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:14 PM (#4407521)
If "too many relievers" is the problem I would favor limiting the # of roster spots for pitchers to 11.

The problem with that is it goes a step too far in assigning roles to players in order to put them on a roster. The roster is 25 'players', and though most listings break them down by position, that's irrelevant.

IOW, who counts as a pitcher? Suddenly guys like Micah Owings might see a boost to their value.
   27. AROM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:32 PM (#4407537)
Suddenly guys like Micah Owings might see a boost to their value.


You could make teams declare who is eligible to pitch before the game starts. If he's on the roster as a !B, then he can't pitch that game.

Just saying it could be handled doesn't mean it's a good idea though. Any attempt to limit the number of pitcher used, what do you do when you're losing 15-2 and nobody you've put on the mound can get an out? How about when you've got the last pitcher you're allowed to use and he gets hurt?

As pointed out, it may be impossible to retrofit a 450 foot center field in most parks. Deadening the ball could accomplish some of the same effect. I really would like to see baseball played in such big parks though. We've got bigger and stronger hitters, they should not be playing in smaller parks than baseball played back in the old days.

One effect of bigger parks (if it were feasible) is you'd have to put a premium on speed for your outfielders. It would become almost a no-brainer to play, say, Bourjos over Trumbo. That type of switch would further reduce the true outcomes.
   28. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:36 PM (#4407545)
Voros (26): That's pretty simple: a pitcher is anyone who faces more batters than he takes plate appearances. A team could, in theory, be penalized at the end of each season (with loss of draft picks or somesuch) for having more than 11 players qualified as pitchers on the roster for so much as a single day. That would suffice to dissuade teams from trying to game the system.

DL from MN (25): How does an expansion dilute the hitting talent pool but not the pitching talent pool?

Anyway, the solution to pitching changes is obvious: institute a rule that no pitcher may be removed before he has either completed the current inning or yielded a run chargeable to him. Any pitcher removed in violation of this rule is ineligible to pitch for the next 15 days. Managers can use a new pitcher every inning if they want; it's the mid-inning pitching changes that suck the excitement out of the game.

Just saying it could be handled doesn't mean it's a good idea though. Any attempt to limit the number of pitcher used, what do you do when you're losing 15-2 and nobody you've put on the mound can get an out?


Even now, that is really a situation where a position player should just go out there and take a few innings' worth of drubbing for the team. I honestly think managers could do a lot more than they do to recognize when a game is lost and let one unimportant pitcher, or a position player, just go out and pitch until the game ends, preserving the bullpen in not-exhausted status.
   29. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:43 PM (#4407553)
I would caution against 'big' changes. most dynamic systems it only takes small things to generate significant change

also, one should always seek to return to the basics and find out what has already been defined and not being followed

so establishing that baseball could call the defined strike zone and see what happens

and call batters out for messing with the batters box. maybe you move the batter off the plate by 2 inches by moving the box.

but moving fences or deadening the ball are more extreme measures and I would put them down the list.
   30. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:47 PM (#4407557)
Any attempt to limit the number of pitcher used, what do you do when you're losing 15-2 and nobody you've put on the mound can get an out? How about when you've got the last pitcher you're allowed to use and he gets hurt?

How about: You can use additional pitchers, but the pitcher substituted for (i.e., the last pitcher eligible by rule) has to go on the 15-day DL? Teams will probably still play around with that by putting in pitchers they don't care about losing for 15 days, but so be it. I'd put something like a mandatory 30-pitch minimum on it, too.

I see no real downside to banning the mid-inning pitching change. If a guy really can't get anyone out, or gets genuinely hurt, he can go to the 15-day DL.

   31. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 01:56 PM (#4407566)
How about: You can use additional pitchers, but the pitcher substituted for (i.e., the last pitcher eligible by rule) has to go on the 15-day DL? Teams will probably still play around with that by putting in pitchers they don't care about losing for 15 days, but so be it. I'd put something like a mandatory 30-pitch minimum on it, too.


It should be kept separate from the DL and just be an ineligible list. I think putting pitchers who aren't actually injured on the DL could provoke a grievance. In practice this rule would never be violated for that reason; making a pitcher who isn't seriously injured ineligible for 15 days would instantly provoke a grievance.

I see no relevance at all for the pitch count. The thing we're trying to stop is the ####### mid-inning pitching changes.

29 (Harveys): Agree completely. These problems can be solved with subtle changes to the rules, most notably calling a real strike zone and getting rid of the whip-handled bats.
   32. Drexl Spivey Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:01 PM (#4407573)
If there's a bee in your bonnet, just take off your hat.
   33. salvomania Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:02 PM (#4407576)
It also means fewer chances for players to leg out extra base hits and fewer close plays on the bases. It’s exciting to watch defenders chasing balls and runners speeding around the bases and we don’t get to see so much of that anymore.

How much more often are these true outcomes happening? I’ll get into more detail below, but they have increased from 17 per game for both teams in 1981 to 24 last year and so far this year. That is about a 40% increase which is huge.


Expanding on what Zack says, the premise put forward here----TTO have increased 40%, so there's a commensurate decrease in fielding plays---is flawed.

There's still 54 (or 51) outs to be made in a 9-inning game, and strikeouts have increased from 9.5/game in 1981 to 15/game in 2012. So that's 5-6 fewer fielding plays per 51-54 outs, or about a 10% decrease in fielding plays.

Doubles are up 18% on a per-game basis since 1981, although triples are down about the same amount. It doesn't seem like more TTO = fewer chances to see players flying around the bases or defenders chasing balls.
   34. SoSH U at work Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:05 PM (#4407579)
it's the mid-inning pitching changes that suck the excitement out of the game.


