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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Scapegoating the Shift for the Decline in Offense – The Hardball Times

Early this year, Jonah Keri identified defensive shifts as one reason for the recent decline in baseball offense.  By early July, David Lennon placed basically all of the blame for baseball’s offensive challenges on the shift.  Like Keri, he pointed to declining batting averages as proof that the shift was working too well.  Things reached a fever pitch a few weeks ago when Tom Verducci ran with an idea that Lennon had proposed: banning the shift in some form, lest baseball offense never recover.

This false association is worrisome.  No one feels sorry for declining millionaire pull hitters, but many people are sincerely concerned about declining offense in baseball.  Successfully associating the rise of the shift to the decline in baseball offense could convince people to support drastic changes in the game.  In 1968, the Year of the Pitcher famously resulted in the mound being lowered and changes to the strike zone.

Let me be clear about one thing: shifts are not affecting overall baseball offense.  Shifts are not producing less value on balls put into fair play.  We are facing a troubling decline in baseball offense, but if we want to treat the illness, the first thing order of business is to diagnose it correctly.

Jim Furtado Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:11 AM | 44 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: sabermetrics

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   1. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:26 AM (#4770110)
Interesting article and pretty convincing, but it'd be nice if he'd give us his opinion of what is causing the decline in offense, now that he's established that it's not the shifts.
   2. Joyful Calculus Instructor Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:43 AM (#4770126)
[1] Well, he does say:

Shifts are not producing less value on balls put into fair play


which would imply to me that the problem is fewer balls put into fair play.
   3. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:47 AM (#4770129)
You can pretty much sum up the entire decline of offense in 3 points:

1. Strike one
2. Strike two
3. Strike three, yer out!
   4. GregD Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:50 AM (#4770133)
TFA says that declines in walks have been more significant in reducing offense than an increase in strikeouts, though he does say the increase in strikeouts contributes.
   5. salviaman Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:52 AM (#4770135)
Why would strikeouts be largely responsible for the decrease in offense? Studies have shown that a K costs about -.01 runs more than another batting out. Teams still make 27 outs per game, Ks or not.
   6. Chris Fluit Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM (#4770138)
The comparison is not between a strikeout and another batting out. The comparison is between a strikeout and a batted ball in play. A batted ball in play is more valuable than a strikeout because it has the potential to become something other than a batting out (a hit, an error, etc.).
   7. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:56 AM (#4770140)
Solving that won't be easy. No team would replace their strikeout pitchers with pitch to contact guys. And many of the top offensive players strike out a lot. No reason on the offensive side to go back.

Mike Trout (25%) has struck out more than Gary Matthews Jr. did during his 3 years as an Angel (21.5%). You obviously wouldn't trade the strikeouts to go backwards there. Though Angels are lucky Trout wasn't born 2 years earlier and ended up in the 2007 draft. As they gave up pick #24 to the Rangers to sign GMJr. 2 years later, Trout was there at #25.

   8. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4770141)
Why is it so troubling? Was this level of offense troubling in 1990?

I recall some carping about low batting averages then, but not the kind of sky-is-falling stuff we're getting now. Yes, the shape of production isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but the level of production is historically totally normal.
   9. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:58 AM (#4770142)
Walt Davis has often pointed out (I haven't checked the numbers recently) that batting average and slugging on contact is pretty much the same right now as it was 10-15 years ago. The difference is a lot less contact.
   10. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:06 PM (#4770149)
I recall some carping about low batting averages then, but not the kind of sky-is-falling stuff we're getting now. Yes, the shape of production isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but the level of production is historically totally normal.

But that's just it -- for many people, including me, it makes for boring, ugly baseball. Watching a parade of relievers come in starting in the 6th or 7th, all throwing 95+ and striking out everyone in sight, isn't interesting IMO.
   11. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:13 PM (#4770153)
Why would strikeouts be largely responsible for the decrease in offense? Studies have shown that a K costs about -.01 runs more than another batting out. Teams still make 27 outs per game, Ks or not.


