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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Joe Posnanski and Bill James say beanballs are on a historic rise

Joe: It comes as a huge surprise to me that there are BY FAR more batters getting hit by pitches in the decade we are in now than in any decade in the 20th Century. Pitchers are hitting batters at almost double the rate they did in those when-men-were-men 1950s.

Here are the per-game percentages of batters getting hit by pitch.

1950s: 19.4%
1960s: 21.8%
1970s: 19.4%
1980s: 17.9%
1990s: 27.6%
2000s: 36.0%

... this is shocking to me because people always seem to talk about how much bigger a part the beanball played in the old days—you know, how much tougher and meaner baseball players used to be.

Bill: I don’t think it is a myth that ballplayers—or PEOPLE—were tougher in the old days. I think they WERE tougher ... I’m not saying it was a good thing, and, lest that be an ambiguous remark, it WASN’T a good thing ...

The surge in hit batsmen in the last 20 years, in my view, is part of the ebb and flow of the game ... It started—understanding that nothing “starts” anywhere—but it started with the switch to metal bats in amateur baseball ... in the late 1980s[,] the young hitters simply proved that conventional baseball wisdom was wrong. This led to a greatly increased number of young hitters who stood right on top of the plate—and also to a greatly increased number of opposite-field home runs ... The increase in hit batsmen in the last 10 years is not a consequence of beanballs—which are deliberate attempts to intimidate a hitter—but a consequence of these other changes.

Joe: These days ... who can tell intent?... now, because batters often crowd the plate, because they wear the body armor that makes them more fearless, because everyone is watching so closely ... things are tougher to see.

Bill: Baseball will eventually reach ... the realization that allowing players to “protect” themselves with unlimited padding is dangerous.

The District Attorney Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:01 PM | 44 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: baseball geeks

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   1. It's regretful that PASTE was able to get out Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:41 PM (#3297007)
The obvious solution to this particular problem--in fact, I'm pretty sure James advocated it in the NHBA--is to move the box a tiny bit back from the plate (and forbid the hitters from obscuring it at peril of being thrown out of the game, probably). But you know, I have to wonder whether, if we did that, we wouldn't accidentally drop scoring like a rock and find out the hitters don't know how to hit properly if they can't stand on top of the plate and drive the outside pitch.

There's also the question of which way pro baseball will go when someone is finally (inevitably) killed by a bat splinter through the neck--thicken the bat handles (which will decrease home runs) or go to metal bats (which will increase home runs, and hey, home runs sell).
   2. Dr. Vaux Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:43 PM (#3297008)
Then so be it, I guess. Part of the ebb and flow of the game.

(I doubt it, though. If the strike zone stayed the same size as what's mostly been called in the past 20 years, it would probably lead to more walks.)
   3. tjm1 Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:49 PM (#3297021)
There's also the question of which way pro baseball will go when someone is finally (inevitably) killed by a bat splinter through the neck--thicken the bat handles (which will decrease home runs) or go to metal bats (which will increase home runs, and hey, home runs sell).


First they'll do something irrelevant and stupid, like banning maple bats. Eventually, they'll thicken the bat handles. They'd be too terrified of pitchers getting killed by line drives to allow metal bats. They might also consider allowing something like graphite that doesn't break, but also doesn't provide force to the ball like metal.
   4. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:53 PM (#3297030)
I have shared some of the stories of my youth in the Lounge that reflect what Bill has described.

And I am guilty, if you will, of trying to impose the same standard on my kids. But as the wife was the primary caregiver my views were subordinate to her direction. (Hippy coddling I believe was my phrase for her efforts) Except when she stepped aside for when discipline needed to be reaffirmed. (ahem)
   5. Randy Jones Posted: August 18, 2009 at 08:54 PM (#3297034)
First they'll do something irrelevant and stupid, like banning maple bats. Eventually, they'll thicken the bat handles. They'd be too terrified of pitchers getting killed by line drives to allow metal bats. They might also consider allowing something like graphite that doesn't break, but also doesn't provide force to the ball like metal.


They should be able make metal (or some other material) bats that won't break and have the same (or similar) properties to wooden bats in terms of size of the sweet spot and hit distance and such.
   6. cardsfanboy Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:00 PM (#3297047)
They should be able make metal (or some other material) bats that won't break and have the same (or similar) properties to wooden bats in terms of size of the sweet spot and hit distance and such.

