Friday, March 29, 2013

Friday Baseball Post

Hey, the season is (almost) here!

A couple of things...

Okay, a month ago I said that the main thing (beyond health) that I would pay attention to for clues about the future was...Brandon Belt's extra base hits. I guess I'm happy now! Of course, who knows whether it means anything, but I'll choose to interpret it as a (very mild -- I'm not nuts) positive.

And Jay Jaffe has a fun column of "20 ways to improve baseball right now." I'll tell you the ones I disagree with:

* Designated hitter in both leagues? No way; I'd like to see more differences (bring back the split umps!).  

* Expand to Montreal and Puerto Rico? I would like to see a two-team expansion, but I'm all for another New York team, probably in New Jersey but it doesn't really matter. I'm skeptical that Puerto Rico would work, but willing to be convinced; Montreal would be fine.

* Stronger PED suspensions? I don't so much disagree as don't care, but anything to end the obsession with that stuff. I tend to think the current regime is too strict, for what it's worth.

* Vin Scully calling the 2013 World Series? Sorry; I'm a big Vin Scully fan, but he really is past his prime, and wasn't all that great in a two or three person booth anyway. Giving him one inning a game on the radio broadcast, alone, would be fine by me, though, but if you put him on TV he's going to get lousy reviews at this point, deserved or not.

And I'll add five more:

* Hey, I see David Aardsma was DFA today, leading to: pay David Aardsma to change his name, dropping that second "a." Hey, it was really cool that Hank Aaron was the very first player in alphabetical order. 

* Adopt my postseason scheme: two divisions per league, first and second place teams advance and play cross-division, first place teams get an easier route through the first round.

* Along with that: get a proper TV contract to promote the hell out of "pennant race week" -- the last week of the regular season. It's a drama that the other sports don't have, and baseball needs to learn to exploit it.

* Is it too soon to put Sean Forman into the Hall of Fame? I suppose so, but not by much. How about in seven years, when baseball-reference turns 20? I'm quite serious about this; he's in my view (perhaps controversial view) more deserving than the people behind the MacMillan book or Total Baseball. 

* And this one isn't an "implement today" kind of thing, but...yeah, baseball would be better off if the number of balls in play could increase, and pitches/batter decrease. I'm fairly sure that what's happened to date is simply players learning optimal strategies, but I don't think the results are best for the fans. You don't want to mess with things too much, but I'd love to have someone thinking about it.


  1. I wholeheartedly agree on Sean Forman. Baseball-reference, along with Wikipedia and only one or two others, is that rare gem of a website that can make you feel smarter in an instant.

    Its one thing for a website to have tons of information; its another altogether to make it all so intuitively easy to access - and fun to boot.

    Baseballreference wins on all counts, by my vote.

  2. More balls-in-play. I'm with you on that. And Bill James has commented (on his on-line site) that he thinks that more players could successfully adopt a make-contact hitting approach--heavier bats, slightly slower bat speeds, more contact. It may not ever be adopted, but it might, at the margins, be an optimal strategy for some teams (like San Diego, playing in a place that is death on fly balls, for example).

  3. Hey, are you going to update with commentary about Posey's contract? I think its a fascinating test of the "black box" assumption that undergirds modern statistical analysis in baseball.

    Because by his numbers Posey's contract not only makes sense it was arguably inevitable. On the other hand, the Giants tonight essentially removed any future financial incentive from the professional career of a guy who just turned 26.

    Posey must have worked pretty hard to get here to the doorstep of greatness. It'll be interesting to see whether he keeps it up.

  4. Sorry for the overclarification, but I don't mean to suggest by the above that Posey is (or will become) a bum, or that he otherwise has a suspect work ethic.

    Rather that his two fantastic full MLB seasons are almost certainly a reflection of effort on his part way above and beyond that of the myriad Posey-wanna-be twentysomething washouts. Posey's incremental effort must have occurred when the washout losers quit, in particular when it was hard or inconvenient.

