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Views of a veteran observer of the game.


Platoon
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Game Theory says that when you lay out the rules and conditions, and give the opponents time to work out the strategies, they eventually reach an equilibrium. If you don't like the equilibrium that is reached, you have to change the rules and conditions - you can't expect either opponent to adopt a losing strategy unilaterally.

Batters use an uppercut swing that was derided in my youth as showboating, because pitchers have gotten so much better that an infrequent four-bagger is now the best outcome on average for many hitters. The reward for hitting it out of the park on the fly rather than a bounce is too great, and in retrospect the game probably would have been better, once fences were introduced in the 19th century, if a ball hit over the fence had been defined as a double, or a single, or *gasp* a foul ball or even an out on the logic of it being unsportsmanlike - you want extra-base hits, put it in play for the fielders to try to defend against. Too late for quite such a major change now, I'm afraid. Likewise, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle with regard to how fast pitches travel now and with so much movement, though you could nibble at the margins by better enforcing the rule against artificial substances.

My proposals are three-pronged, addressing each of the three "true" outcomes:

  • Deaden the ball a bit further (making HR less probable)
  • Move the mound back a couple of feet, maybe even five feet (reducing strikeouts)
  • Increase the size of the strike zone (cut down on walks)

A little something for both sides of the battle, with the intention being to tell batters, ditch the uppercut and swing for base hits. If the softer ball goes out of the park on a line drive, good for you, well done.

 

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One of my concerns about moving the mound back, and they are trying that in an Indy league this summer, it that hitters will increase their level of over swinging. Of course they also may increase the times they put the ball in play, but a can of corn fly ball isn’t exactly drama. 
 

Not often noted is the lack of action plays put on by the offense, steals hit and runs, and of course the dreaded B word. These have also fallen victim top the analytical mindset. 
 

Numbers may not lie, but they certainly have ruined both watching the game, and discussing strategy. I remember the "good old days" when questioning the bunt the previous day would get Kelly in a foul mood for his whole Sunday show, and Sid would ask the caller "where’d you ever manage". Life was good! 👌

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Most people do like a homerun, but when Arraez swings for the fences and hits a fly ball out 400 feet, we have reached a stage where individuals do not play to their strengths. I'm not a big fan of bunting but when your team is down two runs and the shift gives the batter a base hit on a bunt, then a bunt is the correct play. The safety squeeze by Cleveland was the correct play and Terry Francona knew this and called it. Adjustments can be made.

The game doesn't need changes. It does need enforcement of the rules currently on the books. If you ever faced a wicked spitball you would understand why it is not legal. The same thing applies to defaced baseballs; anyone remember Joe Niekro. MLB can and should put an immediate stop to all of the "tonics" used for gripping a baseball to gain spin, movement, and velocity. Eliminate the abuse of substances and we will see a huge drop in the effectiveness of many borderline talents on the mound. I never have nor never will understand the vitriol spilled on Barry Bonds. He saw that Mark McGuire had become a god. He knew his own talents were vastly superior and he joined the crowd. Bonds is, arguably, the greatest baseball player in MLB history and his ego duped him into experimentation with steroids. It was a bad decision and even unnecessary but also understandable if you consider the work ethic and supersized ego of Barry Bonds. So baseball, writers, and fans didn't like Bonds total dominance of the sport and suddenly steroids and peds were looked down on and players were punished, including a refusal to induct several players in the MLB Hall of Fame. This was all foreseeable and discussed openly at the time and there were players who refused to indulge in peds and were unhappy and some even bitter at those who did use peds. The use of substances by pitchers today is exactly the same. The real question is whether or not MLB is loving the no-hitters and just wants to watch a while before it takes any action. Fans will have to wait for Manfredball to end before baseball normalizes. It is as simple as that and all of the talk about the mound, big bases,  electronics, etc., etc. is a waste until MLB is free of the current regime.

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17 hours ago, Platoon said:

One of my concerns about moving the mound back, and they are trying that in an Indy league this summer, it that hitters will increase their level of over swinging. Of course they also may increase the times they put the ball in play, but a can of corn fly ball isn’t exactly drama. 
 

Not often noted is the lack of action plays put on by the offense, steals hit and runs, and of course the dreaded B word. These have also fallen victim top the analytical mindset. 
 

Numbers may not lie, but they certainly have ruined both watching the game, and discussing strategy. I remember the "good old days" when questioning the bunt the previous day would get Kelly in a foul mood for his whole Sunday show, and Sid would ask the caller "where’d you ever manage". Life was good! 👌

Analytics may change if strikeouts are not as prevalent.  There will likely be a feeling out process, but the "swing for the hills" mentality exists, in part, because making contact with today's pitchers is so damn difficult.  We have to give hitters a chance to make contact.  Hell, we have to give them time to read the pitches being thrown at them.

