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Category: baseball

Intentional walks and game length

[ 111 ] February 23, 2017 |

I’m not the kind of baseball fan who can plausibly call himself a “traditionalist” or “purist.” I’m a fan of the DH and booth review. I adhere to no just-so story about some sort of “golden age” that just happens to correspond to my childhood when the game was better in some unspecified way than it is today. While I share many of Erik’s concerns about the possibility that the coming round of automation will have some ugly social and economic consequences, I would eagerly and enthusiastically welcome the automation of calling balls and strikes. So I don’t seem like the kind of person who would seem to care much about the elimination of the throw four balls wide requirement for an intentional walk, and in fairness I don’t care *much*, but I find myself mildly annoyed by it. My initial efforts to make sense of my annoyance pointed to those moments when things go wrong, which can be highly entertaining. It seems cruel to say, but I really do find pitcher control meltdowns bad enough to lead to a WP on an IBB highly entertaining. But this can’t really annoy me too much, since we’re talking about a once a season kind of event.

I think the source of my annoyance is well captured by Anders Jorstad, whose sentiments I largely endorse:

While many may have issue with this rule as a fundamental aspect of the game — such as arguing that throwing those four balls are important — my argument is much simpler: stop trying to shorten the game.

Rob Manfred seems to be under the impression that people don’t like baseball because the game is too long. He’s partially right about the game being long, as a recent study estimated that an average game lasts just under three hours and contains only 18 minutes worth of “action.”

However, football — the “true American pastime” — is actually 10 minutes longer on average and contains half as much “action.”

The truth is this: people who don’t like baseball just don’t like it. Many might say the game is too long or boring. But small changes like a pitch clock or an automated intentional walk aren’t going to move the needle for anyone who already dislikes the sport.

The only way to dramatically shorten the game of baseball would be to fundamentally change the way the sport is played. The game will always be nine innings, will always include six outs per inning, and will always have a sizable amount of time between pitches. The game will never be fast. If it becomes fast, it will have become something that isn’t baseball.

So perhaps what Manfred really needs to do is to stop trying to pitch the game to non-baseball fans. He’s not pleasing anyone by making these changes. Stop trying to turn the game something it isn’t and instead focus on making the game better for those who already care deeply about the sport.

I say “largely” endorse because there are some measures to shorten games I would wholeheartedly embrace. From a purely fan-experience perspective, shortening breaks between innings would be fantastic! But of course I understand the need for revenue. More plausibly, cracking down on granting batters ‘time’ would be most welcome. And steps to speed up booth review. But I wouldn’t endorse these steps because they shorten the game, exactly, but because they’d improve the rhythm and pacing. Manfred’s criminally stupid “runner on second in extra innings” rule suggests that he’s under the impression that the problem is the raw length of games. But that’s absurd. What’s annoying is a ordinary 9 inning game with ~15 hits and ~5-8 runs that drags on for four hours because the rhythm is unnecessarily slow. A 4 hour 12 inning game is not a problem. Many exciting things in baseball extend the length of the game. If you don’t enjoy a 10+ pitch battle between a power pitcher and a power hitter, I don’t know what to tell you. Of course baseball seems boring if you don’t like baseball, but a) so what? and b) that’s not going to change is you somehow manage to shave 8 minutes off the average game.

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On the fast-approaching end of the Zduriencik era

[ 39 ] April 24, 2013 |

Tweet of the day, in response to this:

The Mariners seem to be working on the principle that if trying to be good at defense didn’t work they should try to be bad at it.

As the team is well on its way to losing another series to the atrocious Astros (the Mariners will, shortly, be responsible for over half the Astros wins so far this season), this move can fairly be characterized as “pressing the panic button,” something the organization has been doing regularly since October. The decision to start Andino over Ryan isn’t the most significant one in the world, but it’s exemplary of what’s gone wrong with the Mariner’s decision-making process. Ryan is a terrible hitter and a great defender, Andino is terrible at both. There’s nothing in his track record to suggest he’s a better hitter at all, let alone enough of a better hitter to make up for the defensive gap between the players. It’s fair to say Zduriencik’s regime focused on defense for the first several years, and it’s also accurate to say that the Mariners have not produced winning rosters during those years. This off-season, deciding that if focusing on defense isn’t working, then the sensible course is to open the season with two first basemen and 4 DH’s* on the roster, while sending away the team’s best hitter by a country mile last year to a division rival because the moron of a manager you hired doesn’t like him.