I think it would quickly become too easy to 'forge' a bat with better properties no matter how they go about making metal bats.

I agree with minimum width bat handles or something to that effect.

and of course the old standby, let the umpire make the call if the player is trying to get out of the way or not, instead of automatically awarding firstbase.
   7. isaacc7 Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:03 PM (#3297051)
I'll go out on a limb and claim that splinters do not have enough mass to become deadly after a ball strikes a bat. Thanks to the mythbusters, we know that a cannonball cannot produce deadly splinter, so I doubt a baseball and bat could either. Splinters in the eye could be a danger, but I'm not sure how much we want to guard against something that has not happened in over 100 years of playing ball.
   8. Mefisto Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:04 PM (#3297055)
I think the outside strike is a huge part of the problem, at least as much as hitters hanging out over the plate. One reason they did so was to protect strike calls on pitches which are a good 3" outside. If umpires would stop calling balls as "strikes" and start calling the high strike instead, the batters would adjust in ways which would make the HBP less likely.
   9. aleskel Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:06 PM (#3297059)
the first they could do is make the markings of the batter's box permenent (so hitters can't just wipe them away), then actually enforce the "must make an effort to avoid the pitch" rule.
   10. Pasta-diving Jeter (jmac66) Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:09 PM (#3297065)
I think the outside strike is a huge part of the problem, at least as much as hitters hanging out over the plate. One reason they did so was to protect strike calls on pitches which are a good 3" outside.

which is somewhat due to the disuse of the balloon protector, with which the umpire would crouch directly behind the catcher with his head directly above--now, with the inside protector, they crouch down between the catcher's shoulder and the hitter and literally cannot SEE where the outside corner is
   11. nick swisher hygiene Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:19 PM (#3297074)
so where are all the ############# who, when I made basically these points a few days ago [no: yesterday!], lectured me about the manly culture of baseball and how the players could best police themselves?
   12. Brandon in MO (Yunitility Infielder) Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:19 PM (#3297076)
Stop using chalk for batters boxes. use some sort of clay surface, that stops hitters from wiping out the batters box lines in the first inning.
   13. Tom Nawrocki Posted: August 18, 2009 at 09:23 PM (#3297089)
I'll go out on a limb and claim that splinters do not have enough mass to become deadly after a ball strikes a bat.


Steve Yeager would probably disagree. The bat splinter that caught him in the neck supposedly missed his jugular vein - and missed killing him - by a fraction of an inch.
   14. JPWF13 Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:00 PM (#3297121)
There's also the question of which way pro baseball will go when someone is finally (inevitably) killed by a bat splinter through the neck--thicken the bat handles (which will decrease home runs) or go to metal bats (which will increase home runs, and hey, home runs sell).


There was... and #13 beat me to it...

Yeager was, if I recall correctly, standing in the on deck circle in the minors when he was almost killed
   15. Athletic Supporter is USDA certified lean Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:06 PM (#3297126)
Changing the batter's box seems arbitrary to me. Actually, if it were up to me, there would be no batter's box at all, but if the ball hits you and it's a strike you're out LBW as it were.

After all, it's not obvious that it's an advantage to stand closer to the plate in theory, since this means you can't reach the inside strike.

I guess it's not a common opinion, but I'm pretty much a baseball libertarian. If using thinner bats is better, why not let people do it? Either that, or have everyone use the same bat.

I feel the same way about this swimming #########, either make everyone use the same suit or have everyone swim naked or let people use whatever they want (barring "obvious" perversions like using a motor.)
   16. Phil Plantier's Famous Toilet Seat Stance Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:07 PM (#3297127)
Stop using chalk for batters boxes. use some sort of clay surface, that stops hitters from wiping out the batters box lines in the first inning.


What do they use on the foul lines?