Exactly. Between-inning changes are pretty much meaningless.

I'd simply require a minimum of two batters faced for the first reliever summoned, and growing from there (3,4,5 etc.). The only exception is when a pitcher is relieved for injury, in which case he has to sit for a certain number of days (I probably wouldn't go as high as 15, but I'm with you in spirit). Honestly, hell, baseball should already mandate a minimum time off period for pitchers yanked mid-inning for injury.
   35. Matt Welch Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:06 PM (#4407581)
Re: 1981, the absence of warm-weather months (I do imagine) had a lot to do with the suppressed offense, particularly the suppressed HR totals. It's a mini-outlier in that respect; the main point when you look at the full TTO graf is that a consistent upward trajectory was interrupted in the period from the mid-'60s to 1992 or so (by monkeying with mounds & strike zones & cavernous stadiums), and then picked up basically exactly where it would have left off. Perhaps this is something close to the natural evolution of the sport, if such a thing exists?
   36. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:14 PM (#4407588)
I see no relevance at all for the pitch count. The thing we're trying to stop is the ####### mid-inning pitching changes.


I should have been more clear. Before a pitcher can be pulled at all for "not being able to get anyone out," he needs to have thrown a minimum number of pitches. He can't be pulled before this minimum threshold for any reason, other than actual injury. Thirty was really just a discussion starting point.

   37. GuyM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:15 PM (#4407590)
I think deeper fences is intriguing, but it's not going to happen. I suspect the only way to reduce Ks without increasing offense is to employ a 2-step solution: 1) lower the mound or move it back, and 2) deaden the ball enough to keep HRs from exploding.

MLB should use the minors to experiment with some options. Maybe try a 61' home-mound distance in an A league, and see what happens.
   38. DL from MN Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:18 PM (#4407598)
they should not be playing in smaller parks than baseball played back in the old days


Bring back the Polo Grounds?

(28) - the pitching would be diluted as well with more pitchers with lower strikeout percentages. Fewer HR and fewer Ks would mean more balls in play.

I like the idea of beefing up the bat handles. It would also mean fewer broken bats which would speed up play.
   39. DL from MN Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:23 PM (#4407607)
Re: 1981 - there may be a hangover from the break also. Players tend to hit better when they have consistent reps. I can't imagine a long break helped them keep their batting eye.
   40. jdennis Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:30 PM (#4407612)
I enjoy a game with singles and doubles more than just home runs and walks. I am fine with greater offense but less home runs and strikeouts. also, I am annoyed by how many less innings pitchers throw nowadays. I think, though, that pitchers would adjust to the greater number of hits and it would change back again to more k/bb. it is kind of annoying when you get .220 hitters leading the league in hr and rbi, and k. we are right back in the 80s.

they won't move the fences back because of the cost. I mean, just the cost of the extra real estate is probably huge. however, if I were a mega-rich owner, I would move my fences back and build my team accordingly.

they won't move the mound back because of the injury risk. also, pitchers will pitch even fewer innings that way.

that leaves only equipment changes. the bat rule is mentioned. they could use a slightly softer ball with the excuse of safety. it might lead to more hbp.

part of it, though, is that current players are taught not to be bothered by strikeouts and even to take them in a double play situation. further there is the only swing at 1 pitch per ab crowd, leading to tons of both k and bb. the 3to stats of today are not just a function of the physical details. hr increases are a function of the ballpark size but k and bb increases are the function of the baseball culture which you can't just tell them to change.
   41. SoSH U at work Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:38 PM (#4407619)
but k and bb increases are the function of the baseball culture which you can't just tell them to change.


You can't tell them, but in a MLB world where walks and homers are more diffiuclt to attain, it will put more a premium on putting the ball in play vs. swinging and missing. When that happens, hitters will either adjust their approach, or teams will begin to select for players who are better at that skill.

As has been noted, the real outlier right now on the TTO front is the Ks, so we may be in the early stages of seeing something like this happen organically, rather than through rule change.

Additionally, I too would love to see larger ballparks, which is why I find it so annoying when the proprietors of good, hearty pitchers parks succumb to the nonsense and pull in the fences.
   42. DL from MN Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:41 PM (#4407627)
The other equipment change you can enforce pretty easily is smaller gloves.

Does removing astroturf in favor of grass have an effect?
   43. SoSH U at work Posted: April 08, 2013 at 02:51 PM (#4407642)

Does removing astroturf in favor of grass have an effect?


Possibly, in one of the ways that larger outfields can have an effect. If teams are selecting their outfielders for running ability in order to cut off more balls into the gap, it could have an effect on the offensive side as well (more slap-type hitters vs. lumbering big fly guys).

It's one reason I miss turf. Aesthetically it was an abomination, but I liked how it put a premium on a different set of skills than my team's home ballpark did.

   44. Gaelan Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:06 PM (#4407666)
By eye, the big difference is relief pitching. Every team has numerous relief pitchers who throw unhittable pitch after unhittable pitch. Thisleads to lots of walks and strikeouts and, if they fall behind and are forced to throw a strike, more homeruns. The last three innings of a game are very different from the first six.

I'd like to see the data broken down into starting pitchers and relievers. If I'm correct, and I'm pretty sure I am, then any wholesale solution like strike zones, or bats, or fences, would create rather larger unintended consequences.

   45. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:07 PM (#4407667)
I think deeper fences is intriguing, but it's not going to happen. I suspect the only way to reduce Ks without increasing offense is to employ a 2-step solution: 1) lower the mound or move it back, and 2) deaden the ball enough to keep HRs from exploding.


I hate to come off as a broken record, but thicker bat handles really is the easy solution to this. Slower bats = more contact, less power. It's a far better solution than deadening the ball.

