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Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Simple Technology That Accidentally Ruined Baseball

I thought Barry Bonds ruined baseball?

Rather than deem the cameras a threat to league integrity, baseball embraced them. For years, Major League Baseball had been pressuring umpires to submit to performance standards. With the introduction of Pitch f/x, MLB finally had cameras in every stadium to umpire the umpires. In 2009, the league implemented a policy called Zone Evaluation (ZE), which tracked missed calls after each game and judged umpires by their accuracy. After ZE’s first year, three senior umpires were fired for their mistakes behind the plate. Those with good performance could get promotions and earn up to $400,000….

Since umpires opened up the basement of the strike zone, pitchers haven’t just moved in. They’ve changed their permanent residence, painted the walls, and opened a co-op. The game of baseball has moved considerably closer to the plate in many ways ...

   The share of pitches thrown less than 2.5 feet over the plate (i.e.: a “low” pitch) has grown every year since 2009.
   In 2007, “low” pitches were 17 percent more common than higher pitches. By 2013, they were 43 percent more common.
   The sinker, a fastball pitch that breaks downward, has grown from 35 percent of all pitches in 2007 to 38 percent today.
   Hitters have swung at low pitches at a higher rate every year since 2009.

As the strikes moved down, the strikeouts went up. Swinging strikeouts are up 11 percent since 2008. Called strikeouts (on third strikes without a swing) are up 66 percent. The entire increase in strikeouts is happening on pitches between 18 and 24 inches off the ground.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:11 PM | 41 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: pitch fx, tv ratings, umpiring

Reader Comments and Retorts

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   1. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:33 PM (#4785433)
If enforcing the rule-book strike zone has caused the game to become less entertaining, the league can quite easily change the rule book. It's not like they don't modify that thing every off season.
   2. madvillain Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:34 PM (#4785434)
So...enforcing the laws on the books ruined the game? GMAFB. This is what happens when economists write about sports.
   3. Batman Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:40 PM (#4785445)
The technology is Clayton Kershaw.
   4. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:45 PM (#4785455)
I was expecting this to be about the way MLB implemented instant replay.
   5. madvillain Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:45 PM (#4785457)
The technology is Clayton Kershaw.


The technology is a 13 man pitching staff and starters that now go max effort for 5-7 innings followed by specialist after specialist.
   6. Dr. Vaux Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:49 PM (#4785463)
Games with fewer runs are more entertaining, not less, because they're closer on average and make individual plays more memorable. The only thing that can be argued to be less entertaining is the strikeouts, but they don't really bother me much either. I mean, look, the reason we had to get out the steroid pitchforks was all the home runs, right? So now you want them back, only without steroids? Why not bring the steroids back? Oh, because the evil Barry Bonds used them, and of course he's evil because he's black and wasn't always willing to kiss reporter ass. What would really make the writers happy would be to let them decide who gets to have steroids and who doesn't.
   7. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: September 04, 2014 at 01:50 PM (#4785465)
The technology is a 13 man pitching staff and starters that now go max effort for 5-7 innings followed by specialist after specialist.

Bingo. Miguel Gonzalez pitched a complete game shutout last night against the Reds. He's 30 years old, and his last complete game was in AA ball back in 2007. The Orioles' three complete games put them in the upper half of AL teams in that category.
   8. Brian C Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:00 PM (#4785479)
Baseball has done all the right little things while perhaps ignoring the big thing: It needs hitters. It needs home runs. Sports thrive and grow when national stars thrive on national television as marketing ambassadors of the game. Today, baseball is a national pastime without a truly national star. Mike Trout, the historic and absurdly young center fielder for the league-leading Los Angeles Angels, has one-third the name recognition of Derek Jeter, a telegenic veteran that even this Yankees fan named Derek will acknowledge was never half as good as Trout.

Can someone tell me what this paragraph is supposed to be demonstrating? It seems to start out by saying, essentially, that chicks dig the long ball. But then the example offered up is Derek Jeter, not exactly one of the game's great sluggers. And the author seems to realize this, because he compares Jeter's popularity to that of Mike Trout, who is much more of a slugger than Jeter ever was, and who even in the current run-scoring environment puts up raw numbers that would have made him an All-Star caliber player even when offense levels were at their highest. Then he throws up his hands because Trout isn't all that popular.

So does baseball need "home runs" or does it need "telegenic" players? At this point, the author just seems to give up without any kind of coherent point, and pretends that this has shown that baseball has lost popularity because the strike zone is messed up. Huh?
   9. Crispix reaches boiling point with lackluster play Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:04 PM (#4785484)
So...enforcing the laws on the books ruined the game? GMAFB. This is what happens when economists write about sports.