When Jack Zduriencik is fired later this year, the post-mortems for his M’s tenure and its ignominious end will probably focus a great deal on three high-profile busted prospects he acquired: Justin Smoak, Jesus Montero, and Dustin Ackley.** Zduriencik certainly deserves to be fired at this point, but I don’t think these prospects’ failures would be a good justification for it. He’s got a long track record, dating back to Milwaukee, as a strong talent evaluator, and his recent drafts have given the Mariners one of the top farm systems in the league (And Seager’s looking like a great 3rd round find). And it’s not as if he was alone in evaluating these players highly; they were all highly regarded prospects across the board. There might be a flaw in development here, there’s no way to know about that, but I’m willing to believe this was really just bad luck. What he richly deserves to be fired for is the way he dealt with adversity by hitting the panic button and constructing a roster seemingly based on the principles of Veteran Grit ™ and dingers over defense and OBP–views that the 2008-2012 version of Zduriencik seemed to understand were deeply flawed. It’s difficult to overstate the kind of bad process and bad assumptions necessary to produce the decision to release Casper Wells. Wells is nothing special; with his strikeout rate he’d probably be a slightly below average everyday player. But a decent RH bat with good outfield defense, on a team that has the most brittle player in the league in Center and at least one ironglove starting in the outfield every day, is exactly what you need on a roster with the M’s starting outfield. Wells has more value to the M’s than just about any other team. They released him to make room on the active roster for Jason Bay. This isn’t the kind of decision that sinks a team on its own, but it’s exactly the kind of decision that reveals how broken the decision-making process has become. The M’s GM position should be an attractive one; the system has a lot of talent, a bunch of Money is coming off the books, and the purchase of Root Sports should provide the next GM with something to work with. Some smart organization should look to pick up Zduriencik for a leadership position in scouting or player development. He may end up being a good GM someday, if he manages to learn from what went wrong with his tenure with the Mariners, but I wouldn’t bet on it now.

* This is a rather charitable description of the Mariners roster, as it implies that three of the four DH’s, Ibanez, Bay, and Montero (and 1B Smoak) are likely to actually H.

** Not quite fair to call Ackley a bust. He’s got a good approach at the plate, and his defense at 2nd is strong enough that he doesn’t have to become a great hitter to be a useful player. He’s likely never going to live up to the hype, but he’ll probably be useful. Smoak is a bust; the power isn’t there and he doesn’t have much else. Montero is too young to give up on as a bat, but let’s call the C experiment over. His ceiling is looking more and more like ‘adequate DH’ and I’m not optimistic he’ll ever get there.

The 1899 Cleveland Spiders, Still the Worst Ever

[ 32 ] July 20, 2011 |

Geoff Baker has a decent, and balanced, post on the construction of the historically inept offense of the 2011 Seattle Mariners (unfortunately, my preferred team playing “baseball” since 1977).  Placing the current edition of the Mariners into historical context, Baker offers us this to assuage our pain:

The Mariners open play tonight with an OPS+ of 75. Last year’s abysmal team — with the worst offense in the DH era — posted a 78. The 1899 Cleveland Spiders — generally recognized as the worst team in baseball history — were at 74.

Unfortunately, the 2011 season isn’t over yet, so there’s still time to overtake the Spiders and achieve baseball immortality.

Dave Niehaus 1935-2010

[ 5 ] November 11, 2010 |

Dave Niehaus, the broadcaster of the Seattle Mariners since their first game, died yesterday.

Stories / tributes here, here, and here.

I’ll add the usual narrative: for me, Niehaus was baseball.  From their first season in 1977, at the age of nine, I was hooked.  After I moved to Europe nearly ten years ago, I would listen whenever I could when back in Seattle.

Niehaus would call 5,284 out of the 5,385 games that the Mariners have played.  There was a lot of really bad baseball, but Niehaus made it more than endurable, he made it enjoyable.

Managerial Responsibility

[ 14 ] August 9, 2010 |

Or, what can Don Wakamatsu and Martin O’Neill possibly have in common, besides either newfound unemployment or having managed teams that I give a damn about (the Mariners and Celtic, respectively)?