I personally would like to see fewer walks because they're real time-eaters that don't pay off with anything exciting. But I'm in the minority there.
   46. GuyM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:18 PM (#4407689)
I'd like to see the data broken down into starting pitchers and relievers. If I'm correct, and I'm pretty sure I am, then any wholesale solution like strike zones, or bats, or fences, would create rather larger unintended consequences.

You are not correct. Change in K%, 1992, 2012, Delta.
Starters: 14.0%, 18.7%, +34%
Relievers: 16.1%, 21.9%, +36%
   47. Robert in Manhattan Beach Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:32 PM (#4407696)
How about if you strike out, your next time up, or your lineup spot's next time up, the count starts 0-1? The punishment for striking out needs to be bigger if you want to get rid of them.
   48. GuyM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:40 PM (#4407713)
K% overall: 19.8%. K% after 0-1 count: 27.6%. I do not think this rule will reduce strikeouts!
   49. zack Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:53 PM (#4407731)
How about if you strike out, your next time up, or your lineup spot's next time up, the count starts 0-1? The punishment for striking out needs to be bigger if you want to get rid of them.

Yeesh, no way. The incentives for the pitcher with that rule are outrageous. K's and BB's would be way up.
   50. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 03:59 PM (#4407735)
It's not just the striking out; it's taking hittable pitches, wasting time, stepping out to redo your gloves, scratching your nuts a couple times, and then flailing at a pitch three feet out of the strike zone for strike three.

A really radical idea that might actually work would be, presuming balls/strikes called by auto-ump, would be that a pitch in a small "bulls-eye" mid-plate, waist-high, that the hitter takes for the first strike, is an automatic strikeout.

   51. AROM Posted: April 08, 2013 at 04:21 PM (#4407751)
Yeesh, no way. The incentives for the pitcher with that rule are outrageous. K's and BB's would be way up.


You could balance it by giving the pitcher a penalty for walking hitters - next time that lineup spot comes up he starts 1-0. That might keep him throwing in the zone instead of fishing for the K.
   52. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 04:21 PM (#4407752)
A really radical idea that might actually work would be, presuming balls/strikes called by auto-ump, would be that a pitch in a small "bulls-eye" mid-plate, waist-high, that the hitter takes for the first strike, is an automatic strikeout.


That hardly ever happens, though? That happens on 3-0 but I pretty near never see it on 0-0. In the major leagues if you throw a fastball right down the middle on any count but 3-0 it's pretty reliably going to get launched into outer space.
   53. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 08, 2013 at 04:30 PM (#4407762)
In the same way that it wasn't designed with the intention that teams use 7 pitchers in a 9 inning game, I'd venture that the game wasn't designed for hitters to take hittable strikes. Hitting a baseball is difficult, as is telling whether a major-league caliber breaking pitch will wind up in the strike zone, so the rules rightly give the hitter three strikes. But beyond playing the percentages and occasionally taking on 3-0, the game was likely designed for hitters to swing at strikes and not consciously let them go by to make the pitcher throw more pitches or otherwise gain an ancillary advantage.

Without knowing it for a fact, it's a reasonable surmise that the game's history and early commentary support this reading.
   54. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 04:50 PM (#4407774)
True, but then we have to ask the question of whether how they played baseball in 1880 is relevant to how we want to play it now.
   55. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 08, 2013 at 04:59 PM (#4407785)
BIP/PA had been remarkably constant since the mid-50s, running around 75%. When the AL adopted the DH, BIP/PA actually went up a tick (as might be expected, since pitchers have a low contact rate in general), but the rate started coming down again after the 1981 strike. By 1993 it had dropped to ~73% - and then it dropped a lot in the 1994 strike season, down to 71%, and by 2000 it had dropped down to 70%. It stabilized and went back up during the early part of the 2000s, but then dropped back down again, went below 70% for the first time in 2009, and has been in the upper 60s since.

A 2% drop in BIP/PA over one year is a *huge* fluctuation. From 1968-1969 when the mound was lowered and the strike zone shrunk, the rate dropped 1.3%, and by 1972 as everyone adjusted to the new conditions the BIP rate went back up to close to where it was before the big zone era.

-- MWE

   56. Walt Davis Posted: April 08, 2013 at 05:36 PM (#4407828)
Defensive inactivity ... so Jeter was just ahead of his time?

I think these aesthetic arguments are kinda silly. OK, BIP/PA has dropped 7%. An average game is about 76 PA so that's about 5 fewer BIP per game. Yes that's a "huge" difference but, c'mon, 5 BIP per game makes a massive aesthetic difference? When only about 1.5 of those BIP resulted in hits while about .8 of those non-BIP result in a HR?

On pitching changes, easier than limiting roster spots is to just change the rule and require a pitcher to face at least 2 or 3 batters before being replaced. Or limit the number of pitching changes in an inning -- although I think you have to allow at least two which won't solve the problem I don't think. You can even turn either rule off in the playoffs if you want.
   57. zenbitz Posted: April 08, 2013 at 05:56 PM (#4407864)
You guys got it all wrong.

Bring IN the fences 100'. Make them 40 foot (60')? concrete or brick (pad the bottom 10). Remove 1 outfielder.

Bazinga!
   58. Austin Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:02 PM (#4407867)
I like TTO baseball in general, but like a few others in this thread, what I'd really like to see is for the outfield fences to be about 50-75 feet deeper all the way around. (Of course it isn't possible, but let's dispense with practical concerns for the sake of discussion.) I think singles and routine in-play outs are the most boring plays, and speed plays (both defense and baserunning) are the most exciting. I would gladly trade home runs (and, I suspect, walks and strikeouts as well) in exchange for more doubles, triples, and running catches. It seems to me that anti-TTO measures are not worth doing if they'll lead to weaker contact and a greater number of dull plays, but I have to think that moving the fences out would be the right kind of anti-TTO measure.
   59. cardsfanboy Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:10 PM (#4407873)
The problem with that is it goes a step too far in assigning roles to players in order to put them on a roster. The roster is 25 'players', and though most listings break them down by position, that's irrelevant.

