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Sunday, May 09, 2021

Where Did the Homers Go?

Unsurprisingly, in all of the bins most affected by the new baseball, we’re witnessing an associated decline in the overall probability the batter will reach base. We know how good defensives have become; if more balls are staying in the yard, it was always extraordinarily unlikely that they’ll be going for hits at the same rates. But to see a 32-point decline, as in the example of the 95-99 mph exit velocity, 20-24 degree launch angle bin, is striking. Batters were more often than not reaching base on those types of batted balls in April 2019. In April 2021, they only reached base one in five times.

More generally, you’ll notice once again that most of the affected batted balls are those below 30 degrees in launch angle. This makes sense, considering this type of contact — lower-hit fly balls — would be most impacted by an increase in drag when hitting a home run is a binary, “Did it go over the wall?” question. (Meaning that, even if higher-hit baseballs aren’t going as far, they’re just not going as many rows back into the seats.) To get a larger sample for our distributions, we can compare all fly balls below 30 degrees, irrespective of exit velocity, and have more than 1,000 batted balls to analyze…

The effect is the same. Home runs are down, outs are up. Batters reached base on 54% of fly balls hit at a launch angle below 30 degrees in April 2021, down 11 points compared to April 2019, when they reached base 65% of the time.

RoyalsRetro (AG#1F) Posted: May 09, 2021 at 01:01 PM | 130 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   101. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:17 PM (#6018289)
Darwin's original ideas would already imply what Gould called punctuated equilibrium. Reptiles, birds, fish, they all repplicate in large numbers, and small significant evolutionary advantage is going to be rapidly spread to the new/advanced animal. That's simply going to happen anytime you have a huge number of fish babies with better fins or something. They are going to rapidly repopulate that niche.


I'm sorry to have offended you. I'm not trying to get in an argument about Stephen J. Gould one way or another, and as you say Darwin's ideas did imply something like punctuated equilibrium in the first place. The idea, that a step change in the environment, or a highly favorable random mutation, results in rapid evolution from an equilibrium state, is simply the idea that I was trying to apply to what has happened to baseball. It seems like it's applicable, at least to me.

Really thought you were going to go with: May 5, 1975 the first documented AB where Mike Hargrove adjusted his batting glove.


Well, that was maybe not cataclysmic. Perhaps it was more narcocleptic!

I actually thought the great cataclysmic event was when Tony LaRussa decided Eckersley was only going to pitch the 9th inning, and only when the A's were ahead.
   102. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:27 PM (#6018290)
What you have right now is the defense has a HUGE advantage over the offense, with the exception of the home run. Batters feel they can't do anything except, at best, take and rake, where they are raking for the home run. I was listening to the Phillies game on Sunday night (it was on national radio), and Bryce Harper is up with 2 on and 0 outs, facing H. Ynoa. Ynoa is a starter, but he throws 98 mph, with an 86 mph slider, and he knows he is only going to throw maybe 6 innings, so he can throw 98 mph all the time. Bryce Harper is a pretty good hitter, but he all he really can do against that stuff is swing hard and hope, so he strikes out.

And that's what we have got right now. A lot of pitchers who can throw really hard, and know they will be taken out way before they run out of gas. The batters have adjusted by approaching everything like Dave Kingman did (who actually had league-average walk rates), swinging as hard as they can when they do swing, hoping they get enough of it to go over the fence. The only thing that is saving baseball from a whole bunch of 1-0 games is the fact that the pitchers do occasionally make mistakes and the hitters have been good enough so far to capitalize on them by hitting the ball over the fence.


As Steve Treder might have said (and still might say), very well put. Watching the Nats-Yankees game on Saturday was a perfect example of this. Max Scherzer faced 25 batters, struck out 14 of them, gave up a walk and two hits, and made only one really bad pitch, a hanging slider that Hagashioka went yard on.

And after the Yanks trailed going into the last of the 9th and again into the last of the 10th, they rallied both times on a combination of walks, bloop hits and a swinging bunt for the walkoff win. It was the most boring double comeback extra inning game I've ever seen.