Because the fewer balls in play (with walks decreasing as well) the less of a chance there is to score a run.

Strikeouts are about the same as any other kind of out-- but they are not the same as a ball in play that has a chance to be something other than an out. There is no doubt that a ball in play is more valuable than a strikeout (even given the chance of hitting into a double play), with walks remaining constant or decreasing.

If you never put a ball in play you can't score unless the ballpark is walked, which isn't happening.
   12. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:13 PM (#4770154)
RTFA, and the author shows the same thing Walt Davis has posted, outcomes on contact haven't changed.

Looking at 2000-2004, and comparing to 2010-2014 I see, as percentage of PA:

Then:
contact: .719
strikeout: .168
walk: .088

Now:
contact: .702
strikeout: .194
walk: .081

So walks are part of it, but per plate appearance we're getting 4 more strikeouts for every lost walk. Strikeouts are the big culprit.
   13. Booey Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:18 PM (#4770156)
I recall some carping about low batting averages then, but not the kind of sky-is-falling stuff we're getting now. Yes, the shape of production isn't the most aesthetically pleasing, but the level of production is historically totally normal.


Shape of production is important though when you're trying to appeal to a generation that already thinks baseball is too slow and boring. Everyone has their own preferences about the perfect style of play, of course, but does ANYONE think that the lowest batting averages in decades, the highest strikeout rates of all time, and the lowest IP for starters of all time (followed by the endless parade of relievers) is a good thing?

Low offense AND long games are a bad combination for entertainments sake, no? The former is fine when games are quick pitchers duels (1960's), and the latter is fine when it's caused by lots of offense (1990's), but when you combine the two it can really start to drag.

And yes, get the hell off my lawn.

Edit: partial coke to Yeaarrgghhhh
   14. BDC Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:30 PM (#4770161)
I sign on with the project of getting kids off Booey's lawn.

I don't mind low scores, even with lots of strikeouts. Low scores mean close games, and when a baseball game is within a grand slam of decision, it's always more exciting than when it isn't. The problem is batters dancing around positioning themselves and their equipment for 20 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of the reliever staring into space trying to decide which of his one pitches to throw.
   15. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:30 PM (#4770163)
If walks are really down, meaning that the take-and-rake strategy isn't yielding any benefit other than more power than otherwise on what few balls are put in play, then I expect that hitters will start swinging at more pitches over the next couple of years. Even with less production on any given ball in play, more balls in play could lead to more production, and probably with a more aesthetically pleasing shape. That might not work, though, and offense could conceivably get even lower, but with fewer strikeouts. I suppose even that would be more aesthetically pleasing to those mainly bothered by the strikeouts. I don't think the endless parade of relievers is going to get any less endless anytime soon, but it's possible that starters might pitch a few more innings in a decreased strikeouts scenario.

Low scores mean close games, and when a baseball game is within a grand slam of decision, it's always more exciting than when it isn't.


This, too. Surely part of the reason for soccer's vast international popularity is the fact that most games are close. And strikeouts are pretty cool sometimes.
   16. Juilin Sandar to Conkling Speedwell (Arjun) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:34 PM (#4770166)
Low scores mean close games, and when a baseball game is within a grand slam of decision, it's always more exciting than when it isn't.

This is a statement which I endorse enthusiastically and in relation to other sports as well (as Dr. Vaux mentions in #15).
   17. jdennis Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:40 PM (#4770172)
The thing is, what is the natural state of the game? You can't define that. Maybe it's supposed to be a high strikeout, high HR game. Maybe it's supposed to be like the DBE. Who knows. Honestly, I would like to see less Ks and more singles, more groundouts and flyouts and triples, but not more HR, and I don't know how you can produce that in rules changes. You'd have to change the players.
   18. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:47 PM (#4770181)
when a baseball game is within a grand slam of decision

What's with people acting like a grand slam is a four-point shot that the offense can simply decide to attempt at any time? There isn't a fundamental difference between "if three guys reach safely and then the fourth guy homers" and "if four guys reach safely and then the fifth guy homers."