IOW, who counts as a pitcher? Suddenly guys like Micah Owings might see a boost to their value.


That isn't an issue. A player's pitcher/position determination is determined by which they have the greater amount in the current or preceeding season plate appearances or batters faced. (with the league being able to step in in case of a weird situation arising such as using a backup position player as a reliever for two innings on opening day) People bring this up as if it's a deterrent to declaring eligibility, and I just don't see any reason why.

(Or as Paste pointed out)

You could make teams declare who is eligible to pitch before the game starts. If he's on the roster as a !B, then he can't pitch that game.

Just saying it could be handled doesn't mean it's a good idea though. Any attempt to limit the number of pitcher used, what do you do when you're losing 15-2 and nobody you've put on the mound can get an out? How about when you've got the last pitcher you're allowed to use and he gets hurt?



you pointed to the problem with that. You can't make players ineligible for a position, but you can control the number of preferred players for a pitching role.

Anyway, the solution to pitching changes is obvious: institute a rule that no pitcher may be removed before he has either completed the current inning or yielded a run chargeable to him. Any pitcher removed in violation of this rule is ineligible to pitch for the next 15 days. Managers can use a new pitcher every inning if they want; it's the mid-inning pitching changes that suck the excitement out of the game.


Not a fan of this solution. Not sure what the best solution is, but this is too restrictive. I would argue that a pitcher has to face a minimum of three batters, but requiring any more is excessive(or inning completes). Agree with the removal rule, as to get around this problem you could always claim injury, but you have to be willing to risk dling the player. (again maybe too restrictive, but at least removing the pitcher from current series and next series)

I would caution against 'big' changes. most dynamic systems it only takes small things to generate significant change

also, one should always seek to return to the basics and find out what has already been defined and not being followed

so establishing that baseball could call the defined strike zone and see what happens

and call batters out for messing with the batters box. maybe you move the batter off the plate by 2 inches by moving the box.

but moving fences or deadening the ball are more extreme measures and I would put them down the list.


Absolutely agree. I don't think there is any reason for a radical change to the fundamental game. Just stress the existing rules. I do think that expanding the strike zone will lead to more in play outs. Not more strike outs. As it stands players are able to pick a spot to look for a pitch and wait on it (note: this is the way Aaron played, so it's not entirely new) and swing from their heels on those pitches, the thing is with a smaller strikezone, the advantage is to the batter and they don't have to expand their strike zone as much. With a bigger strike zone, they have to be more protective of a larger area. Before there were only about 4 zones the pitchers can throw, expand it, and now there are six zones to pay attention.


   60. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:37 PM (#4407910)
Expanding the strike zone without changing anything else would just cause strikeouts to explode, I expect. You wouldn't see guys striking out 300 times a year (I think about 250 is the most you can get away with without losing your job) but all the guys that typically strike out 80 times a year would jump right to striking out 125 times a year and we'd be back in 1968, or worse.

Combine it with slowing down the bats and we might have something. You want to help the hitters make contact, not make it even harder for them to do so.
   61. cardsfanboy Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:43 PM (#4407925)
Expanding the strike zone without changing anything else would just cause strikeouts to explode, I expect. You wouldn't see guys striking out 300 times a year (I think about 250 is the most you can get away with without losing your job) but all the guys that typically strike out 80 times a year would jump right to striking out 125 times a year and we'd be back in 1968, or worse.


I don't think so. I imagine at first it would lead to an increase, but when it becomes too difficult to cover the entire strike zone by looking in one spot, the batters would have to expand their zone, which would lead to them naturally slowing down their bats.

I guess it depends in what school of thought you are on why strikeouts are happening.

I'm in the school of thought that strikeouts are increasing because the batters accept it as part of the package of more power and more walks. (there are other factors, of course) If you increase the strikezone(to the book) the batters would see that the style of hitting that worked in the past was no longer working as they would see a decrease in walks, decrease in homeruns, and would have to adjust the way they approach the at bat to maintain value.

   62. Moeball Posted: April 08, 2013 at 06:53 PM (#4407932)
Any attempt to limit the number of pitcher used, what do you do when you're losing 15-2 and nobody you've put on the mound can get an out?


Before a pitcher can be pulled at all for "not being able to get anyone out," he needs to have thrown a minimum number of pitches. He can't be pulled before this minimum threshold for any reason, other than actual injury. Thirty was really just a discussion starting point.


Once upon a time (holy crapoli, this was about 27 years ago now!) I was at this game. LaMarr Hoyt was in his last season with the Padres and, on this particular day, he just could not get anybody out. My seats were such that I could see both Hoyt on the mound and Padres manager Dick Williams (standing on the steps of the dugout) pretty well; there was a very animated conversation going on between them for about 3 innings, complete with lots of arm gesturing. Hoyt was basically saying "I got absolutely nothin' here, get me the heck out of here!" and Williams was saying "I need to get more than a couple innings out you; you got into this mess, get yourself out of it!" Williams finally pulled Hoyt in the 4th inning after he'd allowed 13 hits and 9 runs...just illustrates what can happen if you're limiting the number of pitchers you're going to use.
   63. JJ1986 Posted: April 08, 2013 at 07:26 PM (#4407967)
Whatever solution there is, it should involve eliminating warmup pitches in the middle of an inning. It would take 30 seconds to change pitchers without them.
   64. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:07 PM (#4408000)
Whatever solution there is, it should involve eliminating warmup pitches in the middle of an inning. It would take 30 seconds to change pitchers without them.


