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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Verducci: Virtue, and victory, no longer synonymous with patience at the plate

The Plesac Effect…on Tom Verducci.

Jayson Werth of the Washington Nationals swings at a 3-and-0 pitch and when he grounds into a double play he invites howls of scorn about how could he have done such a dumb thing. Joey Votto of the Cincinnati Reds is hailed as an on-base machine because he takes more walks than anybody, though he has yet to get an extra-base hit with a runner on base and he lets more strikes go by with each passing year.

Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.

It isn’t working.

Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years. And while teams still preach the religion of driving up pitch counts to “get into the bullpen” of the other team, they may be pushing an outdated agenda. So fortified are major league bullpens these days, especially with hard throwers, that last year relievers posted an ERA more than half a run lower than starters and averaged almost one strikeout for every inning.

(The best idea is to strike quickly; teams that get a lead after as little as two innings win 70 percent of the time.)

The proliferation of measurables in baseball is helping a generation of hitters turn offense into a passive aggressive pursuit. While batting average rightly has lost much of its inflated value, the flip side is that ubiquitous pitch counts, pitches per plate appearance, walks and on-base percentage are influencing how hitters go about their jobs.

Repoz Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:15 PM | 138 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: history, sabermetrics

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   1. Esoteric Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:37 PM (#4423388)
Well worth reading. I tend to agree with him, from an aesthetic and enjoyment perspective if nothing else.
   2. SoSH U at work Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:42 PM (#4423392)
So fortified are major league bullpens these days, especially with hard throwers, that last year relievers posted an ERA more than half a run lower than starters and averaged almost one strikeout for every inning.


Is that ERA discrepancy all that uncommon? That strikes me as the going rate.

   3. Millon deFloss Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:44 PM (#4423398)
Considering how many "just get it over" fastballs are thrown on 3-0 counts, I would think batters would be more aggressive.
   4. bigglou115 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:47 PM (#4423402)
I don't know about the premise, but there are certainly situations where being more aggressive could help. Every time I've seen Cliff Lee really get hit around its been a team that was swinging a lot, which may just be an aspect of the type of pitcher he is.

I think teams over think this. I think the most you can hope for out of a player is to ask them to swing at strikes, and let balls go. Guys who can do more generally will on their own.
   5. cmd600 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:49 PM (#4423406)
Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years.


For three years, and its not really a decline. After 2009, we saw a dropoff of 40-50 runs a season per team, but that number has stayed flat in 2011 and 2012. Compare that to pre-WC era numbers, and we certainly aren't in a decline, we're just coming back from an era of tons of offense, which also happened to coincide with (from my armchair) the beginning of the widespread take-and-rake era. So, actually, it seems that the patient approach led to a huge spike in offense and after almost 20 years, pitchers are finally able to bring the level back to fairly normal.
   6. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4423412)
Baseball seems to be following hockey, in that it is adopting a supposedly effective but exceptionally boring strategy (in the case of hockey, the neutral zone trap defense and the dump and chase offense).
   7. Danny Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:53 PM (#4423416)
The best idea is to strike quickly; teams that get a lead after as little as two innings win 70 percent of the time.

This is some brilliant strategery.
   8. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:54 PM (#4423422)
And while teams still preach the religion of driving up pitch counts to “get into the bullpen” of the other team, they may be pushing an outdated agenda. So fortified are major league bullpens these days, especially with hard throwers, that last year relievers posted an ERA more than half a run lower than starters and averaged almost one strikeout for every inning.

Isn't the idea to get the starter out and the "long reliever" (e.g., the 11th or 12th guy on the staff) into the game, often in a high-leverage situation? When it's too early to start heavily playing platoon matchups or getting into the setup guy / designated closer progression?

The number I'd like to see is the ERA and K/9 of relief pitchers in the 4th - 6th innings.
   9. Rants Mulliniks Posted: April 23, 2013 at 01:59 PM (#4423430)
The number I'd like to see is the ERA and K/9 of relief pitchers in the 4th - 6th innings.


Do teams just have good days with the bat? If they do, there would be a reason its already a blow out by the middle innings, and the worst pitcher on the team is in there eating up innings.
   10. Pat Rapper's Delight Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:03 PM (#4423442)
Do teams just have good days with the bat?

Good point. Maybe add a qualifier than the score margin be <= 3 or 4 at the start of the inning... and not necessarily reliever ERA either since a good number of runs in this scenario would be charged to the departed starter.
   11. Bhaakon Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:24 PM (#4423468)
Isn't the idea to get the starter out and the "long reliever" (e.g., the 11th or 12th guy on the staff) into the game, often in a high-leverage situation? When it's too early to start heavily playing platoon matchups or getting into the setup guy / designated closer progression?


How often do teams expose that guy in a high-leverage situation, though? Pretty rarely, unless their bullpen is a complete disaster in general or the game is already out of hand. It seems like good teams make a point of finding a reliable 6th and 7th inning guy (or platoon team) these days, more so than in the past. I hate to make that "that **** don't work in the playoffs" small sample size argument, but the ability for teams to hide that weak link in the pen also seems to increase with the added off days in the postseason.
   12. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:25 PM (#4423469)
Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history while runs, walks, hits and home runs have been on the decline for years.


Must be this magic rock I've kept in my pocket for years.

I do agree with the point that aesthetically, this is a problem for baseball. You want more action on the field, not a game of catch. I'm not really sure what the answer is though. Increasing the strike zone may get hitters to swing more, but it would also increase strikeouts. Reducing the number of pitching changes or pitchers on a roster may reduce strikeouts, but it would almost certianly increase walks.

Is an underrated factor that fielding has gotten so good? Maybe there is less of an incentive to put the ball in play than there used to be because so many balls put in play are convered into outs? Or is BABIP pretty much constant from the 80s?
   13. JE (Jason) Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:26 PM (#4423472)
Considering how many "just get it over" fastballs are thrown on 3-0 counts, I would think batters would be more aggressive.

The criticism of Werth's swing on 3-0 last Sunday was that Rice had been wild with the two prior batters as well, so much so that Met fans were loudly booing the reliever. Alos, the pitch in question was hardly down the middle of the plate; I recall it being barely at the knees.

EDIT: Ah, I hadn't noticed there was an earlier thread related to Werth's 3-0 swing.
   14. Ron J2 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:31 PM (#4423477)
#4 I'd go a little different. I want them to swing at pitches they can hit hard. There are some strikes most hitters would be better off taking (at least until they have two strikes) and some balls that they probably should swing at (though different hitters have different sweet spots)

I think the Ted Williams display at the Hall of Fame is the best example of the way I'd like it approached.
   15. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 23, 2013 at 02:50 PM (#4423519)
I think he's got a point. For example, more and more players accept the idea that a strikeout is no different from any other kind of out. But is that really accurate? It's true that, for the most part, an out is an out (and a K is better than a GIDP of course), but that doesn't seem like the proper comparison. A strikeout is an out 100% of the time, but a ball put in play has a decent chance of becoming a hit. So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.

I also think that some players are too passive and let very hittable pitches go by because they refuse to swing early in the AB. Nick Markakis has suffered from this IMO, although it seems like he's been a little more aggressive this year.
   16. bigglou115 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 03:00 PM (#4423537)
#4 I'd go a little different. I want them to swing at pitches they can hit hard. There are some strikes most hitters would be better off taking (at least until they have two strikes) and some balls that they probably should swing at (though different hitters have different sweet spots)

I think the Ted Williams display at the Hall of Fame is the best example of the way I'd like it approached.