I would like to see less Ks and more singles, more groundouts and flyouts and triples, but not more HR, and I don't know how you can produce that in rules changes.

Reversion of the strike zone to its 2009 size and thicker bat handles.
   19. DL from MN Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:47 PM (#4770182)
No team would replace their strikeout pitchers with pitch to contact guys.


You must not follow the Twins.
   20. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:59 PM (#4770187)
But that's just it -- for many people, including me, it makes for boring, ugly baseball. Watching a parade of relievers come in starting in the 6th or 7th, all throwing 95+ and striking out everyone in sight, isn't interesting IMO.

I totally agree, though I'm glad that the Yanks and the Orioles are keeping up with the Joneses in packing a set of late inning relievers who are capable of overpowering anyone.

What we might want to measure is the number of comebacks from the 7th inning on, compared to the number of similar comebacks in past decades, along with the number of strikeouts in each of the 9 innings. That would quantify the sentiment that Yeaarrgghhhh expresses.

The problem, and many have already pointed this out, is that some high strikeout hitters also tend to produce the most runs, so you can't really expect teams to try to convert their true power hitters into contact hitters. But when you've got players with only 10 or 15 home runs a year also swinging from the heels and striking out 100 or more times a year, then like jdennis says, the problem is really the players themselves. It may simply be that it's a lot easier to find powerful arms than it is to find players who know how to hit Major League pitching in its current state of evolution.
   21. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:04 PM (#4770188)
The orioles have used a pitch to contact combined with a good defense approach. They're 4th in the league in RA/G but next to last in Ks.
   22. Booey Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:04 PM (#4770190)
And strikeouts are pretty cool sometimes.


The coolness is diminished though (and largely unnoticed, at least by me) when the K's are divided between a starter and 3 relievers. Watching Randy Johnson or Pedro put up 17 K games in their prime was awesome. Watching a starter put up 11 in 6 innings and then 3 relievers combining for another 6 today is much less cool.
   23. Moeball Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:12 PM (#4770195)
We baseball fans are a funny lot. We like to count things. "1 strikeout, ah,ah,ah...2 strikeouts, ah,ah,ah..."

Back in the 1970s I went to a lot of Angels games up in Anaheim when Nolan Ryan was pitching. Wasn't uncommon to see him go the distance and strike out a dozen guys. And, yes, we'd count them throughout the game - "hey, Nolan just hit double digits again with that K". This was considered fun.

Now, you may still see a dozen strikeouts in a game, but the starter only went 6 innings and struck out 8, the 7th inning guy picked up 2 more Ks and the setup guy picked up one more and so did the closer in the 9th. It's the same number of Ks but somehow it just doesn't seem to capture me as much when it's spread over so many pitchers.

Part of the problem is that the genie is out of the bottle and not likely to go back in. Hitters now know that it is in their best interests to work the counts where possible. The "take and rake" doesn't necessarily work against every pitcher, but the hidden benefit is that even when it doesn't put a bunch of runs on the scoreboard, it can, however, run up the pitch counts. If you're going up against a good pitcher - even if through 5 innings he's held your team to just one run - if you've got him up over 100 pitches at that point, he's either going to be out of the game very quickly or he will start to lose effectiveness very quickly (Pedro Martinez syndrome). As long as it takes 4 balls for a walk and 3 strikes for a strikeout, I don't see things changing very much. There's not a lot of incentive to become a bunch of hackers so that every starter can go the distance on only 90 pitches per game.

   24. BDC Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:16 PM (#4770198)
What's with people acting like a grand slam is a four-point shot that the offense can simply decide to attempt at any time? There isn't a fundamental difference between "if three guys reach safely and then the fourth guy homers" and "if four guys reach safely and then the fifth guy homers."