Is there something in the article you think is mistaken in some way?
   10. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:12 PM (#4785498)
Another article complaining that baseball was more fun during the steroid era, which the media has just finished telling us was ruining the game. Please, make up your mind.
   11. shoelesjoe Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:13 PM (#4785500)
After ZE’s first year, three senior umpires were fired for their mistakes behind the plate.


I'd love to see a citation for this claim. I assume he's referring to supervisors Marty Springstead, Rich Garcia, and Jim McKean being let go after the 2009 season, but at the time it was reported that the reason for the dismissals was because the three of them had a major hand in choosing the umpire crews that botched a number of calls during the 2009 playoffs. There's nothing in the articles I've found so far that says anything about the strike zone being a factor in the firings.
   12. madvillain Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:21 PM (#4785508)
Is there something in the article you think is mistaken in some way?


Yea, like most pin head economists he likes to use metrics that fit his narrative. By bottom line -- profits -- MLB is doing pretty damn well. Now, I'm not burying my head in the sand and refusing to achnolodge that pace of play and TTO style ball aren't problems -- but they haven't "ruined the game".

   13. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:24 PM (#4785513)
By bottom line -- profits -- MLB is doing pretty damn well.


He also says fewer people are watching baseball, when this is almost certainly false. Attendance is way up since 2001, local TV ratings are stronger than ever, and MLBAB didn't even exist in 2001. But national TV ratings are down, so clearly no one cares about baseball anymore.
   14. You Know Nothing JT Snow (YR) Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:43 PM (#4785541)
Why not bring the steroids back? Oh, because the evil Barry Bonds used them, and of course he's evil because he's black


Yeah, all the whiteys got off scott-free. Fight the power my brother.
   15. Best Regards, President of Comfort, Esq. Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:58 PM (#4785555)
Yeah, all the whiteys got off scott-free. Fight the power my brother.


To be fair, Barry Bonds couldn't get a contract when he was still the best hitter in baseball. Jason Giambi was still playing this season, and Andy Pettitte got a fond farewell at the end of last season.
   16. Matt Welch Posted: September 04, 2014 at 02:58 PM (#4785556)
Dumb questions -- Do the robots adjust the strike zone slightly for height/stance? Are zones 3-dimensional?
   17. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:01 PM (#4785557)
Hopefully we can now dispose of the lazy "pitchers are way better that's why no one's hitting and everyone's striking out all the time" meme. I mean, yeah, if you can throw a ball and have it be called a strike, you're going to look "better," but it's an illusion.
   18. Rickey! trades in sheep and threats Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:04 PM (#4785562)
To be fair, Barry Bonds couldn't get a contract when he was still the best hitter in baseball. Jason Giambi was still playing this season, and Andy Pettitte got a fond farewell at the end of last season.


This is a fair and valid point. I would slightly caveat it with the "Barry Bonds seems to have been a sui generis deal with the league and the sportswriters."
   19. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:05 PM (#4785563)
Dumb questions -- Do the robots adjust the strike zone slightly for height/stance? Are zones 3-dimensional?

As far as I understand, some peon selects the top and bottom of the strike zone when the batter steps in. Which introduces large subjectivity into a theoretically objective measurement.
   20. boteman Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:05 PM (#4785564)
but they haven't "ruined the game".

That quoted phrase represents the author's opinion, not an accomplished fact. He thinks baseball has been "ruined", you don't. Life goes on. I fail to see why correspondents here get apoplectic over one or another journalist's opinion. They're like a$$holes, everybody has one.
   21. AROM Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:06 PM (#4785567)
Do the robots adjust the strike zone slightly for height/stance?


If you're talking about pitch f/x, my understanding is that the strike zone top/bottom is set manually for each batter.
   22. Misirlou was a Buddhist prodigy Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:09 PM (#4785571)
Bingo. Miguel Gonzalez pitched a complete game shutout last night against the Reds. He's 30 years old, and his last complete game was in AA ball back in 2007. The Orioles' three complete games put them in the upper half of AL teams in that category.


Eric Bedard has thrown 2 CG in over 300 professional starts. One in 2007, and one in 2000 as a 21 YO in A ball. Max Sherzer, who won the MF CYA last year, threw his first professional CG earlier this year.
   23. Dale Sams Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4785581)
So stop taking every first GD pitch. That Red Sox strategy of knocking out the starter by the 5th doesn't seem to be particularly effective since 2011.