Yes, Scherzer is a future HoFer, and he was exceptionally dominant on Saturday, but slight variations on this sort of game are almost becoming more the rule than the exception.

So baseball has to figure out how to decrease the wickedness of the average pitch, that might be making pitchers pitch more innings and take less time between pitches, and probably even still there will still be a need to do something else more drastic like increasing the distance between the mound and home plate. Even with that, you have the problems with the shift, and the batters will probably still need some additional weapons against that, maybe again some rule change that increases the success rate of the bunt.

I keep coming back to the idea of raising the mound, which Jim Palmer said the other night would be the best and easiest way to address the imbalance problem. He didn't say how much it should be lowered, but dropping it from 10" to 5" or 6" for starters might be worth the effort. Pitchers wouldn't like it, but I'm not sure why that should concern us.
   103. bunyon Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:34 PM (#6018293)
but dropping it from 10" to 5" or 6" for starters might be worth the effort.

Raising the mound when they change pitchers is really going to slow the game down.
   104. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:44 PM (#6018299)
That's not exactly what I meant, and of course you knew that, but it's a good line nonetheless. (smile)
   105. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:49 PM (#6018302)
Looking at some other historical trends...

We all tend to remember baseball post WW II as the dead ball 60s, them the age of the DH, then the steroid era. But there was an era after WW II and before the deadball era. Bill James referred to as "baseball of the ticking time bomb" or something like that. Referring to the station to station aspect and getting on board with walks and waiting for a HR.

I dont think we've ever given this period much more of analysis. But looking at it a little more closely. We see a decent uptick in HRs starting in 1953 that quickly plateau'd. HR rate of the 60s was somewhat higher than the 70s, 0.85 or more per game vs 0.75. Kind of interesting.

But Ks are even more interesting. There was an uptick in 1950 and then a real trend starting in 1953 the same year as HRs upticked. Funny enuf this started a 14 year trend with every year seeing more strikeouts from 1953 to 1967. It kept up a little for a few more years. I find that really interesting and see it as some sort of parallel to modern day. I wasnt around but I dont think people much noticed because K rates werent anywhere like they are today. It wasnt really noticeable until the more advanced stages of the dead ball 1960s.

And interestingly enough walk rates fell at the same time. Which really made the 60s era dead. Have to wonder what was going on there, and if they hadnt called such a small zone what would the runs per game have been like? if you put back 1 bb/game in the 1960s you get to about 4.25 runs/game so still a little less offensive but maybe not so bad with more bunts and SBs.

The walks rebounded in 1969 with the new rule about the strike zone. Interesting stuff.
   106. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 02:50 PM (#6018303)
I'm sorry to have offended you.


no worries. It was mostly in jest, and the idea of an exponential growth in trends and evolution is definitely intereting. Just that Gould is a trigger for me. Im working on that.
   107. SoSH U at work Posted: May 11, 2021 at 03:18 PM (#6018317)
Comparing players today to 100 years ago, I don’t think most players back then were strong enough to make that kind of approach work. Just a few guys who were naturally big and strong. Today, they all lift. Even the small backup infielders.


That's only true if you think this approach is simply trading homers for contact. I think hard contact results in more than just dingers, but more hard-hit singles, doubles and triples. So, I do believe such an approach would work regardless how strong the batter was.

Now, a more contact-driven approach was obviously more valuable the farther you go back in baseball, but that's because players had more difficulty converting balls in play to outs, based on a variety of factors (lower skill levels, lesser quality equipment, worse field conditions and some defensive positioning). So, there's a both a recognition that hard-hit contact is preferable in general, and conditions that make mere contact less valuable.

   108. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 11, 2021 at 05:21 PM (#6018349)
Funny enuf this started a 14 year trend with every year seeing more strikeouts from 1953 to 1967.