But that's the point, Ted Williams could do that. How many guys on each team do we really think are capable of Ted William's strike zone judgment? Or to pick a less rarified player, Chipper Jones? Jeter isn't, or so his DP rates would have us think. Its not that I wouldn't prefer guys to let bad strikes go, I just question whether that isn't asking too much of them.

Most guys will swing at a slider outside the zone if it spends enough time inside the zone, asking them to lay off that pitch even when it never leaves the zone seems like a ton. Meanwhile, a player capable of recognizing that pitch probably learns somewhere around high school that he can't hit it and learns to let it go.
   17. RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: April 23, 2013 at 03:01 PM (#4423539)

I think he's got a point. For example, more and more players accept the idea that a strikeout is no different from any other kind of out. But is that really accurate? It's true that, for the most part, an out is an out (and a K is better than a GIDP of course), but that doesn't seem like the proper comparison. A strikeout is an out 100% of the time, but a ball put in play has a decent chance of becoming a hit. So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.


Yes, but its not like players are trying to strike out. A ball they let get by them can also be a ball, which leads to a walk. A ball you swing at, cannot be a ball.
   18. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: April 23, 2013 at 03:14 PM (#4423559)
I think he's got a point. For example, more and more players accept the idea that a strikeout is no different from any other kind of out. But is that really accurate? It's true that, for the most part, an out is an out (and a K is better than a GIDP of course), but that doesn't seem like the proper comparison. A strikeout is an out 100% of the time, but a ball put in play has a decent chance of becoming a hit. So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.


I think the issue is the trade off. Right now all players do sometimes get a hit with two strikes (except Drew Stubbs perhaps) and presumably by not cutting down on their swings they are doing more with those balls they put in play.

In 2012 MLB hitters hit .178/.244/.273 with two strikes. By cutting down on their swing how dramatically are they going to improve and at what cost? BABIP with two strikes in 2012 was .291. Presumably that would be reduced by cutting down on the swing. How much I have no idea. Just to throw this out there let's put BABIP to .280 with a 10% reduction in strikeouts;

actual - .178/.244/.273
w/.280 BABIP&10;% K reduce - .183/.272/.280

That's a pretty substantial increase in OBP. If my guesses are right (and they're blind guesses) then it's probably a worthwhile exchange. A couple of concerns;

1. This assumes no change in ISO which probably isn't true. If BABIP goes down I'd expect the same factors driving that to drive ISO down.

2. Much more importantly if this results in swinging at pitches off the plate to avoid being called off then BB rate will decline. This could have the impact of completely offsetting the OBP increase from not striking out.

I could be completely full of #### here. Just wanted to throw some numbers at it and figured I'd share. The class can now tell me the many ways I'm wrong :-)
   19. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 23, 2013 at 03:24 PM (#4423580)
What if you only look at 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts so that there's no possibility of walking?

It seems like most players have fully embraced the idea that strikeouts are no big deal, and they don't want to get cheated on their swing, even at 1-2 or 2-2. But if they adopted a protect the plate strategy more often it's possible that they could turn some of those Ks into singles. It wouldn't increase ISO, but in theory it could lead to a game more like the one we saw in the 70s and 80s. BA in the AL was .255 last year, and it was in the .260-.270 range 30 years ago.

But I could also be full of ####.
   20. Jose Can Still Seabiscuit Posted: April 23, 2013 at 03:36 PM (#4423598)
What if you only look at 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts so that there's no possibility of walking?


Well you can still walk after an 0-2, 1-2, or 2-2 count of course. Last night for example in the Red Sox-A's game Brandon Moss took two very close pitches in the 5th inning on 0-2 pitches to get back to 2-2 and eventually earned a walk. He could easily have been rung up on them and probably wouldn't have done much with either pitch. Instead his patience was rewarded.
   21. Ron J2 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 04:55 PM (#4423699)
#16 I think the record of Ted Williams as a hitting instructor suggests that there are a lot of players who can make the initial adjustment. But it's worth noting that I can't think of any player who maintained the improvement in the long term. Williams could seemingly never teach anybody to adjust to the adjustments that the pitchers eventually made.

Don't know what that means in practice though. I think by the time a guy reaches the majors all you can do is a little fine tuning. Very few hitters can successfully make a major change in approach.
   22. Walt Davis Posted: April 23, 2013 at 05:34 PM (#4423748)
So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.

Careful, you're making the same mistake. You can't just replace the 50 ks with BIPs. You're replacing an approach (take and rake) whose most likely outcome after two strikes is probably a K, but sometimes results in a walk or a HR. "Protecting the plate" with two strikes should lead to more (weak) BIP but fewer walks and a lower ISO. The piece we're both missing is the foul ball.

That's a pretty substantial increase in OBP

And where did it come from? Your numbers are showing a much higher walk rate, how does that follow from swinging with 2 strikes? In theory it could by foul balls but you didn't seem to account for those. But in reality, if guys swing more with 2 strikes surely they are walking less, not more.

Still in all, it probably would work out to the batters advantage if they could protect the plate more with two strikes. Then we get into ability, timing, etc. What does it do to (a young) Soriano's swing if you teach him how to reach for those outside pitches he's flailing at? What does it do if Mark Reynolds slows down his bat?

Doesn't it make at least as much sense to do the reverse -- to teach the flailers to stop swinging at #### outside the zone with less than two strikes? A guy like Soriano is probably hopeless because he Ks a ton while not walking very much. Brandon Phillips muddles along not striking out much (14%) but not walking (6%), posting league average-ish OBPs and a career BABIP of 293. The fact that he is able to make contact means that he's a guy whose brain processes where the ball is going to end up with reasonable accuracy (as opposed to Soriano who is going to swing and miss by 6 inches). Is it really impossible to teach a young Brandon Phillips to recognize when the ball is not in the zone and so not to swing?

In short, Brandon Phillips' walk rate is the same as Al Leiter's walk rate, a reasonable bit lower if you toss out Leiter's sac bunts. According to fangraphs, Phillips swings at 1/3 of the pitches outside the strike zone. How can that possibly help?

For Verducci to even mention Votto is silly of course. Votto doesn't have XBH with men on base because (a) he was in a power slump dating back to last year's injury; (b) they aren't giving him anything to hit. He's been walked 1 out of every 3 PA with men on. He has 5 walks in 11 PA with a man on second only and 2 in 4 PA with men on 2nd and 3rd only. With nobody on, he's hitting 400 and adding a nearly 20% walk rate (532 OBP).

Deservedly or not, he's getting the Bonds treatment. With a man on second only, Bonds walked 40% of the time; with men on 2nd and 3rd that went up to 56%, leading to an all-time great split of 288/675/567. There's a reason Bonds only led the league in RBI once and it's not because he couldn't hit with men on base it's because he wasn't allowed to hit with men on base. Literally, with men on 2nd and 3rd, 139 of Bonds' 153 walks were intentional. He was intentionally walked more than half of his PAs with 2nd and 3rd only.*

*Which seems insane. Bonds' threat was not the single but the HR. If you're willing to walk him 2nd and 3rd only, you should walk him 1st and 2nd only. They were much more willing to pitch to him with a man on 3rd only.
   23. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: April 23, 2013 at 05:50 PM (#4423767)
The proliferation of measurables in baseball is helping a generation of hitters turn offense into a passive aggressive pursuit. While batting average rightly has lost much of its inflated value, the flip side is that ubiquitous pitch counts, pitches per plate appearance, walks and on-base percentage are influencing how hitters go about their jobs.