^^

Yeah that's gut-instinct hyperbole, but the last couple of years the Sox have had 5-7 guys striking out once per game. In 2007 I think they had 1.
   24. Batman Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4785582)
I remember hearing in the late 1980's that Al Nipper had made the most starts among active pitchers who hadn't thrown any shutouts. He finished his career with the second most starts without a SHO behind Roy Mahaffey, who pitched in the 1920's and 1930's. They were still 1 and 2 until 1997. Since then, 23 pitchers have passed Mahaffey and 25 have passed Nipper. Travis Wood will probably pass Nipper this month too.

Anyway, back in my day, men were men except Al Nipper and Roy Mahaffey.
   25. Ulysses S. Fairsmith Posted: September 04, 2014 at 03:42 PM (#4785593)
What would really make the writers happy would be to let them decide who gets to have steroids and who doesn't.


No need. They can just wait until after each player retires and decide whether or not he did use while he was active.
   26. 6 - 4 - 3 Posted: September 04, 2014 at 04:01 PM (#4785610)
These things come in cycles. No reason to change the rules, IMHO.

It seems to me that the story is more about how the batters haven't yet fully adjusted to the new strikezone or, to a much lesser extent, the increased use of infield shifts. It's possible to get basehits on low pitches, just a lot harder to hit homeruns. Once batters take a more conservative approach, strikeouts will go down.
   27. Moeball Posted: September 04, 2014 at 04:37 PM (#4785634)
If enforcing the rule-book strike zone has caused the game to become less entertaining


But they aren't using the rule-book strike zone - still.

Umps are calling low strikes, even some below the knees strikes on occasion, but many still won't call a high strike very often, and, per the rule-book strike zone, they should be.
   28. TerpNats Posted: September 04, 2014 at 04:38 PM (#4785636)
It's all a question of laundry, as Jerry Seinfeld might say. If Trout wore Dodger blue rather than Angel red in out-of-the-way Anaheim, he'd be a truly big star, much bigger than Puig is now and rivaling Fernandomania, albeit not in an ethnic way. (Think of how Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were said to have revitalized the NBA. Would it have happened if they had played for the Atlanta Hawks and Houston Rockets, rather than the storied Celtics and Lakers?)
   29. geonose Posted: September 04, 2014 at 05:19 PM (#4785661)
...many still won't call a high strike very often, and, per the rule-book strike zone, they should be.

I've had arguments about the strike zone with some supposedly baseball-savvy people who don't realize that a pitch at the letters is a strike because they've never seen an umpire call it properly.
   30. Poster Nutbag Posted: September 04, 2014 at 08:07 PM (#4785749)
To be fair, Barry Bonds couldn't get a contract when he was still the best hitter in baseball. Jason Giambi was still playing this season, and Andy Pettitte got a fond farewell at the end of last season.


This is a fair and valid point. I would slightly caveat it with the "Barry Bonds seems to have been a sui generis deal with the league and the sportswriters."


FWIW, I think they also had public apologies and admitted their wrongdoings. People seem to be more willing to forgive and forget those that do.
   31. bjhanke Posted: September 04, 2014 at 08:20 PM (#4785753)
The last time the Lords instructed the umpires to call the strike zone as it is written in the rules was the off-season after 2000. The next year, the strike zone expanded several inches upward (4-7 is what I seemed to be seeing), Barry Bonds discovered he had a sweet spot high and inside that he had never swung at before, because it was a ball (you can see this if you can find the ESPN clip that showed all of Barry's homers back to back), and Barry hit 73. The rest has been madness. - Brock Hanke
   32. Booey Posted: September 04, 2014 at 11:52 PM (#4785860)
These things come in cycles. No reason to change the rules, IMHO.


Sure, but some of these cycles last 10-20 years. That's a long time for fans who don't like the current trend to stick it out in hopes of improvement.
   33. Cooper Nielson Posted: September 05, 2014 at 12:12 AM (#4785867)
FWIW, I think [Giambi and Pettitte] also had public apologies and admitted their wrongdoings. People seem to be more willing to forgive and forget those that do.