So there are a few games on Youtube from the late 1960's, as well as just a few games from the 1950's, the ones I am aware of are:

The 1952 World Series Game 7
The 1955 World Series Game 7
The 1960 World Series Game 7
1965 All Star Game
1967 Twins at Red Sox September 30
1968 All Star Game
1968 World Series Game 1
1968 World Series Game 3
1968 World Series Game 6
1968 World Series Game 7
1969 A's at Red Sox 15 June
1969 Phillies at Cubs July 12th
1969 World Series Game 5

Watching those few games from the 1960's, 1968 and before, it does seem like the hitters are a bit overmatched. Also broadcasting was very rudimentary back then, including the play-by-play

Anyhow, very interesting to watch to compare to today's game. There are a plethora of games available from the 1970's and early 1980's.




   109. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:07 PM (#6018360)
...I do believe such an approach would work regardless how strong the batter was.

Now, a more contact-driven approach was obviously more valuable the farther you go back in baseball, but that's because players had more difficulty converting balls in play to outs,


Well OK. At what pt. in time do you think baseball players needed to change their hitting approach to max out their offensive potential?

It seems clear now that you believe the hitting revolution(?) that happened in recent times should have happened sooner. Yes? Ok at what pt. in time do you think this approach should have begun?

Also my previous question: Why were hitters changing their approach for 20 years (starting in 2000) even though for most of the time the only thing that changed were Ks? not getting it.
   110. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:48 PM (#6018366)
Why were hitters changing their approach for 20 years (starting in 2000) even though for most of the time the only thing that changed were Ks?

I do not mean to speak for the other writer, but my theory is that evolution on both offense and defense roughly balanced each other for a long time. Hitters were progressively "trading" (and training for, and being selected for) to obtain hard contact, giving up K's (and time between pitches), and pitchers were "trading" (and training for, and being selected for) for heat and giving up endurance (and time between pitches). I think at some point, and this has accelerated recently, the hitters had nothing left to trade, while the pitchers kept getting better.

Some of this is also analytics. There was nothing to stop a baseball player from playing like Joe Morgan when Joe Morgan played like Joe Morgan, it's just that few really realized the value, even Joe Morgan (and Joe Morgan didn't strike out very much), and very importantly, there was a stigma attached to K's. Similarly there was nothing to stop managers from parading 9 one-inning relievers through each game back then, apart from a general feeling that there was something "wrong" about it. Each side was forced to move more towards what appears to now be the optimal strategy as the other side evolved, even if that strategy violated norms, and eventually the sigma attached to the optimal strategies faded away.
   111. SoSH U at work Posted: May 11, 2021 at 06:56 PM (#6018368)
Well OK. At what pt. in time do you think baseball players needed to change their hitting approach to max out their offensive potential?


There isn't ever a one-size-fits all application. Billy Hamilton, even playing in this current environment, would have been better served developing a more contact-driven approach than one he employed. With his speed and lack of pop, I think he would have been better able to maximize his skill set if he put the ball in play on the ground far more often than he did.

But, I think, in general, most batters benefit from trying to hit the ball hard, rather than cutting down on the swing to create better contact rates. And that has been true since Babe first discovered the joy of the long ball (though, obviously, more so today when OBPBIP is far less than it once was).

(and training for, and being selected for)


This is a key element that should never be overlooked in these discussions. It's not just players adjusting their approach. It's teams selecting for different attributes.



   112. Infinite Yost (Voxter) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:12 PM (#6018384)
Take 10% off the bat speed of the hitter - make the minimum bat weight 3 pounds heavier


Typo notwithstanding, this seems like one of the big things we haven't tried. Further regulations on the weight & shape of bats might make a substantial difference in batspeed, without disrupting the game too much, and without just turning the game back into the 2012 dingers-and-Ks thing we had. It seems probable to me that meddling with what batters are able to do is probably the best way to change their approaches. There might be mound- or fielding-related stuff required, too, but today's game exists largely because everybody from Chris Taylor to Mike Trout is incentivized to swing for the fences on every pitch in the zone. The union will hate it, of course, but the union hates pretty much every change.