In 1980 most pitches were a 90ish mph fastball from a dude whose 6 feet tall.  Now guys 6'5 are throwing 96 but throwing that heater LESS because their high spin-rate, offspeed pitches are harder for a hitter to see.  At the end of the day the human eye can only pick up so much in such a limited space of play.  Batters simply don't have time react.  Swing for the fences and pray is about survivability as a hitter more than anything else.

If the option exists to use a better strategy, they'll take it.  We have to give them options though.  I can agree with deadening the ball a bit, but priority number one needs to be to move the mound back.  It's long overdue.

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I really enjoyed @ashbury’s 3 pronged solution to address the outcomes that are making the game boring. It’s a great compromise to balance the scales on offense, while giving pitchers a bigger strike zone. 
 

I’m looking forward to reading the data from the Atlantic League who moved the mound back 1 foot this season. My hope is giving hitters reaction time similar to the earlier years will allow batters to play to their strengths again as contact, line drive, or power hitters. 

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On 5/24/2021 at 1:14 PM, ashbury said:

Game Theory says that when you lay out the rules and conditions, and give the opponents time to work out the strategies, they eventually reach an equilibrium. If you don't like the equilibrium that is reached, you have to change the rules and conditions - you can't expect either opponent to adopt a losing strategy unilaterally.

It's too bad John Nash is no longer around. He'd know what to do.

 

On 5/24/2021 at 1:14 PM, ashbury said:

 

My proposals are three-pronged, addressing each of the three "true" outcomes:

  • Deaden the ball a bit further (making HR less probable)
  • Move the mound back a couple of feet, maybe even five feet (reducing strikeouts)
  • Increase the size of the strike zone (cut down on walks)

A little something for both sides of the battle, with the intention being to tell batters, ditch the uppercut and swing for base hits. If the softer ball goes out of the park on a line drive, good for you, well done.

 

I'm very much with you. Make it easier to hit a ball in play but more difficult to hit home runs. I'd also include lowering the mound as an option instead of or in addition to moving the mound back. I don't want the mound too far from home plate. I like having the pitcher close enough to allow him to field bunts and to cover home plate.

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On 5/24/2021 at 1:14 PM, ashbury said:

Game Theory says that when you lay out the rules and conditions, and give the opponents time to work out the strategies, they eventually reach an equilibrium. If you don't like the equilibrium that is reached, you have to change the rules and conditions - you can't expect either opponent to adopt a losing strategy unilaterally.

Batters use an uppercut swing that was derided in my youth as showboating, because pitchers have gotten so much better that an infrequent four-bagger is now the best outcome on average for many hitters. The reward for hitting it out of the park on the fly rather than a bounce is too great, and in retrospect the game probably would have been better, once fences were introduced in the 19th century, if a ball hit over the fence had been defined as a double, or a single, or *gasp* a foul ball or even an out on the logic of it being unsportsmanlike - you want extra-base hits, put it in play for the fielders to try to defend against. Too late for quite such a major change now, I'm afraid. Likewise, there is no putting the genie back in the bottle with regard to how fast pitches travel now and with so much movement, though you could nibble at the margins by better enforcing the rule against artificial substances.

My proposals are three-pronged, addressing each of the three "true" outcomes:

  • Deaden the ball a bit further (making HR less probable)
  • Move the mound back a couple of feet, maybe even five feet (reducing strikeouts)
  • Increase the size of the strike zone (cut down on walks)

A little something for both sides of the battle, with the intention being to tell batters, ditch the uppercut and swing for base hits. If the softer ball goes out of the park on a line drive, good for you, well done.

 

I agree with your bullet points, though the "increase the size of the strike zone" is mildly concerning due to already sky-high K rates.

But I don't disagree the zone should, at minimum, be altered. One thing I've heard bounced around baseball circles is that robot umps tend to crush unexpecting batters with their calling of the high strike, which is the enemy of the uppercut swing.

If wonder if our answer may lie in the implementation of robot umpires, which is just a good idea overall, IMO. If pitchers can regularly target the top of the zone and get the call, batters will be forced to cut out their "ideal launch angle" swings and create a more generalized, adaptable swing that covers more of the strike zone.

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3 hours ago, Brock Beauchamp said:

I agree with your bullet points, though the "increase the size of the strike zone" is mildly concerning due to already sky-high K rates.

But I don't disagree the zone should, at minimum, be altered. One thing I've heard bounced around baseball circles is that robot umps tend to crush unexpecting batters with their calling of the high strike, which is the enemy of the uppercut swing.