Aston Villa manager O’Neill shockingly resigned with immediate effect only days before the season is to commence.  Rumor has it that transfer policy this off-season sent him over the edge.  Specifically, it looked as though Villa were about to lose two of their top players, James Milner (late of the England World Cup debacle) and Ashley Young, while O’Neill was not allowed to re-invest 100% of the proceeds from the sale, nor did ownership sanction the contract demands of Stephen Ireland, coming in part trade from Manchester City in the proposed / rumored Milner move to Manchester.  O’Neill, perhaps correctly, interpreted this as a surrender of ambition, and walked away.  O’Neill is highly regarded, and considered a hero by Celtic faithful.

His timing is crap for not only Villa, but also his own; walk out a couple weeks ago, and the Liverpool job is his.

Less surprisingly, the Seattle Mariners just fired their manager, Don Wakamatsu, and several members of his coaching staff.

Wakamatsu did not deserve this.  Last year, he was regarded for his brilliance, if not for every tactical decision he made on the field, for his ability to actually manage the cast of highly paid athletes / egos under his supervision.  This year, a 42-70 could have had the effect of attenuating the perceived brilliance, and his correctly showing Ken Griffey Jr. the exit door to his career made him close to universally unpopular.  These are superficial, anecdotal pieces of evidence; the sabermetric literature (that I am familiar with, I am now a couple years behind I’m afraid, although there is some interesting stuff here) has had a difficult time establishing that the field manager of a ball club has much measurable effect at all, and is negligible at best.

If baseball managers do not have any (as of yet) measurable effect on the probability of team success, is the same true for soccer managers?  Typically, soccer managers have a dual role from an American perspective: GM and field manager.  Player acquisition / disposal, the starting lineups, and on field tactics are wholly under his (or her) control.  This is not so in baseball, but also not the entire point.  While analysis on this question is highly limited, my non-rigorous, unsystematic hunch informed by anecdotal evidence perhaps hobbled by some subconscious selection bias tells me that the manager has a measurable effect on the probability of success.  Note, I’m not suggesting that the manager is the sole determinant of success, but that it is measurable.  (That study does not quite get at my question, but it’s the most rigorous I’m aware of).

I suspect that a “name” baseball manager would have also walked if presented with the situation O’Neill faced: the classic ‘fire sale’ followed by a clear lack of ambition, because his reputation is on the line.  However, the difference in the two cases is that the reputation of O’Neil is deserved, while the reputation of Wakamatsu, be it his brilliant 2009 or his miserable 2010, is not.

Yeah, Surrrrrrre…

[ 0 ] October 18, 2007 |

For those unclear on the concept of bluffing, here’s Brian Cashman:

But yesterday after meeting with the three Steinbrenners and other members of the Yankees brain trust, Cashman said the team absolutely does not plan to negotiate with Rodriguez if he opts out. Another source familiar with talks told Newsday the Steinbrenners are absolutely onboard with that.

“Yes, I can affirm that,” Cashman said. “If Alex Rodriguez opts out of his contract, we will not participate in his free agency. That is accurate and that is definitive.”

[5 second pause, entirely for effect] “I re-raise.”

This has been in a lesson in “transparently non-credible bluffing.”

"This May Surprise You, but Manny Ramirez Creates More Runs Than Coco Crisp!"

[ 0 ] October 17, 2007 |

On Saturday, Tom McCarver treated the most obvious banality as if he’d just split the atom; he can’t help it, he’s Tim McCarver. What’s amazing is that he considered it so earth-shattering he needed to share it again!

10:05: I might not be able to describe what McCarver just told us without you thinking I made it up, but let’s try: Over the span of 45 seconds, he just explained that a leadoff home run leads to more multi-run innings than a leadoff walk, only he made it sound like this was some sort of remarkable revelation or something. Did we just watch a sketch for Joe Buck’s late-night show? That just happened, right?

(Rewinding game on TiVo.)

10:06: Yup, it just happened. So if you’re keeping track at home, multi-run innings happen more often when they’re started off by a home run instead of a walk. Thank you, Tim McCarver. Meanwhile, Delcarmen just gave up a Lofton single, a stolen base and a pop-up RBI single to Casey Blake Niedermayer. 7-0, Indians. We’re getting close to a Gagne appearance that might be acceptable under the ground rules established at the top of this column.

Yes–homeruns lead to more runs than walks; I”m as shocked as you are. I guess the idea that this is a revalation is an adjunct to the favorite broadcaster/sportswriter idiocy, that if you’re down multiple runs homeruns are “rally-killers.”