Last year, in all of MLB, there were 8675 3-0 counts. The results on the next pitch were 3544 walks, 270 balls put in play (including HRs), and 4861 strikes of one sort or another (IOW, the AB continued). That's 41%, 3%, and 56% respectively. In 1990, the breakdown was 46%, 4%, and 50%.
   24. Ray (RDP) Posted: April 23, 2013 at 05:52 PM (#4423768)
(The best idea is to strike quickly; teams that get a lead after as little as two innings win 70 percent of the time.)


The best idea is to get ahead in the count; hitters that get ahead after as little as one pitch blah blah blah.
   25. Joey B. "disrespects the A" Posted: April 23, 2013 at 05:54 PM (#4423774)
Considering how many "just get it over" fastballs are thrown on 3-0 counts, I would think batters would be more aggressive.

Hell yes. Every good hitter should be thinking "if this sucker starts off headed down the middle, I'm murdering it."
   26. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 23, 2013 at 06:01 PM (#4423782)
Is it really impossible to teach a young Brandon Phillips to recognize when the ball is not in the zone and so not to swing?

I think it's close to impossible. It's probably a lot easier to teach a guy like that to punch at the ball with two strikes than to teach him pitch recognition.
   27. Ray (RDP) Posted: April 23, 2013 at 06:02 PM (#4423783)
Hitters do quite well on 3-0.
   28. Misirlou's been working for the drug squad Posted: April 23, 2013 at 06:08 PM (#4423786)
Hitters do quite well on 3-0.


From the Werth thread:

Any non-2 strike hitting numbers are monstrously good, because strikeouts are not part of the denominator. The huge jump in OPS at 3-0 and 3-1 is that now walks become part of the numerator. Batting average stays about the same as the other no strike counts, slug goes up a bit. But OBP, which for other non 3 ball counts is merely BA, goes up 600 points.

2012 MLB Splits by count (OPS):

0-0 .885
1-0 .910
2-0 .964
3-0 1.781
0-1 .811
1-1 .844
2-1 .893
3-1 1.330

The worst is 0-1, in which the average hitter who puts the ball in play hit like Curtis Granderson did last year (.811 OPS, 117 OPS+).
   29. cardsfanboy Posted: April 23, 2013 at 06:26 PM (#4423798)
I think he's got a point. For example, more and more players accept the idea that a strikeout is no different from any other kind of out. But is that really accurate? It's true that, for the most part, an out is an out (and a K is better than a GIDP of course), but that doesn't seem like the proper comparison. A strikeout is an out 100% of the time, but a ball put in play has a decent chance of becoming a hit. So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.


But that isn't the tradeoff. The method of hitting that the batter is using, is also the same method he uses to hit a homerun in those counts etc... So you would be trading off extra base hits, walks and line drive hits for weaker hit balls that often don't result in even sacrifice fly distant.

   30. Walt Davis Posted: April 23, 2013 at 06:44 PM (#4423808)
I think it's close to impossible.

Why? I don't see any inherent reason this should be difficult. It's standard repetition training -- hey, kid, ever noticed how weakly you hit the ball when you reach for it. Stop that.

Again, in order to put the bat on the ball, the brain is correctly processing where the ball is going to end up. All you have to do is teach them not to swing. This has to be much easier than teaching them how to speed up the bat to catch up with a 95-MPH fastball or how to recognize a breaking ball as it comes out of the pitcher's hand or how to retool their swing to hit more/less flyballs. The brain is already doing the hard part correctly, the problem is in the split-second decision-making not the inherent talent.

I can see an argument that some batters have to start their swing so early to have a hope of catching up to the 95 MPH fastball that they don't have time to stop their swing when it starts to veer. But even there they somehow do have time to alter that swing, extend their arms, bend at the waist to reach the ball 4 inches outside?

And now you've got tons of video, pitch/fx, etc. You did it here ... and here ... and again here ... and see the way you're extending ... and again ... and this is a really good one.

If this wasn't possible, we wouldn't be having this thread. Batters (as a whole) have learned a different approach -- maybe by choice, maybe by necessity but it's a different approach. To see changes of this magnitude at the population level is actually fairly dramatic.

I understand that you maybe can't teach skill -- although this is where repetition comes in -- but you can teach decision-making. It's just the standard "if you keep doing the same thing, you're going to get the same result" approach.

Granted, this is a lesson I have never learned when it comes to my love life.
   31. bigglou115 Posted: April 23, 2013 at 08:29 PM (#4423904)
Again, in order to put the bat on the ball, the brain is correctly processing where the ball is going to end up. All you have to do is teach them not to swing. This has to be much easier than teaching them how to speed up the bat to catch up with a 95-MPH fastball or how to recognize a breaking ball as it comes out of the pitcher's hand or how to retool their swing to hit more/less flyballs. The brain is already doing the hard part correctly, the problem is in the split-second decision-making not the inherent talent.


The brain is doing the hard part correctly, but its doing so very quickly. I'm all for this kind of institutional reform to baseball training. But I imagine you'd have to teach the youngsters to judge balls as 1) pitches I can hit, or 2) pitches I can't hit, instead of the traditional ball strike paradigm.

Everything happens too quickly for active analysis, its all reflex. Reflex is honed through training. I can't imagine an MLB club has the time to really overwrite a lifetime of developed reflexes. I shouldn't have said 'impossible' because my whole point was narrowly defined to what a Major League club was capable of doing.
   32. Ellis Valentine's Bright Future Posted: April 23, 2013 at 10:47 PM (#4424082)
As a Blue Jay fan this whole thread seems like a cruel joke. They have appeared to be extremely aggressive this year and it has not been pretty, especially with Reyes out of the lineup. Mediocre pitchers are cruising through the lineup inducing swinging strike 3s out of the zone. Only Kawasaki and Lind are "working the count"' in any way which is why they were slotted as 1-2 in the lineup tonight. That about says it.

(Note - both players have been a pleasant surprise in this respect so it is nice to see them be encouraged, but I stand by my point.)
   33. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 23, 2013 at 10:47 PM (#4424083)
Welcome to the state of the art in hitting these days, where aggressiveness is disdained and passivity is exalted. The modern hitter is guided by the accepted wisdom in catchphrases such as “driving up pitch counts,” “taking pitches” and “quality at-bats.” There is one serious flaw in this groupthink strategy.

It isn’t working.

Hitters are striking out more than ever before in baseball history...


Verducci isn't the sort to do real analysis, but if he was shouldn't he be looking at data that tells him whether hitters are taking more strikes, and whether that--and not some lust for walks--is leading to unprecedented strikeouts? And, since that data is readily available, why should we pay any attention when he doesn't? Besides, why isn't the counterclaim true, that 'players are swinging at everything these days. That's why we're seeing more Ks than ever'? As cmd notes in #5, Verducci doesn't even get the basics right.

   34. Sean Forman Posted: April 23, 2013 at 10:54 PM (#4424086)
When considering how babip might change by choking up and cutting down your swing consider the different batting averages by batted ball type. League splits are linked from B-R's front page. BAbip is .678 for line drives and .231 for ground balls. Cutting down on your swing is going to convert a lot of line drives into grounders and a lot of fly ball home runs into fly ball outs.
   35. What did Billy Ripken have against ElRoy Face? Posted: April 23, 2013 at 10:59 PM (#4424090)
(The best idea is to strike quickly; teams that get a lead after as little as two innings win 70 percent of the time.)