Well, it's an incremental difference, but it's a big deal in terms of drama. Winning run at the plate feels a lot different from winning run on deck, to me at any rate.
   25. BDC Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:23 PM (#4770206)
And I guess I should add that "grand slam" is mostly a metonym for "close game." A situation where a rally can tie or change a lead is like a 1- versus a 2-goal deficit in soccer, as Vaux notes. Potential scoring threats are always exciting, but the more so when they can alter the advantage.
   26. DL from MN Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:24 PM (#4770207)
I think it is a little presumptive to say the shift has not affected offense because balls in play have the same value. The shift could make it easier to strike out pull hitters by forcing them to change their approach. Are shifted hitters striking out at higher rates or is it a leaguewide increase in strikeouts?
   27. Benji Gil Gamesh Rises Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:25 PM (#4770209)
FTA:

Overall, you can see three general time periods on the chart: the end of the high-flying 90s; a time period from about 2001 through 2009 when run scoring more or less stabilized around 4.7 team runs scored per game (“runs per game” or “R/G”), and from 2010 through 2013 when the bottom fell out again, down to under 4.5 runs per game.
Maybe this is a quibble, and caveat that my stats are deeply deeply rusty, but that's not what i see there.

I see the decline from the 90s heights, then a gradual recovery from 2002 through 2006/07 (with an outlier low in 2005), and then a steady decline beginning in 2006 or 2007.
   28. cardsfanboy Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:37 PM (#4770221)
Excellent article for the most part and as post 12 points out, it basically confirms the same thing Walt has been saying (although Walt likes to also bring the point that homeruns on fly balls is still at the same rate to accent one point) Much better than the half ass efforts in which people were posting players batting average when hitting into the shift as evidence that the shift is destroying the game.

I think it is a little presumptive to say the shift has not affected offense because balls in play have the same value. The shift could make it easier to strike out pull hitters by forcing them to change their approach. Are shifted hitters striking out at higher rates or is it a leaguewide increase in strikeouts?


Two of the three most shift happy teams are near the bottom in strikeouts(Pirates and Rays) only Houston among the notable shifty teams is doing excellent in the strike out department. It's not proof of course and it wouldn't hurt to study this some more, but a quick look and it doesn't really seem to be making much of a difference.
   29. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:40 PM (#4770225)
Complaining about offensive levels is replacing complaining about steroids as America's #1 pastime.
   30. Hank G. Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:59 PM (#4770252)
Interesting article and pretty convincing, but it'd be nice if he'd give us his opinion of what is causing the decline in offense, now that he's established that it's not the shifts.


I blame Tommy John surgery. If there were no TJ surgery, 1/3 of ML pitching slots would be filled by pitchers currently in the minors. That’s got to have an effect on offense.
   31. Booey Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:28 PM (#4770282)
Complaining about offensive levels is replacing complaining about steroids as America's #1 pastime.


Kinda funny, isn't it? People want PED's out of the game but then they complain about the product that results from doing so.
   32. PreservedFish Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:38 PM (#4770291)
Complaining about offensive levels is replacing complaining about steroids as America's #1 pastime.


I can't tell if this is something that average fans ever talk about. Is it a hot topic on sports talk radio? I have a feeling that it is mostly us nerds that are noticing the extent to which Ks have gone up. And I also feel like it's one of those things where we are letting the statistics inform our opinions. If you just watch the games I don't know how much you notice the change in the feel of the game.
   33. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:57 PM (#4770308)
Kinda funny, isn't it? People want PED's out of the game but then they complain about the product that results from doing so.


I don't think lack of steroids is what's led to this. I think that if steroid testing was not allowed, and players could do whatever they want as long as they avoid prison, strikeouts would be up even more though homeruns would be up too.

Of all the usual suspect sluggers, look at their stats before the generally suspected start of juicing, and then look at the after. They hit more homers, overall are more productive hitters, but they strike out more than before.

That is, all but one. One steroid slugger actually reduced his strikeout rate while breaking records. Bonds. Not so for the rest of the crew.
   34. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:00 PM (#4770313)
I have a feeling that it is mostly us nerds that are noticing the extent to which Ks have gone up. And I also feel like it's one of those things where we are letting the statistics inform our opinions. If you just watch the games I don't know how much you notice the change in the feel of the game.