A few weeks ago at Fenway, my girlfriend asked my what exactly the groundskeepers were doing to the foul lines about a half hour before the game. Sure enough, it looked to me a lot more like they were sweeping off the lines than putting them down, not something I had ever noticed before. I could very well be wrong, but it looked like the foul lines (at least in part) weren't chalk. Use the same thing for the batters boxes.
   17. Stevis Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:16 PM (#3297132)
which is somewhat due to the disuse of the balloon protector, with which the umpire would crouch directly behind the catcher with his head directly above--now, with the inside protector, they crouch down between the catcher's shoulder and the hitter and literally cannot SEE where the outside corner is


If that's true, they should be fired. Work the slot properly, you get a great view of the outside corner.
   18. Steve Treder Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:18 PM (#3297135)
Joe: It comes as a huge surprise to me that there are BY FAR more batters getting hit by pitches in the decade we are in now than in any decade in the 20th Century. Pitchers are hitting batters at almost double the rate they did in those when-men-were-men 1950s.

Geez, Joe. Some of us have been calling this to your attention for quite a while.
   19. Perry Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:29 PM (#3297147)
I'll go out on a limb and claim that splinters do not have enough mass to become deadly after a ball strikes a bat.


What? You're talking about half a bat -- say, an 18" piece from the barrel end -- helicoptering at a pretty high speed, enough to make it to the 15th row, say. The jagged end of that hits an unprotected neck on the way, it could easily puncture deep enough to do real damage. As someone said, ask Steve Yeager.
   20. adenzeno Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:32 PM (#3297149)
Most foul lines are painted on, and I know at Fenway the batters box is a mixture of paint and chalk(well it used to be)
   21. Srul Itza Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:33 PM (#3297151)
. Thanks to the mythbusters, we know that a cannonball cannot produce deadly splinter,


How did they prove that, unless they fired a broadside from one frigate into another, with a bunch of test dummies around?
   22. John DiFool2 Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:34 PM (#3297152)
Helicoptering bat chunks are a Murphy's Law waiting to happen.
   23. Harveys Wallbangers Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:38 PM (#3297157)
Players have been working to stand as deep in the batters box as possible since the days of Rogers Hornsby who spoke at length about the advantage this provides. Given stances today that certainly seems to be the prevailing view.

What batters have learned is that standing on top of the plate causes most pitchers to work away from the hitter. So the inside strike becomes less of a concern. And then should a pitcher come inside and miss the batter gets to take a base AND make a big scene. Most pitchers are impacted by this chain of events to some degree.

All the suggestions are useful.

--absolutely call the high strike. Or at least higher
--absolutely push the batters box back just a bit CONTINGENT on umpires making the appropriate adjustment. (gotta dream!)

Those two are synchronized in effort, provide a legit tradeoff for pitchers/batters and don't penalize just batters as would be the case of the bat modification.

But if this happens and after a few years things for some reason haven't changed then do the bat thingy.
   24. Baseballs Most Beloved Figure Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:46 PM (#3297166)
Yeager was, if I recall correctly, standing in the on deck circle in the minors when he was almost killed
He was kneeling in the on-deck circle at Jack Murphy Stadium in 1976 when it happened. This was the game.
http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SDN/SDN197609060.shtml
   25. Randy Jones Posted: August 18, 2009 at 10:58 PM (#3297181)
How did they prove that, unless they fired a broadside from one frigate into another, with a bunch of test dummies around?


They fired a cannon into a makeshift ship hull they constructed with dead pigs (good human analog according to Mythbusters) hanging behind it.
   26. cardsfanboy Posted: August 18, 2009 at 11:03 PM (#3297186)
They fired a cannon into a makeshift ship hull they constructed with dead pigs (good human analog according to Mythbusters) hanging behind it.

that was more to show whether or not a makeshift canonball would be deadly and it wasn't, but one seeing eye splinter can always find a way into a deadly error, it's a freak occurance and something that would be nearly impossible for the myth busters to repeat.
   27. Carlo Paz Posted: August 19, 2009 at 01:57 AM (#3297515)
Hawk Harrelson freqently blames the DH for this rise. J.C. Bradbury discusses the issue here.
http://tinyurl.com/q262yu
   28. Ron Johnson Posted: August 19, 2009 at 02:11 AM (#3297559)
Stop using chalk for batters boxes. use some sort of clay surface,


Bah, Don't mark it with anything. Dig out the batters box. Call it the batters trench.