Which strikes at the real eldritch horror at the bottom of the problem: pitching changes = commercials.
   65. cardsfanboy Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:07 PM (#4408001)
Whatever solution there is, it should involve eliminating warmup pitches in the middle of an inning. It would take 30 seconds to change pitchers without them.


Yep... really, what is the purpose of this? Actually I kinda understand that the feel of the mound from the bullpen to the gameday mound could be different due to more usage that day, but not sure that a full warm up is necessary to figure that out.
   66. smileyy Posted: April 08, 2013 at 08:41 PM (#4408023)
Austin -- it sounds like you want to increase Line Drive %, without the corresponding increase in home run rate?
   67. tiger337 Posted: April 08, 2013 at 09:30 PM (#4408057)
That first part baffles me. As bad as excessive strikeouts are, the last thing on earth baseball needs is more walks.


That is true. I prefer to have strikeouts decrease indirectly by making it more difficult to hit home runs (by any of the ways discussed above). Of course, it's unlikely that MLB would look to decrease home runs since most fans like them.

   68. PASTE Thinks This Trout Kid Might Be OK (Zeth) Posted: April 08, 2013 at 11:05 PM (#4408106)
The main problem with jacking up the average score of a baseball game to 13-10 is it would make the games take four and a half, five hours to play. If you solved that problem then I suspect most casual fans would actually like the game better that way.
   69. bjhanke Posted: April 08, 2013 at 11:30 PM (#4408131)
Just a couple of observations, not intended to propose anything like a complete solution:

1. The Lords of Baseball deliberately and publicly expanded the strike zone, insisting that the umpires call high strikes, before the 2001 season. Result? 73 homers for Barry Bonds, 54 for Luis Gonzalez, a career year for Sammy Sosa, although he didn't hit a career-record number of homers, and a complete fiasco of a steroids scandal. What seems to have happened is that some batters who had never swung at that high inside pitch before, because it was a ball, found out that they had a sweet spot there before the pitchers figured out not to throw that pitch to that batter. I've looked at ESPN's replay of all of Barry's 73 several times, and that's exactly what it looks like, including that McCovey Cove is, I believe, pretty much right down the right field line.

2. When Whitey Herzog left the Cardinals, they brought the outfield fence IN several feet. The main reason was that, in that ballpark, spectators in the upper decks were watching baseball played by ants. The second reason was that nobody could hit any homers in that giant expanse of Astroturf. They now have a new, smaller park, but probably could expand the outfield territory in some places. The question is whether you prefer Whiteyball to the current style of Cardinal play, where, among other things, you need a left fielder who can run like Lou Brock, Lonnie Smith and Vince Coleman, regardless of whether they are actually good outfielders or can hit homers. No more Matt Hollidays, Allen Craigs or Matt Adamses, except for one at first base.

3. Anything that increases offensive activity in baseball should be discouraged. Oh, wait. You meant runs scored activity. - Brock Hanke
   70. Walt Davis Posted: April 09, 2013 at 12:29 AM (#4408156)
I'd venture that the game wasn't designed for hitters to take hittable strikes

But apparently it was because, as Ruth discovered, it's how (many, most) hitters should approach the game to maximize productivity.

Also there's a difference between a "hittable" strike and a "contactable" strike. It is generally a mistake for a batter to swing at a contactable but not hittable strike (exceptions being with 2 strikes (barring DP possibilitie) or possibly runner at 3rd with <2 outs). Which is, in large part, the difference between "old school" and "new school" hitting approaches.

Some bit of what changed was you went from tons of errors to a lot fewer errors. Back in the 1870s, a groundball to the SS was probably a pretty productive play. So just get fielding percentages down to around .9 and it will make tons of sense to just put the ball in play (300 BABIP plus 100 ROEBIP looks mighty nice).
   71. bobm Posted: April 09, 2013 at 07:35 AM (#4408212)
[62]
Once upon a time (holy crapoli, this was about 27 years ago now!) I was at this game. LaMarr Hoyt was in his last season with the Padres and, on this particular day, he just could not get anybody out. My seats were such that I could see both Hoyt on the mound and Padres manager Dick Williams (standing on the steps of the dugout) pretty well


Your eyesight was pretty good if you could see Seattle Mariners manager Dick Williams from your seats in San Francisco. :-)

http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=9BM0AAAAIBAJ&sjid=NDIHAAAAIBAJ&dq=padres&pg=4552,7559524

San Diego starter LaMarr Hoyt, 2-4, surrenders 13 hts and nine earned runs in 3 1-3 innings. Tim Stoddard, Mark Thurmond and [outfielder Dane] Iorg allowed the other nine runs and eight hits.

Thurmond, normally a starter, volunteered to pitch Monday after an early kayo Sunday. [Manager Steve] Boros said he had been hoping for at least six innings from Hoyt.