I guess it largely depends on how long you've been following the game, but consider that in 1956 four players struck out 100 or more times, whereas last year 103 of them did. What's happened is that with many batter-pitcher matchups nowadays, strikeouts have become so common as to be almost predictable. The truth is that as I said earlier, it's a lot easier to come up with guys who can throw 95 with filthy stuff than it is to find guys who can hit those kinds of pitchers with any degree of consistency.
   35. Booey Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:06 PM (#4770318)
I have a feeling that it is mostly us nerds that are noticing the extent to which Ks have gone up. And I also feel like it's one of those things where we are letting the statistics inform our opinions. If you just watch the games I don't know how much you notice the change in the feel of the game.


I agree with Andy. Unless this was the first era where you followed baseball, I don't think you need advanced stats to notice how long games are, how many strikeouts there are, or how many pitching changes there are compared to previous eras.
   36. Perry Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:31 PM (#4770348)
Is it a hot topic on sports talk radio?


Not around here. The 3 biggest topics are (1)the Broncos, (2)the Broncos, and (3)the Broncos. Although sometimes the order varies.
   37. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:44 PM (#4770371)
I agree with Andy. Unless this was the first era where you followed baseball, I don't think you need advanced stats to notice how long games are, how many strikeouts there are, or how many pitching changes there are compared to previous eras.

I keep bringing up this game from 1950 to illustrate that point. It was a televised game that set a never-broken AL record for runs scored (36), and yet it took but 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete, in spite of 34 hits and 21 walks to go along with only 6 strikeouts. It's almost as if the Red Sox and the A's were playing Speed Chess, but at the time nobody seemed to notice how quickly it was over.
   38. Lance Reddick! Lance him! Posted: August 13, 2014 at 04:17 PM (#4770409)
What's with people acting like a grand slam is a four-point shot that the offense can simply decide to attempt at any time? There isn't a fundamental difference between "if three guys reach safely and then the fourth guy homers" and "if four guys reach safely and then the fifth guy homers."

Well, it's an incremental difference, but it's a big deal in terms of drama. Winning run at the plate feels a lot different from winning run on deck, to me at any rate.

My point is that the run isn't at the plate or on deck, it's several batters away. You need a succession of batters to reach before a home run matters, so there's no bright light between four and five runs like there is between three and four points in a basketball game.
   39. Tippecanoe Posted: August 13, 2014 at 06:50 PM (#4770528)
nobody seemed to notice how quickly it was over


Looking at the attendance figure, it appears that nobody noticed because nobody was there. Apparently the people of Philly weren't especially interested in aesthetically pleasing Speed Chess.
   40. bobm Posted: August 13, 2014 at 06:59 PM (#4770535)
What we might want to measure is the number of comebacks from the 7th inning on, compared to the number of similar comebacks in past decades, along with the number of strikeouts in each of the 9 innings. That would quantify the sentiment that Yeaarrgghhhh expresses.

Inning-by-Inning W-L

Record when leading at the start of the inning

2013
                       
                   Ahea
Inning      W   L     %
7        1792 290 0.861
8        1895 200 0.905
9        2032 105 0.951


2003

                       
                   Ahea
Inning      W   L     %
7        1857 274 0.871
8        1999 188 0.914
9        2101  95 0.957


1973

                       
                   Ahea
Inning      W   L     %
7        1447 252 0.852
8        1531 172 0.899
9        1623 109 0.937
   41. Walt Davis Posted: August 13, 2014 at 07:41 PM (#4770569)
Actually I've got some problems with the article -- ack! Those charts! -- and the way it overstates its conclusions. But the important thing is to make sure that we pronounce wOBAcon as "woe-BACON".