Or perhaps a tad more playable, dig out the lines in the batters box.
   29. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: August 19, 2009 at 02:12 AM (#3297565)
AFAIC any batter who lunges over the plate is simply asking to be hit. And if he crowds the plate he's begging to be brushed back.

Stop awarding first base for batters who don't make an obvious effort to get out of the way. And absolutely no base should be awarded if the ball is within a few inches of the plate at the point of contact with the hitter. A batter has to have some responsibility for his own safety beyond strapping his body with a Brink's truck.

More players are hit today because more players don't really care if they get hit. It has little to do with the pitchers and nearly everything to do with the hitters. I just wish they'd stop being automatically rewarded for it.
   30. I Remember When Posted: August 19, 2009 at 02:26 AM (#3297580)
#29 has it exactly - today batters don't have the respect and/or make the attempt to get out of the way. Instead they stand there and whine about any pitcher wanting to use the inside of the plate. (Can you imagine what Gibby or Drysdale would say if you told them they couldn't throw to the inside of the plate?) When we played in ancient times the object was to back the hitter off the plate if he dug in too close and to dump him on his buttock if he didn't heed the warning. I don't remember all the intentional plunks we see today - we didn't need them.
   31. Tom is wrong when he calls you stupid Posted: August 19, 2009 at 02:51 AM (#3297622)
I have suggested this before, all the parks have the pitchtracker systems monitoring where the pitches go.
Let the machine call hbp's, if a ball is too far inside (beyond the white line of the batters box, whether it is visible or not) it is credited as a hbp, whether it hits the batter or not. If it isn't across the line it is not a hbp no matter what. A "HBP" would no longer be about the ball hitting the batter but rather the ball just being too far inside.

The batter will have no incentive to lean into a pitch, and there would be no outcry over batters wearing arm protection. The pitcher can pitch to the inside corner with relative impunity, there being no cheap hbp. It would put some of the challenge back into the pitcher/batter dynamic.
   32. natebracy Posted: August 19, 2009 at 05:08 AM (#3297706)
Let the machine call hbp's, if a ball is too far inside (beyond the white line of the batters box, whether it is visible or not) it is credited as a hbp, whether it hits the batter or not. If it isn't across the line it is not a hbp no matter what. A "HBP" would no longer be about the ball hitting the batter but rather the ball just being too far inside.


Saves three pitches for intentional walks.
   33. North Side Chicago Expatriate Giants Fan Posted: August 19, 2009 at 06:38 AM (#3297745)
#29 has it exactly - today batters don't have the respect and/or make the attempt to get out of the way. Instead they stand there and whine about any pitcher wanting to use the inside of the plate.

The inside of the plate, or well inside the plate? The purpose of brushing a hitter back is so he can't dive out and cover the outside corner, or at least so he'll be afraid to dive out there and thus will swing weakly at those pitches or take them for strikes. So the hitter isn't supposed to cover the entire plate? And, as referenced above, the strike call on the pitch 3 inches off the plate?
   34. McCoy Posted: August 19, 2009 at 06:50 AM (#3297757)
this is shocking to me because people always seem to talk about how much bigger a part the beanball played in the old days—you know

I think getting buzzed played a lot larger role back then than it does now. Back then pitchers were not going to get tossed unless they absolutely refused to do it. Hell, even as late as the 70's I recall reading a story about a pitcher who announced before the game he was going to plunk every single reds hitter that stepped up to the plate and he promptly did that 3 or 4 times before the ump finally kicked him out of the game. I have no idea if retrosheet backs up this story but the story i read was pretty interesting so it probably isn't true. It took forever for batting helmets to catch on and injuries back then could cost a player a ton of money and security. Pitchers back then didn't have to actually bean you to make their point. You, as a hitter, had to simply realize that the pitcher would go after you if you got too close to make you back up away from the plate.
   35. Los Angeles Waterloo of Black Hawk Posted: August 19, 2009 at 08:22 AM (#3297788)
- Let the machine call hbp's, if a ball is too far inside (beyond the white line of the batters box, whether it is visible or not) it is credited as a hbp, whether it hits the batter or not. If it isn't across the line it is not a hbp no matter what. A "HBP" would no longer be about the ball hitting the batter but rather the ball just being too far inside.