"We had a tough series in Los Angeles," said Boros. "We played three excellent ball games, but we had to go to our bullpen in all three games
. We'll be in better shape tomorrow. [Emphasis added]"


Things have changed since 1986. Padres pitching in the previous three games:

June 20, 1986
                                             
Pitching                   IP H R ER BB SO HR
Dave Dravecky             5.1 6 2  2  2  1  1
Lance McCullers W (3-1)   1.2 2 1  1  0  0  0
Rich Gossage S (11)         2 1 1  1  2  1  0
Team Totals                 9 9 4  4  4  2  1


June 21, 1986
                                              
Pitching                   IP  H R ER BB SO HR
Andy Hawkins              5.2  6 5  1  2  7  0
Tim Stoddard              0.1  1 0  0  0  0  0
Craig Lefferts              1  2 0  0  1  0  0
Gene Walter                 1  1 1  1  0  2  1
Rich Gossage                3  2 1  1  0  1  0
Lance McCullers W (4-1)     3  0 0  0  1  4  0
Team Totals                14 12 7  3  4 14  1


June 22, 1986
                                            
Pitching                  IP H R ER BB SO HR
Mark Thurmond              4 6 4  1  3  2  0
Gene Walter              1.1 1 0  0  3  2  0
Craig Lefferts W (5-2)   3.2 2 0  0  0  3  0
Team Totals                9 9 4  1  6  7  0




   72. depletion Posted: April 09, 2013 at 07:37 AM (#4408213)
Use a larger, softer baseball. Moving out fences would be nice, but is prohibitively expensive in some parks.
   73. GuyM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 09:32 AM (#4408263)
I guess it depends in what school of thought you are on why strikeouts are happening. I'm in the school of thought that strikeouts are increasing because the batters accept it as part of the package of more power and more walks. (there are other factors, of course)

Based on the comments and rule suggestions, many here seem to share this assumption. But I think the evidence suggests that the rise in strikeouts has virtually nothing to do with hitters' strategy -- this is a function of rising pitcher skill and shrewder pitcher usage. If hitters are trading strikeouts for more walks and power, they're doing a crappy job of it:

2002:
HR9 1.1
BB9 3.4
K9 6.5

2012:
HR9 1.0
BB9 3.1
K9 7.6

If you want to reduce Ks, you can't focus on changing hitters' incentives. I suppose if you radically reduced HRs, over time some sluggers would be replaced by light-hitting contact hitters. But it's not like there are a lot of potential .320 hitters stuck in AAA.

It's also worth noting that plenty of Ks come from guys with no power. Hitters with ISO>150 average about a 19% K rate, while those with ISO<150 average about 16%. That's a gap, but that second group is still striking out at a pretty good clip. Moving the fences or thickening bat handles isn't going to change their hitting strategy, and so won't change their K rates -- it will just turn 10 HR guys into 5 HR guys.

   74. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 09, 2013 at 09:49 AM (#4408274)
I'd venture that the game wasn't designed for hitters to take hittable strikes

But apparently it was because, as Ruth discovered, it's how (many, most) hitters should approach the game to maximize productivity.


I don't think this is what Ruth was doing. He only K'd 12% of the time, batted .342, and I would guess his walk rate was mostly due to pitching around him.

Nobody batting .342 is a TTO slugger.

Ruth's innovation was intentionally hitting fly balls (upper-cut swing) rather than keeping the ball on the ground. Because he hit fly balls farther than anyone in history, this worked out really well for him.
   75. DL from MN Posted: April 09, 2013 at 09:53 AM (#4408276)
Use a larger, softer baseball.


Also don't allow leading off or stealing, only two homeruns a game and everyone who makes it to 3B has to chug a beer....
   76. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 09, 2013 at 09:57 AM (#4408278)
Also don't allow leading off or stealing, only two homeruns a game and everyone who makes it to 3B has to chug a beer....

Wait, you're eliminating the 1B beer? Have you no respect for tradition?
   77. AROM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 09:57 AM (#4408279)
Bring IN the fences 100'. Make them 40 foot (60')? concrete or brick (pad the bottom 10). Remove 1 outfielder.

Bazinga!


Line drive deep to left. Off the wall. Ichiro plays it off the bounce, throw to first, IN TIME for the out.
   78. DL from MN Posted: April 09, 2013 at 10:03 AM (#4408288)
There are a number of parks that could move fences back. I don't know if it will help though. To make a difference those teams would have to build for that park. Baseball tends to stamp out variation pretty quickly.
   79. GuyM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 10:33 AM (#4408313)
I don't think this is what Ruth was doing. He only K'd 12% of the time, batted .342...

Yes, but the average K% was only 7.7% over Ruth's career. He was well above average in striking out (he led the league 5 times, once while still a pitcher!). And his walk rate was 2.5x league average. I think it's fair to say Ruth took a lot of pitches. In fact, it's hard to hit .342 without being selective.

and I would guess his walk rate was mostly due to pitching around him

Ya think?

   80. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 09, 2013 at 10:42 AM (#4408323)
Yes, but the average K% was only 7.7% over Ruth's career. He was well above average in striking out (he led the league 5 times, once while still a pitcher!). And his walk rate was 2.5x league average. I think it's fair to say Ruth took a lot of pitches. In fact, it's hard to hit .342 without being selective.

Sure, but I'm guessing he took a lot of balls. He wasn't taking strikes, looking for a walk, or looking in a limited zone where he could drive the ball.. I would guess he tried to clobber any pitch he thought he could hit (which were most of the strikes).
   81. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:01 AM (#4408353)
I'm with GuyM that you can't consider reducing K's solely (or even primarily) from the hitter's side. The reason K's have been ever-increasing is that there are unbalanced incentives between the pitcher and hitter. For the pitcher, more K's are always good*, and for the hitter, K's are mostly irrelevant. The push will be from the pitcher's evolving, and the hitter's not really caring.

So lots of things that would incentivize hitters to put the ball in play would actually dis-incentivize pitchers to do the same, like reducing glove sizes. Deadening the ball might work for both, though as someone said above we don't really want to reduce doubles and triples. I'm not really sure if it's a solvable problem, though I like thinking about it. Getting batters to choke up on two-strikes would solve a lot of the issues, how do you do that?

*Save concerns about tiring, which are minimal with modern bullpen usage, and among the relief pitchers themselves.
   82. Ron J2 Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:04 AM (#4408356)
I think it's fair to say Ruth took a lot of pitches.