The best idea is to get ahead in the count; hitters that get ahead after as little as one pitch blah blah blah.


The bestest best idea is patience - the key inning number appears to be nine, as studies have consistently shown that teams leading after nine innings win 100 percent of the time.
   36. madvillain Posted: April 24, 2013 at 03:38 AM (#4424158)
Eh, the forgotten part of the 3 true outcome Revolution (I think Billie Bean wrote a book about it) is that the strikeout was needlessly vilified pre OBP-ball. Striking out usually isn't that much worse than just making an out, so in two strike counts, rather than trying to ground to short, it's better to lett'er rip and swing hard in case you hit it.

Yea, late inning close games call for small ball and bat handling and all that, but those are late inning close games, which aren't a large part of all innings.

The real interesting thing here is how advanced shifts and the specialized modern pitching roster (along with a generous strike zone) are killing offense, as has been mentioned here and many other places in the last year or so.

if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.


in 1-2 and 0-2 counts, the MLB average is like a 550 OPS or so (too lazy to look it up exactly right now), it's (rightly imo) now accepted to let'er rip in those occasions, rather than try for a single that would often just result in a weak contact.

If someone has the historical numbers for 1-2 and 0-2 counts by slash line I'd love to see it, could glean some good hypotheses from it. Are guys really swinging harder at the expense of average? From observation, the answer seems obvious but maybe our eyes are deceiving us and something else is going on.
   37. Greg K Posted: April 24, 2013 at 04:40 AM (#4424161)
Eh, the forgotten part of the 3 true outcome Revolution (I think Billie Bean wrote a book about it) is that the strikeout was needlessly vilified pre OBP-ball. Striking out usually isn't that much worse than just making an out, so in two strike counts, rather than trying to ground to short, it's better to lett'er rip and swing hard in case you hit it.

I think even more than that, taking a strike isn't always worse than making contact. There's nothing more annoying than a guy defending the plate with a weak swing on a 2-0 count. What's the point of that?
   38. vivaelpujols Posted: April 24, 2013 at 05:22 AM (#4424162)
Offense is down compared to the steroid era, but it's still high compared to other years. Verducci also ignores the fact that pitchers are throwing harder and harder and that's likely a big reason for the increase in strikeouts. In other words Verducci assumes that increased patience is the reason why runs per game are down from 5 years ago (when there was also a shitload of walks and OBP strategy was at it's peak). Terrible article.

Edit: RC Cola to #5
   39. vivaelpujols Posted: April 24, 2013 at 05:25 AM (#4424163)
I think he's got a point. For example, more and more players accept the idea that a strikeout is no different from any other kind of out. But is that really accurate? It's true that, for the most part, an out is an out (and a K is better than a GIDP of course), but that doesn't seem like the proper comparison. A strikeout is an out 100% of the time, but a ball put in play has a decent chance of becoming a hit. So if a player can replace 50 Ks with balls in play by cutting down on his swing with two strikes, he could get hits in 10-15 of those ABs.


Take a look at the top 20 strikeout hitters and the bottom 20. Which is a better group of hitters?
   40. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 07:34 AM (#4424179)
MLB, on 0-2 and 1-2 counts:

Season     BA     OBP     SLG
  2012  0.158   0.165   0.233 
  2007  0.174   0.183   0.253 
  2002  0.167   0.176   0.247 
  1997  0.165   0.174   0.242 
  1992  0.169   0.176   0.236 
  1988  0.166   0.172   0.230 
   41. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 07:39 AM (#4424182)
MLB, on 0-2 counts:
Season tOPS+
  2012     3
  2007     8
  2002     7
  1997     3
  1992     9
  1988     7


MLB, on 1-2 counts:
Season tOPS+
  2012    13
  2007    18
  2002    15
  1997    12
  1992    21
  1988    19
   42. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 07:46 AM (#4424183)
[33] Verducci isn't the sort to do real analysis, but if he was shouldn't he be looking at data that tells him whether hitters are taking more strikes, and whether that--and not some lust for walks--is leading to unprecedented strikeouts?

If only that data existed...
   43. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 08:53 AM (#4424221)
Thanks for the info. in 40 and 41. I guess the hitters' approach hasn't changed all that much.
   44. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:02 AM (#4424228)
Verducci also ignores the fact that pitchers are throwing harder and harder and that's likely a big reason for the increase in strikeouts.

But, as the link in 42 shows, it's called strikes that are up, not swinging strikes.

Guys are taking more strikes (whether to their benefit or harm I don't know) they are not swinging and missing.

I tend to agree that hitters have become too passive. Most pitchers still try to throw fastball strikes on pitch one. The hitter should try to hit them if they're in a good zone.
   45. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:10 AM (#4424233)
I tend to agree that hitters have become too passive. Most pitchers still try to throw fastball strikes on pitch one. The hitter should try to hit them if they're in a good zone.

IIRC, Jeremy Hermida is a good example of this. He was great in the minors because he was so selective, but that worked against him in the majors. He would take a lot of strikes early in the count and fall behind.
   46. BDC Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:20 AM (#4424238)
I was fixing to say that if we had more parks like the Astrodome, we'd have less TTO baseball; but then I remembered that Jimmy Wynn played most of his career there.
   47. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:20 AM (#4424239)
He would take a lot of strikes early in the count and fall behind.

Yup. If you don't swing at strikes early in the count, MLB pitchers will make you swing at balls later in the count.
   48. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:29 AM (#4424242)
Called strikes are up 26% since 1988. (*) That clearly constitutes a secular change in the way the game is played. Combined that with the far fewer balls in play and the roughly 50 more pitchers that regularly pitch with the swelling of staffs (**), and you have a game that's changed significantly. I can't remotely see how it can be argued that the change has been for the better, but YMMV. Contrary to popular opinion, I don't see baseball as being at its best when I was 12; it was at its best from ca. 1986-92, when I was in my 20s.

(*) Maybe even more; I used .54 for 1988 and .68 for 2012 in the linked graph, which is conservative.

(**) And the far greater number of pathetic, oafish swings and misses.
   49. Ron J2 Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:48 AM (#4424264)
#22 I did a mini-study a few years back assuming that Adam Dunn (back in the days when he was a good hitter) could somehow become Ozzie Guillen at will with two strikes. Why Guillen? Because he was the best non-elite hitter at making contact that I had two strike data for. It doesn't make any sense to assume that Dunn could become (say) Tony Gwynn at will. In reality, he probably wouldn't be as successful as Guillen if he made a dramatic change of style.