If wonder if our answer may lie in the implementation of robot umpires, which is just a good idea overall, IMO. If pitchers can regularly target the top of the zone and get the call, batters will be forced to cut out their "ideal launch angle" swings and create a more generalized, adaptable swing that covers more of the strike zone.

The point of a bigger strike zone, and I probably should have specified that I mainly meant wider, is that there will always be a temptation to nibble at the edges of the zone, but if pitches far enough outside are called strikes then the damage caused by an opposite field single will mean much less incentive to risk a walk just to prevent it. Combining this change with some change to allow better pitch recognition should keep K's from growing.

Other sports have reached a crisis point where something drastic had to be done to the layout of their game. Basketball had to institute a shot clock or else optimal offensive strategy turned out to be a boring four-corners once the lead became more than a couple of points; the three-pointer helped keep defenses from clogging the area near the basket. Football has avoided an overt crisis by continually adding restrictions on what the defense may do, because defenders keep getting bigger and faster and everyone agrees 7-3 games are boring. Soccer has become a tense battle of defenses where a goal happens only when a succession of defensive mistakes occur and a 0-0 game is considered well-played by both clubs and... well, soccer remains kinda like that, and I don't watch it - they could ditch the offside rule as far as I'm concerned, and open up the offense a little.

Point being... I'm not adamant on any of the points I suggested. above  Robot umps likely will have some effect (making life more predictable and thus easier for batters, I believe), apart from tweaks to which strikes the robot calls, and somebody else added the suggestion to lower the mound. All these belong in the mix. I just feel that it's necessary to vastly broaden the discussion of what can be changed, and attack multiple problems simultaneously with multiple changes. The problem has festered for too long and one single fix that makes the game more watchable probably isn't possible anymore. I instinctively appreciate that the rules experimentation in the minor leagues is limited, per league, but that won't cut it, for meaningful improvement.

I find it personally ironic because I spent most of my career in a branch of mathematical optimization. But while optimization can earn airlines or supply chains money, it doesn't make them interesting to watch operate day in and day out.  Optimality indeed tends toward a dull sameness from one participant to the next.  But optimality secondarily results in strategies that can prove brittle in the face of any new uncertainty, and that's where the opportunity lies for baseball: the analysis can be rendered obsolete by changing the conditions of the game slightly.

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6 minutes ago, ashbury said:

The point of a bigger strike zone, and I probably should have specified that I mainly meant wider, is that there will always be a temptation to nibble at the edges of the zone, but if pitches far enough outside are called strikes then the damage caused by an opposite field single will mean much less incentive to risk a walk just to prevent it. Combining this change with some change to allow better pitch recognition should keep K's from growing.

Other sports have reached a crisis point where something drastic had to be done to the layout of their game. Basketball had to institute a shot clock or else optimal offensive strategy turned out to be a boring four-corners once the lead became more than a couple of points; the three-pointer helped keep defenses from clogging the area near the basket. Football has avoided an overt crisis by continually adding restrictions on what the defense may do, because defenders keep getting bigger and faster and everyone agrees 7-3 games are boring. Soccer has become a tense battle of defenses where a goal happens only when a succession of defensive mistakes occur and a 0-0 game is considered well-played by both clubs and... well, soccer remains kinda like that, and I don't watch it - they could ditch the offside rule as far as I'm concerned, and open up the offense a little.

Point being... I'm not adamant on any of the points I suggested. above  Robot umps likely will have some effect (making life more predictable and thus easier for batters, I believe), apart from tweaks to what strikes the robot calls, and somebody else added the suggestion to lower the mound. All these belong in the mix. I just feel that it's necessary to vastly broaden the discussion of what can be changed, and attack multiple problems simultaneously with multiple changes. The problem has festered for too long and one single fix that makes the game more watchable probably isn't possible anymore. (I instinctively like that the rules experimentation in the minor leagues is limited, per league, but that won't cut it, for meaningful improvement.)

I find it personally ironic because I spent most of my career in a branch of mathematical optimization. But while optimization can earn airlines or supply chains money, it doesn't make them interesting to watch operate day in and day out.  Optimality indeed tends toward a dull sameness from one participant to the next.  But optimality secondarily results in strategies that can prove brittle in the face of any new uncertainty, and that's where the opportunity lies for baseball: the analysis can be rendered obsolete by changing the conditions of the game slightly.

I agree wholly on all counts. The game is going to need a lot of changes, most of them pretty minor and some largely cosmetic (I’ve come to despise the shift and see no reason for it to exist) but a few will be significant (anything done to the mound).

I wish I had more faith in MLB leadership, particularly Manfred, to make difficult decisions. I wasn’t a fan of Selig but I’d much rather have him in the big chair than Manfred right now. At least Selig wasn’t afraid to throw a wrench in the gears every so often. 

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