One of Ruth's books talks about the need to not swing at pitcher's pitches. He calls hitters who swing at pitches they can't drive selfish. IOW not too different from Ted Williams in terms of hitting philosophy. Look for pitches you can drive and hit the snot out of them. Be willing to take a walk rather than swing at a pitcher's pitch.

Unlike Williams he didn't talk about this constantly (and yeah, of course he didn't write the book in question. And may not have known precisely what was said in the book.) ,but I think it's pretty clear he was always a very disciplined hitter.

One way to look at this is too look at his home stats in his days in Boston. He really wasn't a great HR threat (and wasn't even a regular the whole time) and still walked an awful lot.

Ruth 1914-1919

AB  H  2B 3B HR  BB   BA  OBP  SLG
Home 519 162 47 17 11 102 .312 .425 .532
Road 591 180 35 13 38  87 .305 .394 .601 


(splits from Pete Palmer's research. Might not match what Retrosheet has now, but I'd expect them to be close)

As you can see, not really a HR threat in Boston (those 11 HR are a substantial portion of the HR hit there in that time frame. It was practically an impossible HR park back then) and he actually walked more in Boston than on the road.

EDIT: Minor cleanup
   83. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:15 AM (#4408373)
The other day I was charting the number of events per game from 1955-2013, and the thing that jumped out besides the steady increase in strikeouts (delayed by the lowering of the mound), was that the biggest mover was HBPs, which generally followed the trend in strikeouts. The climbed slowly from around .2 per game to .24 in 1968, trended downward gradually to .16 in 1984, the shot up continually to around .37 in 2006. Then they diverige from K's and drop just as steadily as they climbed to .31 last year. Is the latter the removal of body armor?
   84. SoSH U at work Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:23 AM (#4408381)
I'm with GuyM that you can't consider reducing K's solely (or even primarily) from the hitter's side. The reason K's have been ever-increasing is that there are unbalanced incentives between the pitcher and hitter. For the pitcher, more K's are always good*,


But they've always been good, and always been perceived as being good (or at least the last 100 years) for the pitcher.

But there once was a strong anti-strikeout culture among batsmen. Striking out was considered a greater failiure than any other kind of out. It's been the relaxing of that attitude on the offensive side that has preceded the high K era we're in. There is no anti-strikeout stigma, even among light hitting types. Players are encouraged to step in and swing their hardest.

It's oft-stated that pitcher Ks are always good but batter Ks aren't really bad. But that's not really accurate. Sure, there's no difference between a K and any other kind of out as a batter. But there's also no difference between a K and any other kind of out for a pitcher (at least in the results sense, not in the predictive one). An out is an out on both sides of the ledger.

The more relevant question is, from the hitting side, is what's the difference between swinging and missing and making contact? And right now, from my perspective, the results gap isn't large enough between those two outcomes (part of my feeling is based on aesthetics and part on just the simple belief that swinging and missing should be the ultimate failure in the batter's box).

I'm not really sure how that's fixed, though I do think the bat handle width is a good place to start (I don't believe that any of these changes are going to simply trade HRs for groundouts to second. I don't see any reason to think it will reduce doubles, triples etc.). But echoing Harvey above, I do oppose major changes to the way the game is played.

   85. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:33 AM (#4408393)
But they've always been good, and always been perceived as being good (or at least the last 100 years) for the pitcher.

Not so much when there was 1 pitcher per team, or 1 pitcher per game, as there were different incentives, but we're not really talking about that time. I agree that there has been a culture change on the hitting side, but I think that culture change is due to a better understanding of the game. If you want K's to be anathema, then you'd have to radically change the punishment for missing, but I don't think you really want it to be the "ultimate failure".

The other trend we haven't really discussed is that pitchers used to throw lots of slop. Now a huge portion of the pitching population throws in the upper 90's, and we have splitters, forkballs, sinkers, sliders, and cutters which are all relatively modern as diffuse pitches. Then there's weight lifting on both ends, and I'm done talking about developments in baseball because that's the subject of a book.
   86. GuyM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:36 AM (#4408395)
But there once was a strong anti-strikeout culture among batsmen. Striking out was considered a greater failiure than any other kind of out. It's been the relaxing of that attitude on the offensive side that has preceded the high K era we're in. There is no anti-strikeout stigma, even among light hitting types.

Assuming this cultural change did occur, I suspect the causal arrow runs the other direction. In a world in which 20% of PA result in Ks, the stigma had to be abandoned.

To the extent that reduced stigma did change batter behavior, this should be celebrated. It means hitters are maximizing their production, which is their job. To the extent that a hitter's approach at the plate is shaped by a stigma, this means -- by definition -- they are not doing their job.
   87. GuyM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:40 AM (#4408401)
the thing that jumped out besides the steady increase in strikeouts (delayed by the lowering of the mound)

I have long assumed that strikeout rates dropped in 1969, with the lowering of the mound. But that's not true: K% held steady (or bumped up) in 1969 and 1970. What changed in 1969-70 was a big drop in BBs, and an increase in HRs. It wasn't until 1971 that K rates fell, and then stayed low for about a decade before starting to rise again. Anyone know what happened in 1971 to reduce strikeouts? Maybe an informal change in the zone?
   88. AROM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:42 AM (#4408406)
As you can see, not really a HR threat in Boston (those 11 HR are a substantial portion of the HR hit there in that time frame. It was practically an impossible HR park back then) and he actually walked more in Boston than on the road.


How was the park different back then? Of course Fenway has always been deep to RC, but couldn't righthanders pop them over the wall in left?
   89. SoSH U at work Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:46 AM (#4408408)
Assuming this cultural change did occur, I suspect the causal arrow runs the other direction. In a world in which 20% of PA result in Ks, the stigma had to be abandoned.