Summarizing (from an old usenet post):

If you want to avoid Ks you need a radical re-working of your approach at the plate. Specifically you need to resolve a higher portion of your plate appearances before reaching a two strike count. (as I've pointed out before, this is something Mark McGwire did successfully. He swung and missed a lot, but pulled the trigger a lot for a take and rake guy) And that mean you don't have Adam Dunn anymore. (Dunn's a minor God in the PAs resolved before two Ks -- in part because of his plate siscipline)

Now a lot of casual fans say he should simply change his approach with two strikes. Assuming for the moment this is doable (I don't think it is. Hitting major league pitching is *hard*. Trying to maintain two different approaches? Can't think of anybody able to do it. Still, let's assume it is)

I have a Stats scoreboard that says that Ozzie Guillen had the second best contact rate in MLB for the 1996-2000 period (I think it makes about as much sense to use Tony Gwynn -- the number one -- as it does to model your overall expectations on Barry Bonds)

So let's say Dunn becomes Ozzie Guillen with two strikes. The Ks drop by 73 (Dunn has an awful lot of PAs with two strikes -- even hitters with really good contact rates will strike out a fair bit)
but at a hefty price. (To avoid Ks you simply can't take the close pitches. Dunn's drawn 53 of his walks on 3-2 counts). The overall cost to the Reds in that time frame was on the order of 17 runs a year. (because he'd be giving back 10 HR, 8 2b and 43 walks in exchange for a bunch of singles)

There's no good strategy for hitting with two strikes. In general Ks are replaced with weak grounders.
   50. DL from MN Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:50 AM (#4424265)
Time for expansion, the pitchers are ahead of the hitters again.
   51. DL from MN Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:51 AM (#4424267)
If you're going to slap-hit with two strikes like Ozzie Guillen it helps to be fast. That isn't going to be a good method for Adam Dunn.
   52. Ron J2 Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:52 AM (#4424270)
#34 If there's one thing that the work of Dave Studeman and others have shown it is that a player's offensive value comes on pitches that he hits hard. Line drives and (generally) pulled flyballs. It's clearly worthwhile to forgo swings where the upside is a groundball that might go through to increase your chances of driving the ball.
   53. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:54 AM (#4424271)
So let's say Dunn becomes Ozzie Guillen with two strikes. The Ks drop by 73 (Dunn has an awful lot of PAs with two strikes -- even hitters with really good contact rates will strike out a fair bit)
but at a hefty price. (To avoid Ks you simply can't take the close pitches. Dunn's drawn 53 of his walks on 3-2 counts). The overall cost to the Reds in that time frame was on the order of 17 runs a year. (because he'd be giving back 10 HR, 8 2b and 43 walks in exchange for a bunch of singles)

There's no good strategy for hitting with two strikes. In general Ks are replaced with weak grounders.


But shouldn't a strong power hitter be able to generate a lot harder contact, even at 2 strikes, than a slap hitting MI?

Power hitters didn't always strike out like they do today. Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mize (to pick 3 guys off the top of my head) had very low K-rates and still walked a bunch and hit for power.
   54. Ron J2 Posted: April 24, 2013 at 09:56 AM (#4424272)
#51 That's true. It's equally true that it's not remotely likely that he could morph into the second best contact hitter in the majors at will.
   55. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:05 AM (#4424276)
#51 That's true. It's equally true that it's not remotely likely that he could morph into the second best contact hitter in the majors at will.

But, a guy Dunn's size doesn't need to swing at maximum effort to generate a lot of power. It's quite possible that he would retain enough of his power with a somewhat more aggressive approach that there would be a net gain from the added contact.

And at this point, frankly, what does he have to lose? The current Adam Dunn is a useless baseball player.
   56. The Good Face Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:18 AM (#4424284)
Power hitters didn't always strike out like they do today. Gehrig, DiMaggio and Mize (to pick 3 guys off the top of my head) had very low K-rates and still walked a bunch and hit for power.


DiMaggio was something of a freak with his contact tool and he didn't really walk all that much; a sort of rich man's Vlad Guererro. I don't think he ever finished in the top 10 for BB/season. Gehrig on the other hand was in the top 10 for batter Ks 8 times in his career, and finished 2nd or 3rd 5 times. He struck out plenty for his era. Mize is a pretty good example; not really sure what lesson to take from that other than Johnny Mize was a hell of a hitter.

   57. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:31 AM (#4424307)
And at this point, frankly, what does he have to lose? The current Adam Dunn is a useless baseball player.

Adam Dunn is the baseball version of Soviet Man. Stolid and bloated and creaky, old even though young, and an archetype that could have only been produced by a fussy and inferior system.
   58. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:44 AM (#4424325)
Gehrig on the other hand was in the top 10 for batter Ks 8 times in his career, and finished 2nd or 3rd 5 times. He struck out plenty for his era.

Early in his career. In the 30's he reduced his K-rate from 9-10% to 5-6%.
   59. GuyM Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:54 AM (#4424336)
I think it's fascinating that whenever there is a change in scoring, most fans (and sportswriters) gravitate immediately to theories that assume declining performance by some set of players. Today scoring is down and strikeouts are up, so we get 100 theories about what hitters are doing wrong. But when scoring goes up, the most popular theories are based on the idea that pitchers suck (e.g. the continued widespread -- and completely wrong -- belief that expansion helped increase scoring in 1993-94). The only constant is the presumption that change means some set of players are getting worse.

What makes this so bizarre, of course, is that we know that players are, in general, continually getting better. And baseball data is improving and being used in smarter ways, so if strategy is causing change it's much more likely that (in the current period) pitchers are doing something smart than that hitters are all being dumb. So our default theories should always be that some group of players is playing better and/or smarter. But instead, we assume the reverse.

Do fans in other sports also look at things in this backward manner?
   60. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 11:19 AM (#4424369)
Interesting points in post 59. Has anyone looked at the K rate for starters and relievers over time? How much of the increase in Ks is coming from ABs in the last 3 innings when the batters are seeing the elite relievers and specialists?
   61. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: April 24, 2013 at 11:19 AM (#4424370)
So our default theories should always be that some group of players is playing better and/or smarter. But instead, we assume the reverse.

I don't assume anything. I've seen Adam Dunn "hit."

It's not that players are getting "worse." It's that one-dimensional beer leaguers like Mark Reynolds would have gotten weeded out in previous baseball years, and now they're in the player pool just ready to be exposed. Pitchers may be getting better at exposing the massive weaknesses in the skill sets of the Reynoldses and Dunns of the world, but I'd hardly equate that with pitchers getting "better."
   62. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 11:32 AM (#4424395)
Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1961 to 2013, (requiring year_min>=1961 and At least 3000 plate appearances), sorted by greatest AB per SO

                                  
Rk             Player   AB/SO   AB
1        Felix Millan 23.9298 5791
2       Glenn Beckert 21.4321 5208
3          Tony Gwynn 21.4009 9288
4        Bill Buckner 20.7439 9397
5        Felix Fermin 18.8231 2767
6           Dave Cash 17.9741 5554
7          Bob Bailor 17.9085 2937
8          Rich Dauer 17.4840 3829
9        Brian Harper 16.7606 3151
10        Tommy Helms 16.6013 4997
11         Jesus Alou 16.2734 4345
12      Marty Barrett 16.1627 3378
13        Ozzie Smith 15.9525 9396
14    Gregg Jefferies 15.8621 5520
15      Don Mattingly 15.7725 7003
16         Johnny Ray 15.7690 5188
17        Juan Pierre 15.7430 7289
18   Manny Sanguillen 15.2931 5062
19           Tim Foli 15.1554 6047
20         Greg Gross 14.9800 3745
21         Larry Bowa 14.7944 8418
22      Fernando Vina 14.5205 4240
23       Ted Sizemore 14.3171 5011
24      Mike Scioscia 14.2443 4373
25    Gary Sutherland 14.1735 3104


   63. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 11:39 AM (#4424401)
Spanning Multiple Seasons or entire Careers, From 1961 to 2013, (requiring year_min>=1961, slugging_perc>=.500 and At least 3000 plate appearances), sorted by greatest AB per SO