    I don't imagine that a guaranteed $167 million would cause a young person to stop trying. But will he still try at the - let's face it, inconvenient - levels that got him there in the first place?

    1. Correction to the above (with apologies): those twentysomething washouts who dreamed of Posey's contract but never put in anywhere close to the effort required to get there?

      They aren't "Posey wannabes".

      Obviously, they're "Posey poseurs"!

    2. Heh.

      My general feeling about it is that I don't worry a lot about the incentive structure. For the most part, I think the evidence shows that players do quite well after signing long contracts. And he'll be young enough at the end of it that there's still quite a bit of incentive remaining; he could easily tack on another $100M if everything goes well.

      Wouldn't do it for everyone, but for most hitters of that quality, sure.

    3. That's interesting about the long-term deals. Focusing on OPS+, and looking at the two most famous deals last year, Fielder was 10% worse year-over-year, and Pujols easily had the worst year of his career. Maybe there are league effects there. The good news for Posey is that he knows what it takes to put up an MVP caliber season. The bad is that he's still just a kid.

      This conversation led to an insight about something that, imo, the modern statistical analysis of baseball always overlooks: putting up out-of-this-world stats is really really hard. For example, a while ago I pointed out, in arguing against Bonds' ridonculous late-30s OPS+ results, that his only comp was Ted Williams, who finally hit the opposite way (against his famous shift) after an injury. The only other HOF player even within shouting distance was Ty Cobb.

      Culturally, what was Ted Williams famous for? Spending hours every night honing his swing in his hotel room. And Cobb? If not the racism and hostility, it was a hypervigilant disciplined life, avoiding even newspapers and coffee. In addition to being the two guys who sustained excellence into their late 30s, Cobb and Williams are also the most famous examples of ascetic ballplayers, guys who avoided the ubiquitous temptation to live the sports hero life of wine, women and song.

      I think if you ask the average 26-year-old single dude what he would do if he suddenly got a check for $167 M, the answer would probably involve a fair amount of wine, women and song. To his credit, Posey *should* know better.

      In general, though, this is an interesting complication that big money is going to create for a statistically-focused take on baseball. In a bit of irony, the complications of wealth (vs. doing "what it takes") is not that dissimilar from the "character/good baseball attitude" stuff that the old-style scouts focused on, and the computer geeks derided.

    4. Sorry - Buster's married, should have checked that first!

  5. The amount of money in sports is obscene. If I even listen to talk about it, my enthusiasm for the game drains away. And maybe it should. People who get thousands of times the amount of money than others expresses the insanity that I'm afraid is at the heart of this society.

    There has to be some sane ground between the exploitation of players for most of baseball history, and this.

  6. I strongly half-disagree on the DH thing. IMHO, baseball needs to either abolish them or make them universal. Either way is fine with me, but I'd greatly prefer everyone in Baseball to be playing with the same rules.

    As to adding a new point, and one which is perhaps a little out there, I'd say the first two games (or Games 1 and 7) of the world series ought to be held in a neutral park. Rotate it around, select a few years ahead, like the NFL does with the superbowl. Get some great baseball cities which don't necessarily have great teams all the time a chance to host the WS. I think it'd wind up being a great party and a lot of fun.

    1. The real different-DH-rules-in-different-leagues problem is that interleague play is now a season-long thing. I'd hate to be running a team with a tougher inter-league (I'm not crazy about interleague play) play schedule than the team we're up against for a division championship or for a wild card (I hate the single-game wild-card thing).

      So I agree--DH everywhere or DH nowhere (I don't much care which).

  7. I, too, favor expansion, but I cannot support another team going to the east. Clearly the west is taking over baseball, so a team in SLC or Portland seems better than NY.

    1. I want a team in NY/NJ to dilute the market there. I'm not confident that there's another spot on the west coast that could support a team. Other than LA, that is; it could easily support a third team.


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