Also it's annoying but it can be important to be clear on terminology when discussing this. "Ball in play" does not include HRs, "contact" (for which b-r does not provide a split) does include HRs, "fair play" (in b-r splits) does not include foul-outs although these are generally low enough that "fair play" is probably close enough to "contact."

Point being that if we talk about the alternative to a K, it is NOT a ball in play, it is CONTACT (and walks of course). That usage may not be natural but it's one we're left with due to DIPS getting to BIP first.

Back briefly to the article. Yes, it's what I've been saying for the last couple of years expressed in wOBA terms. (And nobody's found a consistent use for wOBAcon? I've been pounding the "on-contact" drum for the better part of a decade I think.) So it's certainly useful from that regard.

However I use these data to address the question of shift effectiveness only because (a) I don't have access to more detailed data and (b) I wouldn't put in the time to do the analysis properly even if I had the data because that's too time-consuming and it's what I do all day anyway.

First point being that while the author is correct that BA does not use the right denominator and maybe BABIP doesn't (I disagree more than agree), "contact" is clearly not the right denominator for assessing the shift. Clearly any rigorous assessment of the shift requires separating PAs with a "shift" and ones without (which now requires defining a "shift" ... and is there only one type of shift? and why don't we care about OF positioning?). Secondly, sure, the IF shift may have indirect/unintended effects on many outcome types and maybe even non-shift PAs but the primary purpose of IF positioning is to turn GB into outs. If we want to nominate a "correct denominator" it is GB and you would want to compare shift and non-shift PAs.

By the way, b-r does have overall BAGB (ISO on GB is trivial and pretty much constant) and it is stable and actually going up and last I looked was the highest it's been in quite some time (like 20+ years I think). That doesn't bode well for shift effectiveness but it can't rule it out -- it's possible that pulled GB production is down (I think there's evidence for this but I don't see a way to isolate pulled GB at b-r) while non-pulled GB production is up and/or there's been a substantial change in the mix of pulled/non-pulled, negating the effectiveness of the shift.

Now that's a bit unfair to the author because it's not really the question he's trying to answer ... although he helps to cloud this from the strength of his conclusions. "Are shifts effective" and "are shifts responsible for the decline in offense" are separate questions and he's trying to get at the second one (given the articles cited in the opening).

I do think the answer is pretty clearly no for that question as an article like this shows -- or at least they're not a major factor (same issues that, yes, they might be responsible for some decline in production on particular outcome types but this has somehow been balanced by increased production on other outcome types). The major factor is rather clearly strikeouts and a major factor behind that rise (and some drop in BB rate) is a larger strike zone (there's a nice SABR article on the web somewhere) but there's more to explain than that.

Or to correct myself for sloppy language, it is that strikeouts have gone up while on-contact production has stayed basically the same. Sillyball began with a jump in the K-rate too but that was more than made up for by a huge jump in on-contact production. That is not what we're seeing here.

Also a reason why correlations are really pretty useless and especially to compare how well one thing correlates to r/g with how well another thing correlates with it. You need to control for other stuff. Look at the effect of Ks on scoring after controlling for on-contact production (and walk rate) -- that tells you the (linear) effect of increasing Ks while keeping other things constant ... and you'll find a pretty big negative effect.

I think it is a little presumptive to say the shift has not affected offense because balls in play have the same value.<i>

As you see above I agree in general but I think it's justified to say it is not a major contributor to the decline in offense. We should start by understanding the big issue (the jump in K-rates) then we can dig into the smaller stuff.

Also it is incumbent on the shift "advocates" to produce the evidence supporting what its effects are and to do it using the right statistics. So far the "debate" has bee a bit like:

Acai berries help you lose weight due to their wonder ingredient.
Where's your evidence?
Meet Nadine, a housewife from Toledo...
That's not really what I had in mind. These data show there's been no change in weight overall.
Those data don't prove that acai berries don't work.
That's true, where's your evidence that they do?
Meet Norleen, a small business owner from Tulsa...