                                         
Rk              Player   AB/SO  SLG    AB
1    Nomar Garciaparra 10.0830 .521  5586
2        Albert Pujols  8.8606 .606  6991
3    Vladimir Guerrero  8.2792 .553  8155
4      Magglio Ordonez  8.1901 .502  6978
5          Moises Alou  7.8714 .516  7037
6       Gary Sheffield  7.8711 .514  9217
7          Brian Giles  7.8168 .502  6527
8        Robinson Cano  7.7706 .505  4810
9      Rafael Palmeiro  7.7685 .515 10472
10         Todd Helton  6.9525 .544  7606
11      Aramis Ramirez  6.5862 .503  6876
12         Barry Bonds  6.3983 .607  9847
13       Chipper Jones  6.3762 .529  8984
14         Mike Piazza  6.2093 .545  6911
15        Albert Belle  6.0905 .564  5853
16      Edgar Martinez  6.0008 .515  7213
17        Frank Thomas  5.8690 .555  8199
18         Chase Utley  5.8532 .500  4507
19            Jim Rice  5.7800 .502  8225
20      Kevin Mitchell  5.7497 .520  4134
21     Troy Tulowitzki  5.6654 .507  2878
22       David Justice  5.6306 .500  5625
23        Larry Walker  5.6109 .565  6907
24           Jeff Kent  5.5834 .500  8498
25         Ken Griffey  5.5093 .538  9801


   64. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 24, 2013 at 11:50 AM (#4424417)
Interesting points in post 59. Has anyone looked at the K rate for starters and relievers over time? How much of the increase in Ks is coming from ABs in the last 3 innings when the batters are seeing the elite relievers and specialists?

Quick check: in 1990, SP K'd 14.3% of batters, RP K'd 16.1% or a 12.5% higher rate. In 2012, SP K'd 18.7% and RP 21.9%, or a 17% higher rate.

There's something there, but it doesn't seem huge.
   65. bobm Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:17 PM (#4424464)
For cumulative seasons, From 1988 to 2013, Two Strikes (within Count/Balls-Strikes), (requiring AB?1000 for entire season(s)/career), sorted by greatest Batting Average for this split

                                                                            
Rk              Player       Split From   To    G   BA BAtot   PA   AB ABtot
1           Tony Gwynn Two Strikes 1988 2001 1259 .302  .340 2053 1926  6335
2          Todd Helton Two Strikes 1997 2012 1931 .263  .320 4233 3686  7565
3           Wade Boggs Two Strikes 1988 1999 1383 .262  .313 2996 2660  5851
4          Juan Pierre Two Strikes 2000 2012 1551 .262  .297 3076 2859  7217
5        Ichiro Suzuki Two Strikes 2001 2012 1703 .261  .322 3470 3313  8085
6         Luis Polonia Two Strikes 1988 2000 1015 .261  .293 1969 1830  4405
7        Albert Pujols Two Strikes 2001 2012 1652 .258  .325 3377 3053  6919
8            Joe Mauer Two Strikes 2004 2012  976 .254  .323 2124 1946  3933
9       Dustin Pedroia Two Strikes 2006 2012  796 .253  .303 1797 1623  3388
10        Brian Harper Two Strikes 1988 1995  611 .252  .304 1032  969  2761
11    Orlando Palmeiro Two Strikes 1995 2007  809 .252  .274 1456 1347  2335
12     Gregg Jefferies Two Strikes 1988 2000 1086 .251  .288 1956 1832  5514
13        Buster Posey Two Strikes 2009 2012  287 .251  .314  618  554  1115
14   Nomar Garciaparra Two Strikes 1996 2009 1134 .249  .313 2035 1872  5586
15     Placido Polanco Two Strikes 1998 2012 1476 .248  .299 2738 2528  6837
16     Chuck Knoblauch Two Strikes 1991 2002 1414 .248  .289 3110 2706  6366
17          Johnny Ray Two Strikes 1988 1990  321 .247  .292  587  547  1536
18        Martin Prado Two Strikes 2006 2012  610 .245  .295 1328 1249  2546
19          Mark Grace Two Strikes 1988 2003 1733 .244  .303 3021 2651  8065
20     Willie Randolph Two Strikes 1988 1992  485 .244  .273  902  788  2058
21      Starlin Castro Two Strikes 2010 2012  408 .244  .297  828  784  1783
22         Tike Redman Two Strikes 2000 2007  326 .244  .281  570  537  1370
23        Paul Molitor Two Strikes 1988 1998 1310 .243  .313 2486 2221  6231
24     Jacoby Ellsbury Two Strikes 2007 2012  527 .243  .297 1215 1116  2335
25     Carney Lansford Two Strikes 1988 1992  427 .242  .286  668  574  2126


   66. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:22 PM (#4424469)
Relievers pitched 32% of all innings in 1990, and 34% in 2012. I was surprised that the increase was so small.
   67. Steve Treder Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:32 PM (#4424481)
Relievers pitched 32% of all innings in 1990, and 34% in 2012. I was surprised that the increase was so small.

Yes, but the stint length per relief appearance is dramatically shorter now than 25 years ago.
   68. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:35 PM (#4424487)
From an aesthetic standpoint, I really wish there were a few Gwynn/Carew/Boggs type hitters in MLB today, but I recognize that there are only a handful of players like that in MLB history.
   69. Joey B. "disrespects the A" Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:46 PM (#4424498)
From an aesthetic standpoint, I really wish there were a few Gwynn/Carew/Boggs type hitters in MLB today, but I recognize that there are only a handful of players like that in MLB history.

What the heck do you call Derek Jeter and Ichiro?
   70. TomH Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:48 PM (#4424500)
:65 great data culling! What a fine chart that would make. "One of these is not like the others.."
   71. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:52 PM (#4424505)
Yes, but the stint length per relief appearance is dramatically shorter now than 25 years ago.


Yes, it dropped steadily over the 30-year period from 1977 through 2006.

One other thing to note is that the percentage of games in which starters pitch 3 or fewer innings has been cut virtually in half. In 1969 it was around 10% of all games; today it's around 5-6%. If you're using four or five pitchers per game on a regular basis it becomes harder to yank a starter early in the game unless he's hurt.

-- MWE
   72. SoSH U at work Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:55 PM (#4424511)
What the heck do you call Derek Jeter and Ichiro?


I'd call them not as good with the stick as Gwynn/Carew/Boggs.

   73. Steve Treder Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:58 PM (#4424517)
One other thing to note is that the percentage of games in which starters pitch 3 or fewer innings has been cut virtually in half. In 1969 it was around 10% of all games; today it's around 5-6%. If you're using four or five pitchers per game on a regular basis it becomes harder to yank a starter early in the game unless he's hurt.

Yes. BITD starters completed a hell of a lot more games than they do today, and pitched into the 8th and 9th much more readily as well. But they were also far more likely to be yanked early -- remarkably often even in the 1st inning -- than in the modern era.
   74. GuyM Posted: April 24, 2013 at 12:59 PM (#4424519)
It's not that players are getting "worse." It's that one-dimensional beer leaguers like Mark Reynolds would have gotten weeded out in previous baseball years, and now they're in the player pool just ready to be exposed.

This seems to be a popular theory, that the rising K rate is driven by guys who swing for the fences. But why not actually check to see if it's true? Let's compare 2002 and 2012. I divided qualifying hitters in both years into two groups, low ISO and high ISO (top 50% and bottom 50%). Here are their K%:
2002:
Lo ISO: 13.3%
Hi ISO: 17.5%

2012:
Lo ISO: 15.9%
Hi ISO: 20.3%

So today, power hitters are striking out 16% more often than they were a decade ago. But non-power hitters are striking out 20% more often!