As Simmons also notes, all the more tragic is the opportunity that TBS had. First of all, no Tim McCarver. Their camerawork was less sophisticated but also less annoying; many fewer nostril shots, plugs for network stars, etc. I wish they had kept Darling for the NLCS, but Gywnn and Brenly were tolerable. But Chip Caray — wow. He’s the best argument against nepotism since Adam Bellow edited Liberal Fascism, if not Kiefer Sutherland.

The Only Solution Is To Let the Owners Keep More Money!

[ 0 ] October 14, 2007 |

Damn lack of comeptitive balance in baseball — I don’t see how small market teams can compete when a big market team can acquire a great reliver like Eric Gagne and use him as a setup man!

With all due respect to d., I’m happy that it looks like the Tribe will win; it would be nice to have at least one decent up-and-down series this year, and I really don’t want it to involve Arizona winning…

Elimination Day: Day After Notes

[ 0 ] October 10, 2007 |
  • It’s all A-Rod’s fault for working so hard. Make sure to see this handy “why Slappy’s homers are all meaningless” chart. I really don’t think Cashman will stick by his pledge not to sign him if he opts out, but I’m sure hope he’s being honest about it.
  • Admittedly, St. Derek of Pasta Diving supplementing his usual atrocious defense by hitting roughly 000/000/000 with 15 DPs was so bad that even his reliable apologists in the media had to say something, although this was generally framed as the loss of his previously unassailable “clutch gene” or something. How he gets a pass for 2004 is beyond me. I guess that unlike Sheffield and Slappy he didn’t make the mistake of playing well when the Yanks got off to a 3-0 lead; if they had all played like Jeter, they would have gotten swept rather than choking historically. He’s a terrific hitter who has had many good postseasons, but really, we’ve heard enough about the Captain of Clutchiosity.
  • I also have a lot of crow to eat in regards to Eric Wedge. Happy to be wrong!
  • Apparently Torre is likely to be replaced by Tony LaRussa, Super Genius (TM). Goody. Average Yankee game time in 2008: 7 hours, 22 minutes. (I’m rooting for Larry Bowa, granting that Torre’s credentials in 1995 we just as suspect.)
  • I can’t say I really grasp why an organization that gave $1 million a start to the 112-year old Roger Clemens and half the GNP of Bolivia on Kei Igawa, Jaret Wright and Official Opening Day Starter Carl Pavano would let Mariano Rivera test the free agent waters bitter because the Yanks wouldn’t give him an extension. Hopefully the Cubs will blow him out of the water…
  • I should also mention that because the Yankees made the playoffs, Planned Parenthood of Seattle is $50 richer thanks to faithful reader Howard. As long as such wagers are confined to the regular season, abortion access in this country could be significantly broadened….

Wounded Byrd

[ 0 ] October 8, 2007 |

The question of whether Byrd on full rest or Sabathia on short rest start tonight really is the kind of question that’s empirically unknowable. The difference between Byrd and Sabathia is less than the plausible effects of Sabathia on short rest, especially when you consider that it will limit his innings. This is a case where deference is owed to the manager, who knows the individual characteristics of his players. Plus, Byrd is a league average pitcher who throws strikes, crucial to beating the Yankees.

Still, I have to say that unless Sabathia is completely unable to pitch it seems crazy to me that Wedge is starting Byrd. This is partly the fatalism of the Yankee hater, I’ll grant, but there’s also good reason to believe that Byrd will be entirely non-competitive against the best offense in baseball. He doesn’t get many Ks, and going up against 7 lefty hitters in a lefty-favoring park his surrendered a .322 average to lefties, which is an improvement over 2006 when lefties hit .369 off him. I can’t believe that even on 3 days rest Sabathia doesn’t give you a better chance than that, and if it doesn’t work you still have Carmona on full rest at home in Game 5. Wedge is all but surrendering Game 4 in advance, something he may well come to severely regret.

Anyway, I can’t say I was looking forward to the Gus Van Sant skateboarding picture a friend bought me a ticket for at the New York Film Festival tonight, but now it seems likes a godsend…

…obviously a good start, long way to go. One more point before I go: one reason for both optimism and to wonder about the choice is that the Indians are in a decent position to score some runs here. Sinkerballer or no, you have to wonder about Wang on short rest, and with Torre’s bizarre decision to use Joba for two innings with a 5 run lead the Yankees are in a world of hurt if he gets knocked out of the box early. Hopefully Byrd can gut his way through a few innings, but I hope he doesn’t squander a lead a la Westbrook. (Good point about Laffey in the comments.) Anyway, I hope to be pleasantly surprised when I get back…

…so it turned out after I got to Columbus Circle that, to my ill-concealed annoyance, the Van Sant movie is tomorrow. It actually looked like we were going to see Le Voyage du Ballon Rouge instead — the usher didn’t notice either — but then someone showed up for their seats after the picture started. It figures that the Yankees would start hitting as soon as I got home…anyway, as I was saying starting wily veteran Paul Byrd was a brilliant choice and I predicted that he would shut down the Yankees for five innings…

…My question (and fear): if the Indians have, say, a 2-run lead in the bottom of the ninth, does Borowski come in?