I mean, think about it. What if you just said bats had to be the size they were in Ty Cobb & Tris Speaker's era? You wouldn't get a dead ball thing, because dudes are so much bigger and stronger now. But something interesting would probably happen.
   113. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:24 PM (#6018387)
But, I think, in general, most batters benefit from trying to hit the ball hard, rather than cutting down on the swing to create better contact rates. And that has been true since Babe first discovered the joy of the long ball (though, obviously, more so today when OBPBIP is far less than it once was).


are you ever going to answer my questions?

Do you think there were 40 nascent Rico Petrocellis in the league in 1970 and if only they had advanced analytics they would have started to hit more HRs in the 1970s?

at this point I'd be happy to accept a "yes" or "no".
   114. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:28 PM (#6018388)
I think, in general, most batters benefit from trying to hit the ball hard, rather than cutting down on the swing to create better contact rates. And that has been true since Babe first discovered the joy of the long ball...


Well K rate has been steadily increasing since 2000.

Your theory is that this has been driven by batters changing their approach.

Apparently, to you, its been true for at least 100 years but its only in the last 20 that this approach has taken hold on most batters.

HR rates have remained constant from 2000 to 2017, yet batters continued their rake approach for this entire time without increasing the HR rate.

Is this your theory?
   115. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:41 PM (#6018389)
So there are a few games on Youtube from the late 1960's, as well as just a few games from the 1950's, the ones I am aware of are:

The 1952 World Series Game 7
The 1955 World Series Game 7
The 1960 World Series Game 7


I'm pretty sure that 1952's Game 6 is also available. In fact, here it is.

And here's 1968's Game 5, which was the best game of that Series.

But that 1955 Game 7 is only the radio version, not a telecast.

All of those vintage telecasts are great, but the two from 1952 are the best. You can hear the voice of the legendary Brooklyn P.A. announcer, Tex Rickard, in the background, and the closeups of player's in the batter's box are as good as any today, even though they're obviously not in HD. Also note the two starting pitchers warming up between the dugout and home plate, and the bullpens located down foul lines. Lots of the older parks didn't have bullpens located away from the playing field.

It's also interesting to note that they needed only one announcer in the booth, with no need for color commentary. Up through the early 60's the two teams' regular season announcers got the job, so in this case you had the Yankees' Mel Allen and the Dodgers' Red Barber alternating between the first and second parts of the game. If you've never heard them before, it's mildly jarring to hear two strong southern accents calling a Subway Series game.

The star of those two 1952 games? A 20 year old Mickey Mantle, whose homers in each game provided the winning runs. If they'd awarded an MVP award that year, he would've easily won it. In terms of impact in close games, he never had a better World Series.
   116. sunday silence (again) Posted: May 11, 2021 at 08:46 PM (#6018391)
Andy I want to ask you something about baseball as 1970s began:

Looking at the BB rates in the late 60s they were getting increasingly stingy until the 1969 changes the strike zone. BB rates got a decent boost but only for two years 1969-70. After that rates went right back down to where they were or close to it.

Did you get the feeling that umpires spent those two years kow towing to the new strike zone, but then after that they went right back to squeezing batters? I didnt start watching baseball till a little later and I get the impression that you watched a lot during that time.
   117. SoSH U at work Posted: May 11, 2021 at 09:06 PM (#6018400)
Apparently, to you, its been true for at least 100 years but its only in the last 20 that this approach has taken hold on most batters.


That sounds about right. For most of baseball history, there's been a stigma associated with striking out. It was seen (as it should be*) as the worst failure as a hitter. We can still see the remnants of that in 2002, when Jose Hernandez sat out the final day to avoid setting the single-season mark. But that attitude was on the way out, replaced with the idea that a strikeout is no different than any other kind of out.

And the idea that baseball players using a suboptimal approach for a long time shouldn't be surprising. Baseball teams continued to use the sac bunt and intentional walk well past the point where it should have been known these were not sound strategies.

* When we first start playing ball, and for a long time after, swinging and missing is the ultimate failure. Putting the ball in play has immense value. It's only when you get to the higher levels where that changes.