Maybe a more thorough look at the data will confirm that players like Reynolds are driving the increase in Ks. But it's very unlikely this is true. And if you're going to make the claim, at least provide a little data to back it up. It's not hard to find these days....


   75. GuyM Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:04 PM (#4424526)
BITD starters completed a hell of a lot more games than they do today, and pitched into the 8th and 9th much more readily as well. But they were also far more likely to be yanked early -- remarkably often even in the 1st inning -- than in the modern era.

And both of these changes were exactly right from the defense's point of view. The evidence is pretty clear that starters who get hit hard in the early innings are not more likely than average to pitch poorly the rest of that game (accounting for their overall talent level), so pulling them early really didn't make sense. However, starters really do perform much worse the third time through a lineup, so replacing them with relievers after 5-6 innings is generally the right thing to do.
   76. Steve Treder Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:08 PM (#4424533)
And both of these changes were exactly right from the defense's point of view. The evidence is pretty clear that starters who get hit hard in the early innings are not more likely than average to pitch poorly the rest of that game (accounting for their overall talent level), so pulling them early really didn't make sense. However, starters really do perform much worse the third time through a lineup, so replacing them with relievers after 5-6 innings is generally the right thing to do.

Indeed.
   77. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:10 PM (#4424534)
Jeter isn't at that level. Ichiro was pretty close, but his last really good season was four years ago.
   78. SoSH U at work Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:13 PM (#4424537)
Jeter isn't at that level. Ichiro was pretty close, but his last really good season was four years ago.


Ichiro was comparable from a BA persepctive, but not as an overall hitter.

Gwynn, Boggs and Carew were guys with good contact skills and high BAs, but they were excellent hitters.

Ichiro had the BA, but he was never in their class in the batter's box.
   79. PreservedFish Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:17 PM (#4424544)
So today, power hitters are striking out 16% more often than they were a decade ago. But non-power hitters are striking out 20% more often!


To be fair, this is exactly what many other people are arguing here and elsewhere ... that much of the increase in K's is driven by the fact that even the utility infielder types are wildly swinging for the fences these days.

I love the point in #59 though.
   80. Yeaarrgghhhh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:18 PM (#4424546)
Right. I mostly mean the guys who have amazing bat control and put up high BAs. Ichiro wasn't as good a hitter as those other guys, but he was fun to watch.
   81. PreservedFish Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:20 PM (#4424550)
And both of these changes were exactly right from the defense's point of view.


The picture that emerges is an interesting sort of arms war - the hitters were getting so much better because they were weightlifting, roiding, stopped caring so much about Ks, stopped caring so much about defense - at the same time pitching was getting better because they started prioritizing Ks in a new way, and using the bullpen much more intelligently. In the 00s the hitters were winning the race but it's settling back into a nice equilibrium, at least in my opinion, as far as Runs/Game is concerned.
   82. Steve Treder Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:33 PM (#4424569)
In the 00s the hitters were winning the race but it's settling back into a nice equilibrium, at least in my opinion, as far as Runs/Game is concerned.

My article in the 2010 THT Annual book explores exactly this subject, quoting at length the excellent research of Craig Wright. Craig's thesis, which I support, is that pitchers got wise to the fact that batters had become far more likely to take the first pitch, and so they started pouring strike one in there. There are *far" more first pitch called strikes nowdays than 20-25 years ago.

Craig and I differ on just what impact umpires being more generous with the first pitch strike call (especially after the QuesTec stuff in the early 2000s) ... I theorize that that's also part of it, Craig disagrees. But in any case, called strikes early in the count, especially on the first pitch, are a very big deal.
   83. smileyy Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:46 PM (#4424594)
From an aesthetic standpoint, I really wish there were a few Gwynn/Carew/Boggs type hitters in MLB today, but I recognize that there are only a handful of players like that in MLB history.


And I bet as they develop, they're all being taught to increase their ISO, perhaps at the cost of their BA.

ObBillJames: I'm assuming you mean "Major League Baseball" when you say "MLB".
   84. DL from MN Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:48 PM (#4424598)
I always thought Joe Mauer hit a lot like Wade Boggs - high average, walks, doubles, not a lot of HR.
   85. smileyy Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:51 PM (#4424603)
The evidence is pretty clear that starters who get hit hard in the early innings are not more likely than average to pitch poorly the rest of that game (accounting for their overall talent level), so pulling them early really didn't make sense.


I had not heard this before, but that's really interesting.
   86. smileyy Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:54 PM (#4424611)

I always thought Joe Mauer hit a lot like Wade Boggs - high average, walks, doubles, not a lot of HR.


I think of Kevin Youkilis as that modern type of player -- great strike zone control, but turning that into power instead of low strikeouts and high BA.

Maybe I'm completely off-base there.
   87. smileyy Posted: April 24, 2013 at 01:58 PM (#4424622)
[82] I love the game theory part of that.
   88. GuyM Posted: April 24, 2013 at 02:10 PM (#4424640)
So today, power hitters are striking out 16% more often than they were a decade ago. But non-power hitters are striking out 20% more often!

To be fair, this is exactly what many other people are arguing here and elsewhere ... that much of the increase in K's is driven by the fact that even the utility infielder types are wildly swinging for the fences these days.

Well, if the theory is that "everyone" is swinging for the fences too much, how do we test this theory? Is there any evidence of any kind that supports it? Seems like just something people pull out of their *ss because they're sure that hitters must be doing something wrong.

The picture that emerges is an interesting sort of arms war - the hitters were getting so much better because they were weightlifting, roiding, stopped caring so much about Ks, stopped caring so much about defense - at the same time pitching was getting better because they started prioritizing Ks in a new way, and using the bullpen much more intelligently. In the 00s the hitters were winning the race but it's settling back into a nice equilibrium, at least in my opinion, as far as Runs/Game is concerned.

I think that's basically right, with the crucial addition that it was mainly the juiced ball that gave hitters the edge in the 1990s. But both sides are always searching for an edge. My sense is that the underlying, secular trend is that pitching has been improving faster than hitting for the past 50 years. To keep things in balance, periodic changes have to be made to help hitters. We may be only a few years away from another such moment, when MLB will lower the mound again, or juice the ball a bit.

   89. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 02:14 PM (#4424648)
My article in the 2010 THT Annual book explores exactly this subject, quoting at length the excellent research of Craig Wright.


and which you all should read if you haven't already.

The move away from pulling starters early really took off in the mid-90s, after late-inning relief pitcher usage had more or less stabilized into the mode we have now. To some extent this was a reaction to the use of more relievers for shorter stints, to some extent it was (as Guy noted) a realization that the starter was probably a better "long man" than the 12th or 13th pitcher on the staff. What the change has done is to switch the idea of "Weaverization" from using a rookie in a long-relief role to using one in a 50-60 inning low-leverage role. What the change has made it more difficult to do is to figure out what to do with a Jake Arrieta-type of pitcher (to piggyback off another thread) who you want to work as a starter eventually but who isn't ready to be a full-time rotation member. That pitcher was an ideal candidate for "Weaverization" in the old days but he doesn't ever really get a chance to be stretched out today. Perhaps tandem starting in one rotation slot is a possibility, when you don't really have a fifth starter, a la the Astros.

-- MWE
   90. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 24, 2013 at 02:22 PM (#4424663)
My sense is that the underlying, secular trend is that pitching has been improving faster than hitting for the past 50 years.