Saves three pitches for intentional walks.


So you're saying we should give the batter two bases if the pitch comes in over the line on the first pitch, and one base if there's been a strike thrown?
   36. JoeC Posted: August 19, 2009 at 08:45 AM (#3297791)
Hell, even as late as the 70's I recall reading a story about a pitcher who announced before the game he was going to plunk every single reds hitter that stepped up to the plate and he promptly did that 3 or 4 times before the ump finally kicked him out of the game. I have no idea if retrosheet backs up this story but the story i read was pretty interesting so it probably isn't true.


That'd be Dock Ellis on May 1, 1974. Almost exactly right - he hit the first three and walked the fourth on four pitches, though apparently his manager took him out, rather than the ump kicking him out.
   37. Ron Johnson Posted: August 19, 2009 at 09:11 AM (#3297793)
When we played in ancient times the object was to back the hitter off the plate if he dug in too close and to dump him on his buttock if he didn't heed the warning.


And if the batter -- say Frank Robinson -- didn't heed the warning and then dug in in precisely the same place?

Don't know if you're aware of this but Gene Mauch eventually issued orders to his pitchers to stop trying to back Robinson off the plate. Didn't help in getting him out and did serve to annoy him.
   38. tjm1 Posted: August 19, 2009 at 09:28 AM (#3297797)
Didn't help in getting him out and did serve to annoy him.


And also left him ahead in the count.
   39. Downtown Bookie Posted: August 19, 2009 at 11:30 AM (#3297817)
Mine may be a minority view, but I really don't see the increase in the number of hit batsmen as a problem that needs to be fixed. Without reading the entire article, it appears that the general conclusion reached by James is that batters stand closer to the plate now than in prior years, and therefore more batters get hit by pitches than was once the case. To me, that's just another piece of an continually evolving competition. Neither side in my mind has gained an overwhelming advantage because of this strategy, and therefore I see no need to modify the rulebook. However, I do think that enforcing the current rule requiring the batter to make an effort to avoid being hit in order to recieve his base would be an improvement to the game.

As regards another topic under discussion, I agree strongly with the sentiment that broken, splintered bats flying through the air are a tragedy waiting to happen, and I hope MLB implements a solution before it's too late.

DB
   40. Zach Posted: August 19, 2009 at 02:17 PM (#3297922)
Now how in the heck would Mythbusters prove that cannonballs can't produce deadly splinters? How is this even up for argument, given that several centuries of naval experience showed that splinters produced approximately half of all battle casualties? If I recall correctly, you don't get as much splintering with high velocity rounds, which is why navies took a while to switch to rifled guns.

Sometimes the tests in that show are just random points in parameter space and don't prove anything. You'd be better off spending an hour in the library.
   41. JoeHova Posted: August 19, 2009 at 03:46 PM (#3298029)
Thanks to the mythbusters, we know that a cannonball cannot produce deadly splinter, so I doubt a baseball and bat could either.

Even if true, the missing element is that a bat is moving around 100 MPH when it is hit by a baseball. I doubt a baseball could break a stationary bat with enough force to make it very dangerous, but when you add the swing speed, I think it's possible that a bat could (in an exceptionally rare confluence of circumstances) kill someone. In addition to the incident mentioned earlier in the thread, Rick Helling was impaled in the forearm with a shard of bat while he was pitching in AAA a couple years ago. He made his next start, so it probably wasn't that serious, but it shows that bat shards can break skin.
   42. jacksone (AKA It's OK...) Posted: August 19, 2009 at 03:56 PM (#3298045)
Wasn't there a minor league coach who got hit in the face with a bat shard? Cut his cheek open (I think).
   43. More Dewey is Always Good Posted: August 19, 2009 at 04:04 PM (#3298056)
Sometimes the tests in that show are just random points in parameter space and don't prove anything. You'd be better off spending an hour in the library.

That show is about showing stuff blowing up and Kari Byron smiling.
   44. tjm1 Posted: August 19, 2009 at 04:16 PM (#3298071)
Regardless of the bat shards, a bat head breaking off, and flying out at 100 MPH could do at least as much damage as a ball if it hit someone in the air, and the most likely people to get hit by a ball are all wearing helmets.

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