But they didn't admit/apologize for anything until after they were caught red-handed. They did not make any admissions proactively. If I am remembering my timeline correctly, Bonds had already been blackballed out of the league before he had anything to apologize for.
   34. bobm Posted: September 05, 2014 at 12:53 AM (#4785878)
Bonds had already been blackballed

An unfortunate turn of phrase.
   35. Sunday silence Posted: September 05, 2014 at 01:15 AM (#4785881)

Games with fewer runs are more entertaining, not less, because they're closer on average and make individual plays more memorable.


this simple reasoning does not follow. If a one run game has no base runners how is it more exiciting than say a 2 run game with 3 base runners? Or a 3 run game with 7 base runners? Somehow you have to work out the score along with whatever the perceived chance of scoring is. It's not as simple as you make it out to be.
   36. Baldrick Posted: September 05, 2014 at 01:30 AM (#4785884)
this simple reasoning does not follow. If a one run game has no base runners how is it more exiciting than say a 2 run game with 3 base runners? Or a 3 run game with 7 base runners? Somehow you have to work out the score along with whatever the perceived chance of scoring is. It's not as simple as you make it out to be.

The general point is perfectly reasonable. Low-scoring games increase the importance of each individual run and therefore increase the tension. OBVIOUSLY that's only true on balance and it would be ludicrous to declare that every single low-scoring game is more exciting then every single high scoring one. Which is why no one even came close to saying so.

So I'm not really sure what you're trying to refute here.

You might not agree that this makes them 'more entertaining' and that's fine. But just pointing out that it's possible for a particular high scoring game to be more exciting by this standard is like arguing that global warming isn't happening because it's cold out today.
   37. Rusty Priske Posted: September 05, 2014 at 08:50 AM (#4785934)
This entire debate is predicated on a falsehood: that increased strikeouts are a bad thing.
   38. Booey Posted: September 05, 2014 at 09:25 AM (#4785951)
I've mentioned it before, but I don't think it's the low scores themselves that are the problem. It's the low scores combined with the long games. Low scoring games are fine if they're fast paced (1960's). Long games are fine if there's lots of offense (1990's). But when you add them together it creates a slow product without much action that's boring for many fans.

This entire debate is predicated on a falsehood: that increased strikeouts are a bad thing.


How could less balls in play (i.e. action) possibly be a GOOD thing? Yeah, it's cool watching a dominant starter mow down 15 guys a game on the way to a 300 K season. It's much less cool watching a starter pitch six innings and 3 generic, interchangeable relievers combine for a 15 strikeout night. The recent Phillies no hitter would have been more exciting if Hamels had done it himself rather than it being a combined effort from 4 pitchers.



   39. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: September 05, 2014 at 10:28 AM (#4785991)
This entire debate is predicated on a falsehood: that increased strikeouts are a bad thing.

IMO the key factor is not knowing in advance the type of game you're likely to see. In 1968 you seldom got to see much offense, and in the late 90's you didn't often see much pitching outside a handful of superstars like Maddux or Clemens. And today there are way too many predictable strikeout situations for my taste, encompassing too many pitchers and way too many hitters. This is especially true in the late innings when you've got bullpens stocked with 95 MPH flamethrowers and lineups with half a dozen hitters who strike out at 100/162 game rates or more.

In terms of anticipation, the ideal situation would be a matchup of a pair of pitchers with ERA's in the mid-to-high 3's, which means you might get a great performance or you might get a slugfest, depending on whether the pitchers were on or off that day. Whereas with a Kershaw, unless you've got an ace-like opposing pitcher, the only real attraction is Kershaw himself, since otherwise the outcome is all but certain. And while that's fine as long as there are only a few "Kershaws", when you start getting too many pitchers with ERAs in the mid-2's or below, like in 1968, the novelty can quickly wear off.
   40. Misirlou was a Buddhist prodigy Posted: September 05, 2014 at 11:00 AM (#4786019)
This is especially true in the late innings when you've got bullpens stocked with 95 MPH flamethrowers and lineups with half a dozen hitters who strike out at 100/162 game rates or more.


The NL is averaging 142K/162 games per lineup spot. Yes, too many strikeouts are a bad thing.
   41. Booey Posted: September 05, 2014 at 12:14 PM (#4786068)
IMO, baseball has always been behind some of the other major sports when it comes to marketing their stars and making them household names, so another of my problems with today's game is that the current trends suppress the big, memorable type seasons from both hitters and starting pitchers that helps make them recognizable superstars to the average fan. If offense is down far enough that hitters can no longer produce the "holy crap!" numbers we got used to in the 90's, then pitchers should be doing it instead, like they were in the 60's. But they're not, cuz no one pitches enough innings. No one gets 300 strikeouts in a season anymore. Very few win 20 games. No one gets more than a handful of complete games or shutouts. Too much of the game is being decided by - as I described them above - generic, interchangeable middle relievers, rather than by legitimate stars with names that casual fans actually know.

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