In part I think this is because pitchers focus on pitching earlier in their careers than they ever have. There are fewer pitchers who play key roles on their teams when they are not pitching, especially on the elite travel teams.

-- MWE
   91. GuyM Posted: April 24, 2013 at 02:35 PM (#4424686)
MWE/90: Maybe that's part of it. Other possibilities:

As players get bigger and stronger, pitchers benefit disproportionately. Pitch velocity increases more than hitter reflexes improve. Plus taller hitters = larger strike zone.

Changes in pitcher usage (4 days of rest for starters, shorter appearances for relievers) have no parallel for hitters. Bringing in new "fresh" hitters to pinch hit late in the game will hurt offense.

The availability of more data and video may help pitchers more than hitters. Because pitchers control the ball and determine type of pitch and (to an extent) location, they can use data more effectively to improve. Hitters may learn they can kill a certain pitcher's slider, but they can't force him to throw it.
   92. Jack Carter, calling Beleaguered Castle Posted: April 24, 2013 at 10:15 PM (#4425262)
What makes this so bizarre, of course, is that we know that players are, in general, continually getting better. And baseball data is improving and being used in smarter ways, so if strategy is causing change it's much more likely that (in the current period) pitchers are doing something smart than that hitters are all being dumb. So our default theories should always be that some group of players is playing better and/or smarter. But instead, we assume the reverse.


Good point. It's worth noting that the data that would be useful to players and that only became widely available during the last decade is so for pitchers. A pitcher can, of course, begin a PA with a plan based on that data, which pinpoints a hitter's weakness, and execute that plan. For a hitter it's still nearly all reflexes, though. It's nice to know a pitcher will throw a circle change in 12.3% of PAs, but a hitter still has to recognize that within a split second. A pitcher can know from the data a given hitter will hit .107 against a curve ball on the middle half of the plate, and execute. Advantage: Pitcher.

Perfectly obvious, I suppose, but it supports your theory, and it does seem clear that tech advances in baseball since 2005 largely favor the pitcher. Perhaps LASIK had that effect for hitters during the decade before that.

edit: crap. Carbonation to Guy.
   93. Mike Emeigh Posted: April 25, 2013 at 08:46 AM (#4425396)
In the same THT Annual in which Steve's article referenced above was published, there's an article by John Walsh on pitch calling, using data from Pitch F/X. He notes (somewhat in passing) that the strike zone tends to be a function of the count; the umpires tend to call more strikes on borderline pitches when the count is in the hitter's favor than they do when the count is in the batter's favor. Most of the article after that focuses on what the umpires do on the first pitch. Unfortunately, the article doesn't address trends in pitch-calling on the first pitch.

-- MWE

   94. Greg Pope thinks the Cubs are reeking havoc Posted: April 25, 2013 at 09:04 AM (#4425405)
The evidence is pretty clear that starters who get hit hard in the early innings are not more likely than average to pitch poorly the rest of that game (accounting for their overall talent level), so pulling them early really didn't make sense.

I'd be interested in a more detailed study, using Pitch F/X. IIRC, the study by Tango and MGL looked at results. I don't know if it was ERA or peripheral numbers. But either way, I wonder if there is such a thing as "Pitcher X just doesn't have his good curveball today". In other words, if the curve isn't "working" in the first two innings, does the pitcher truly recover the curve in the later innings and that is why the results going forward are consistent with talent level? Or does the pitcher make some sort of other adjustment? Now, I'm sure that there is some bias there since a pitcher may throw his curve less if he feels that he doesn't "have it" today. Same goes for things like "good fastball", "control of the slider", etc.

I'm wondering if early hooks in the past were based on the guy just giving up runs, or a subjecting decision by the manager that the guy just doesn't have his stuff today.
   95. BDC Posted: April 25, 2013 at 09:26 AM (#4425411)
The evidence is pretty clear that starters who get hit hard in the early innings are not more likely than average to pitch poorly the rest of that game (accounting for their overall talent level)

Which is counterintuitive, (as Greg notes), especially if like me you grew up watching Leo Durocher manage. We always assumed that if a guy got shelled in the first couple of innings, he simply "didn't have it that day," and should hit the showers. But I suppose the closer model to the truth is that a guy might not have one pitch, or might have come out with a very bad plan for three or four key hitters; and if given the chance to adjust that plan, he isn't likely to get shelled any worse the second time through the order.

In any case, as with modern bullpen management, the value of long-term predictability is greater than the possible tactical advantage of improvising a solution to an individual game on the fly. Starters now get through their 100-110 pitches every time come hell or high water, and the bullpen gets their usual work, win or lose. And Leo's dictum "tomorrow it may rain" is obsolete. In fact, with so many roofs and Sunbelt venues, tomorrow it usually doesn't rain.

   96. GuyM Posted: April 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM (#4425435)
I'd be interested in a more detailed study, using Pitch F/X. IIRC, the study by Tango and MGL looked at results.

That would be interesting, although, as you note, separating cause and effect in such data would be very challenging. I'd like to see a Pitch F/X study of starters' pitch quality by inning. How much do pitchers lose by the 6th inning, in terms of velocity, location, and/or movement? We know their results get worse each time through the lineup, but the conventional analysis is that this is primarily a result of "hitter learning" (becoming more familiar with the pitcher). I suspect fatigue also plays a role, and Pitch F/X data might be able to resolve that issue.

Regardless of the predictive value of starters' getting hit hard in the early innings, pulling them early is probably a bad move most of the time. Why burn up your pen in a game you are likely to lose? And if your starter's ERA takes a big hit, well, that can only help the team at arbitration time.
   97. valuearbitrageur Posted: April 25, 2013 at 12:32 PM (#4425582)
DiMaggio and Ruth both led the league in strikeouts 3 times. I'm gonna go with strikeouts are just another out for $500, Alex.
   98. Kiko Sakata Posted: April 25, 2013 at 12:41 PM (#4425586)
DiMaggio and Ruth both led the league in strikeouts 3 times.


Vince DiMaggio led the NL in strikeouts 6 times (and Babe Ruth led the AL 5 times), but Joe DiMaggio's career high in strikeouts was 39 his rookie season. He was top 10 in the AL in AB/SO 5 times and had more home runs than strikeouts in 7 seasons.
   99. Steve Treder Posted: April 25, 2013 at 01:11 PM (#4425605)
Regardless of the predictive value of starters' getting hit hard in the early innings, pulling them early is probably a bad move most of the time. Why burn up your pen in a game you are likely to lose?

Yes, and as I believe someone might have noted above, BITD your staff probably had a designated "long reliever" available, and in those days "long" meant at least 3 or 4 innings, maybe 7 or 8 innings of work "long." So yanking the starter early didn't guarantee chewing through the bullpen the way it does today, when a reliever practically never works more than 2-plus innings.
   100. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 25, 2013 at 01:19 PM (#4425613)
Yes, and as I believe someone might have noted above, BITD your staff probably had a designated "long reliever" available, and in those days "long" meant at least 3 or 4 innings, maybe 7 or 8 innings of work "long." So yanking the starter early didn't guarantee chewing through the bullpen the way it does today, when a reliever practically never works more than 2-plus innings.

I think the interesting question is why don't teams have long relievers? Every team use 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th SPs at some point in the season. Why not keep your 6th SP in the pen?

It still makes sense to pull your good SPs if they get shelled early, you're likely to lose the game, and they could come back to start on short rest. Also, the long-man and the 5th starter can sort of be "platooned" based on matchups.
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