I disagee. I don't see any reason why pitching skill would have increased so greatly while contact ability remained stagnant, accouting for these higher K percentages.

To the extent that reduced stigma did change batter behavior, this should be celebrated. It means hitters are maximizing their production, which is their job. To the extent that a hitter's approach at the plate is shaped by a stigma, this means -- by definition -- they are not doing their job.


I agree they're maximizing their production. I disagree that approach should be so beneficial.

As I said, from both an aesthetic POV and a simple philosophy of the game itself (born, in all likelihood, out of playing the game for so long), there should be more of a results gap between swinging and missing and making contact (and there is one now - it just isn't large enough to overcome the benefits that exist for swinging as hard as you can on every attempt. And one of those benefits is the increased likelihood of drawing a walk).
   90. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM (#4408414)
But that's not true: K% held steady (or bumped up) in 1969 and 1970.

BB-ref has the high point as '67, dropping marginally in '68, '69 and '70, with '71 and '73 showing the big drops. I don't know if that an inclusion vs. exclusion of pitchers vs. your numbers or what.

If you split it by league, the NL high point is '69 with the big drop coming in '71. The AL high is '67, and the large drops start in '68.
   91. AROM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:52 AM (#4408415)
Good thing we have sites like Seamheads

During Babe's time there the wall was 324 in left (305 now), 458 in center (390 now), an insane 496 to the deepest part of right center (420 now). The Pesky pole (well eventually, Johnny was a baby in Ruth's last year there) was 314, but RF quickly went out to 404 feet. The LF wall was only 25 feet back then.
   92. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:53 AM (#4408418)
As I said, from both an aesthetic POV and a simple philosophy of the game itself (born, in all likelihood, out of playing the game for so long), there should be more of a results gap between swinging and missing and making contact

So you were a high-contact slap hitter? (said jokingly).
   93. SoSH U at work Posted: April 09, 2013 at 11:59 AM (#4408428)


So you were a high-contact slap hitter? (said jokingly).


For the most part, yes. But I can say that for all kinds of hitters, swinging and missing was considered the worst outcome one could have (in part, of course, because the lower you go, the gap between swinging and missing and making contact expands considerably).

   94. DL from MN Posted: April 09, 2013 at 12:15 PM (#4408445)
The stigma is something a player grows up with. At lower levels (high school, pony league) a strikeout is definitely worth less because putting a ball in play isn't a guaranteed out. It's hard to shed that philosophy that worked well when you were 15 and play baseball differently when you're 22. There is a mental block to overcome and sometimes those are the hardest, especially when you consider how seldom these guys struck out until they got to A-ball. Joe Mauer struck out just once in high school.
   95. Ron J2 Posted: April 09, 2013 at 12:16 PM (#4408446)
Further to #82

Fenway HR totals 1915-1919

YR     Ruth Everybody else
1919   9       5
1918   0       5
1917   1       6
1916   0       2
1915   1       8
Total 11      26 


I'd bet a good chunk of the 26 other HR were inside the park.
   96. DL from MN Posted: April 09, 2013 at 12:21 PM (#4408455)
There's a reason why it was called the deadball era
   97. Ron J2 Posted: April 09, 2013 at 12:42 PM (#4408479)
#88 In Ruth's time in Boston there just weren't very many RH hitters trying to hit flyballs (I can't think of any in the AL. Cravath was an opposite field flyball hitter and was of course playing in the NL). Flyballs were regarded as a pitcher's friend back then. Indeed some pitchers used to dare the hitters with a less than overwhelming fastball deliberately thrown up in the zone.
   98. AROM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 01:42 PM (#4408545)
#88 In Ruth's time in Boston there just weren't very many RH hitters trying to hit flyballs (I can't think of any in the AL. Cravath was an opposite field flyball hitter and was of course playing in the NL). Flyballs were regarded as a pitcher's friend back then. Indeed some pitchers used to dare the hitters with a less than overwhelming fastball deliberately thrown up in the zone.


Makes sense given that almost all of the hitters were substantially smaller and weaker than modern ones, combined with ballparks so big they would frustrate guys like Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols. (Though Giancarlo would laugh at those fences if anyone gave him something to hit)

So you were a high-contact slap hitter? (said jokingly).


I was a low contact slap hitter. At least I could run back then. Last year in softball I pretty much turned into a right handed hitting David Ortiz, complete with the ankle/heel/plantar issues. To be able to play once a week, I had to enforce some rules for myself:

1. Move to 1B on defense, I had played SS the year before. I'm the oldest guy on the team, time to play the old man position.
2. Attempt to hit every ball in the air.
3. If #2 fails, DO NOT try to beat out the infield hit.

Talk of big parks makes me think of my last AB for the year. I had hit a homer earlier (over the OF head, I was able to hobble around the bases before they could retrieve it.) Then I got all of one, about as far as I could possibly hit a ball. Caught for an out. After my earlier hit, they decided to play me really deep, with no fences to limit them.
   99. GuyM Posted: April 09, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4408562)
I don't see any reason why pitching skill would have increased so greatly while contact ability remained stagnant, accounting for these higher K percentages.

Whether you see it or not, it must be there. Because we can observe that hitters are not trading Ks for more BBs and HRs -- they are simply striking out more.

Personally, I don't find it that surprising. As pitchers get bigger and stronger, it seems quite plausible that pitch velocity is increasing faster than hitters' reflexes and eye-hand coordination improve. But since hitters are also getting bigger and stronger, they can hit with more power.
   100. zack Posted: April 09, 2013 at 02:07 PM (#4408570)
What we need here is science. For reverse steroids.
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