It's not really a debate and there aren't (I hope) really advocates or skeptics. IF shifts (or just IF positioning) make perfect common sense of course. It makes perfect sense that they should reduce BAGB when employed against the right type of batter. Do they? If they are achieving what they set out to achieve, then why has this not resulted in a reduction in overall BAGB or BABIP or wOBAcon or whatever?

Those are potentially interesting EMPIRICAL questions. I would like to see somebody break down all the data.

Those are the tactical questions. The higher-level question is about whether they are having much effect on overall scoring. There I think the answer is no and we have reasonable confidence in that. If you're trying to understand the change in scoring, understand the change in Ks and go from there, stop spending time on the minor issues.

<i> The shift could make it easier to strike out pull hitters by forcing them to change their approach. Are shifted hitters striking out at higher rates or is it a leaguewide increase in strikeouts?


Again I hate to be a stickler on language but let's be clear that the shift doesn't "force" a batter to do anything. I am generally of the opinion that any batter who "adapts" to beat the shift is making a mistake. Let them have their GB outs -- if you're a lumbering slugger, you're only hitting GB in about 20% of your PA, you're only hitting 220 on GB anyway and they're all singles. Although to the extent they do adapt, I'd recommend the one you're vaguely suggesting -- even more TTO, even more FB, leading to more HR.

Note "recommend" in the sense that I know even less about how to hit a baseball at the ML level than Jimmy Fallon knows about being funny. (I know, you wouldn't think that was possible)

But, c'mon. This is the sort of argument folks start putting forward when they don't have the evidence to back up their policy (not meant as a shot at you). The shift wasn't intended to turn more GB into outs, it's a clever bit of psychological warfare meant to turn effective hitters into K machines or opposite-field-hitting pansies? Of course the shift might well have unintended consequences and/or dumb batters might over-react to the benefit of the defense but let's not pretend those were part of the evil sabermetric genius's plan from the start. (And let's produce evidence of these indirect/unintended effects.)

Also the timing of the shift to the shift doesn't match up. Scoring's been in decline for a while but massive amounts of shifting are just over the last 2-3 seasons. There's reportedly been a huge increase this year but scoring is pretty much stable.
   42. Moeball Posted: August 14, 2014 at 03:18 PM (#4771176)
I keep bringing up this game from 1950 to illustrate that point. It was a televised game that set a never-broken AL record for runs scored (36), and yet it took but 2 hours and 50 minutes to complete, in spite of 34 hits and 21 walks to go along with only 6 strikeouts. It's almost as if the Red Sox and the A's were playing Speed Chess, but at the time nobody seemed to notice how quickly it was over.


Andy - I looked at the PBP from that game and there was some strange stuff indeed going on.

In the second inning, Ted Williams came up with the bases loaded and the description states that he grounded out to first base unassisted...yet not only did the runner on third score on the play, but the runner on second as well, crediting Williams with 2 RBI on a groundout to first base. How in the world does such a thing happen?
   43. AROM Posted: August 14, 2014 at 03:42 PM (#4771191)
No error on the play. The runner from second was Dom DiMaggio, who could fly. I'm trying to imagine it.

Ted hits grounder to first. Runners off on contact. 1B dives and comes up with it. Maybe Williams is not running well, 1B thinks he can make it back to first in time. Hustles across the bag and just beats Williams, who took a mighty cut and got out of the box slowly. DiMaggio had a lead off second, is faster, and got a better jump, he's well around third when the out is recorded. 1B has a brain fart, DiMaggio keeps running. Realizes his mistake a second too late, and throws home, safe.

That's my guess.
   44. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 14, 2014 at 04:10 PM (#4771212)
That's a pretty good guess, AROM, and I'd say it's as likely an explanation as any. It's the sort of heads up baserunning that Ty Cobb patented back in the dead ball era, and Dom Dimaggio was always considered one of the best baserunners of the 40's and early 50's. When Johnny Damon pulled a somewhat similar move on the Phillies at a critical point in the 9th inning in game 4 of the 2009 World Series, it made me think of the way that Cobb used to play the game.

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