   118. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 11, 2021 at 09:27 PM (#6018414)
Andy I want to ask you something about baseball as 1970s began:

Looking at the BB rates in the late 60s they were getting increasingly stingy until the 1969 changes the strike zone. BB rates got a decent boost but only for two years 1969-70. After that rates went right back down to where they were or close to it.

Did you get the feeling that umpires spent those two years kow towing to the new strike zone, but then after that they went right back to squeezing batters? I didnt start watching baseball till a little later and I get the impression that you watched a lot during that time
.

Actually about the only baseball I watched in the 70's was the postseason and a few All-Star games.** And even those were on a B&W TV at either a friend's house or at my mom's. I didn't buy a TV until 1977, and it was a 17" rabbit ears set that couldn't pick up Baltimore stations.

So to make a long story short, I don't really remember much about how they enforced the strike zone, and without the rectangles on the screen it would've been harder to tell. It's only been in the past decade or so, with all games on TV and with that superimposed strike zone, that it's been easy to tell that home plate umpires are a pretty sorry lot when it comes to calling pitches.

**Of course I also went to a fair number of games in Baltimore, but judging balls and strikes from Section 34 in Memorial Stadium wasn't exactly easy. I pretty much just took Earl's word for it when it came to strike zone judgement.
   119. Doug Jones threw harder than me Posted: May 11, 2021 at 09:53 PM (#6018426)
But that 1955 Game 7 is only the radio version, not a telecast


Thanks for the correction. Doing this stuff too fast.

All of those vintage telecasts are great, but the two from 1952 are the best....It's also interesting to note that they needed only one announcer in the booth, with no need for color commentary


I find it interesting that those telecasts from the 1950's are great, because it's radio announcers and they really knew how to talk about the game, and the stuff from the 1970's and early 1980's is great because there is a lot of action (and Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek and Vin Scully and Tom Seaver and Harry Caray and Jimmy Piersall and ... were great, and speaking as someone who wasn't old enough to watch those games when they were broadcast) but the broadcasts from the 1960's (what we can see of them) seems languid, like many of today's broadcasts. In both cases, it feels like the announcers had/have grown tired or perhaps resigned to the lack of action, to the point that the telecasts had begun to take on the rhythm of those for golf.

I still distinctly remember when I realized sometime in the early 2010's the general action had slowed to the point that the A's radio broadcasters were searching for, struggling for, a new approach, because their old rhythm just didn't work anymore with 30 seconds between pitches. To a large extent the 2- or 3-person booths are a reaction to the inordinate time between pitches, because one person just has a hard time filling all that dead air by themselves, unless you are Vin Scully.

For most of baseball history, there's been a stigma associated with striking out.


Not only that, but there was a stigma associated with not pitching a complete game. Pitchers hated to be taken out and, notably, lack of complete games would be used against them in contract negotiations and arbitration hearings. Same thing with strikeouts and low batting averages for batters. I've said this before, but Steve Garvey notably, but many others, strove for a .300 batting average above all else, because that was what was considered valuable - that's what got you the big contracts. We will never know, but it may be that when OBP and OPS and WHIP and FIPS was first used against players in an arbitration hearing, was when the approach really to change in the majors - was that around the year 2000?
   120. DL from MN Posted: May 12, 2021 at 07:57 AM (#6018497)
home plate umpires are a pretty sorry lot when it comes to calling pitches


The strike zone as called by umpires is more oval shaped than the rectangular rule book strike zone. This will not change no matter how much training you give umpires. It's due to visual processing and estimation capabilities of the human brain. A low or high pitch is more likely to get called a strike when it's down the middle. A pitch that is outside or inside is more likely to get called a strike when it is belt high.
   121. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 12, 2021 at 10:47 AM (#6018514)
The strike zone as called by umpires is more oval shaped than the rectangular rule book strike zone. This will not change no matter how much training you give umpires. It's due to visual processing and estimation capabilities of the human brain. A low or high pitch is more likely to get called a strike when it's down the middle. A pitch that is outside or inside is more likely to get called a strike when it is belt high.