ALDS Game 3 Open Thread

[ 0 ] October 7, 2007 |

I heard from more than one Yankee fan who was happy that they avoided the Angels. Somehow, past history or no past history, I’m guessing they don’t believe that anymore. Anyway, we’re now at most three games away from the regrettable return of Tim McCarver. (The TBS broadcasts haven’t been great, but compared to the Fox “cut to closeups of nose hair/cut to stars (using the term loosely) of about-to-be-canceled Fox shows/very occasional baseball” formula it’s a godsend.)

That said, one game before the AL is on Fox would be much better. Let’s see if the Tribe can make it happen…

…that straightforward E6 was scored a hit? There’s home cookin’, and then there’s cooking for Jeter. Embarrassing. And clutch by Garko to push across what should be an unearned run! I do wish Martinez wouldn’t have swung at two of the five balls Clemens threw him…

…and that figures to be a wrap on Clemens’s career. Give Torre credit for not trying to squeeze a few more batters from him after the K.

…WP by Hughes leads to the third ER charged to Clemens (granting that the first one is a farce.) I blame the bugs. And the sun in Hughes’s eyes. And the Trilateral Commission.

…I don’t understand: Chamberlain was lights-out in one inning, and then gave up a run in another. Plaugue of locusts, I assume? Anyway, I guess we’ll see you in Cleveland, unless Paul By…um, I think I’m going to leave that.

Whinebrenner

[ 3 ] October 7, 2007 |

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George M. Steinbrenner is principal owner of the New York Yankees.

It’s not just the announcers who can see only one possible explanation for Greatest Pitcher In Known Human History Joba Chamberlain giving up a run:

But with his team teetering on the brink of a knockout, the old Steinbrenner came out swinging on Saturday night, putting Torre on immediate notice and ripping into umpire Bruce Froemming, the veteran crew chief from Friday night’s Game 2 who declined to stop play despite an infestation of Lake Erie gnats.

“The umpire was full of [expletive],” Steinbrenner said of the retiring Froemming. “He won’t umpire our games anymore.”

Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo. Granted that Froemming should have retired during the Reagan administration, his decision here was unquestionably correct; bugs are part of playing baseball on humid days on Lake Erie. Moreover, the bugs also affected the hitters — for all we know Chamberlain would have given up a three-run homer pitching in a bug-free environment — and amazingly the bugs didn’t prevent Carmona from throwing that great slider, or Rivera from pitching two scoreless innings.

But it’s not only Joba; it’s the Greatest Athlete In History of Mankind who was affected!

In the wake of that Game 2 defeat, Steinbrenner said the Yankees had complained to baseball commissioner Bud Selig about the decision to play on. “[Selig] just said, ‘That’s in the umpires’ hands,’ ” Steinbrenner said. “But Jesus Christ, it was terrible. It messed up the whole team, [Derek] Jeter, all of them.”

Yes, Jeter is one for eight, and has no range, because of the bugs. It’s all the bugs. They somehow knew to affect only one team on the field; amazing.

The bad news here is that Steinbrenner claims that he’ll re-sign A-Rod no matter what. I would especially like to see the Yankees out before Slappy can get hot to increase the pressure to let him walk, but alas Cashman isn’t nearly as dumb as the median fan or pundit.

As for what will happen tonight, I can’t even predict. Part of me sees this like Game 4 last year, with Clemens pulling up gimpy and the Indians getting out to a big lead and the Yankees losing their discipline. Part of me sees the Yankees — as has been their wont — teeing off on Westbrook and getting right back in it. I’ll say this: I think it goes 3 or 5; I don’t see Byrd beating Yankees Stadium Wang. With Sabathia and Carmona both on full rest a Game 5 wouldn’t be awful, but still, it would be immensely desirable for the Indians to put the boot down now.

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