And that shape is what you actually want if the working definition of a strike is a hittable pitch. Hitter have more reach at belt level than they do for low or high pitches.
   122. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 12, 2021 at 11:18 AM (#6018530)
I find it interesting that those telecasts from the 1950's are great, because it's radio announcers and they really knew how to talk about the game,

That's in part because they were often in the booth by themselves, without the crutch of a color commentator, and as a result had to acquire the skills to make the broadcast keep its continuity between pitches. Of course this was easier when the time between pitches didn't drag on for half a minute or more.

The worst feature of today's telecasts is when they interview managers in the dugout while the game is going on, keeping the camera focused on the manager rather than on the field, thus rendering the game itself as pretty much an afterthought.

-------------------------------

The strike zone as called by umpires is more oval shaped than the rectangular rule book strike zone. This will not change no matter how much training you give umpires. It's due to visual processing and estimation capabilities of the human brain. A low or high pitch is more likely to get called a strike when it's down the middle. A pitch that is outside or inside is more likely to get called a strike when it is belt high.

And that shape is what you actually want if the working definition of a strike is a hittable pitch. Hitter have more reach at belt level than they do for low or high pitches.

Balls that are below the knees and outside the far edge of the strike zone are not at "belt level". Presumably you're watching games on a nightly basis, and if you haven't noticed the ridiculous number of low and outside pitches being called strikes, you're simply not paying attention.
   123. Pat Rapper's Delight (as quoted on MLB Network) Posted: May 12, 2021 at 11:25 AM (#6018532)
The worst feature of today's telecasts is when they interview managers in the dugout while the game is going on, ... thus rendering the game itself as pretty much an afterthought.

Even moreso given the vapid, entirely content-free nature of the manager interview segment.
   124. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: May 12, 2021 at 11:44 AM (#6018540)
Balls that are below the knees and outside the far edge of the strike zone are not at "belt level". Presumably you're watching games on a nightly basis, and if you haven't noticed the ridiculous number of low and outside pitches being called strikes, you're simply not paying attention.

You're the one who wants the rule-book rectangle called by robots. I'm saying an oval is better, with low and away not being a strike, but away and belt high being one. Umpires are less likely to call the low and away pitch than a robot will be.

I rarely watch baseball live. Maybe some highlights. The product is dreadful; virtually unwatchable. I consume my baseball through reading about it, and playing fantasy and sims leagues.
   125. DL from MN Posted: May 12, 2021 at 12:57 PM (#6018548)
Presumably you're watching games on a nightly basis


Yeah, but not MLB games.
   126. DL from MN Posted: May 12, 2021 at 01:00 PM (#6018551)
Even moreso given the vapid, entirely content-free nature of the manager interview segment.


They should fire any sports tv producer who thinks telecasts are improved by having more interviews with athletes. In-game, between innings, post-game. Athlete interviews are universally awful television.
   127. jmurph Posted: May 12, 2021 at 01:28 PM (#6018561)
They should fire any sports tv producer who thinks telecasts are improved by having more interviews with athletes. In-game, between innings, post-game. Athlete interviews are universally awful television.

Strong agree. That said I'm aware this might be an age thing. I probably would have been super into hearing from my favorite players in-game when I was a kid.
   128. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 12, 2021 at 01:49 PM (#6018567)
Plenty of athletes and managers have many interesting things to say about the game on the field. But not when they're caught up in the middle of one. Their best talking years are generally when they're in retirement.
   129. jmurph Posted: May 12, 2021 at 05:16 PM (#6018613)
Plenty of athletes and managers have many interesting things to say about the game on the field. But not when they're caught up in the middle of one. Their best talking years are generally when they're in retirement.

This I agree with. I listen to a lot of NBA podcasts and generally skip active player or coach interviews.
   130. ERROR---Jolly Old St. Nick Posted: May 12, 2021 at 06:00 PM (#6018624)
From my admittedly Yankees/Oriolescentric POV,** I've found the commentary on pitching by Cone and Palmer always illuminating, and likewise the comments on hitting by O'Neill and (formerly) Singleton. But those interviews of Boone during the game are just a waste of time.

** I'm sure others can provide further examples from their own favorite team's telecasts.
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