Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Some quick tables here using the incredibly handy "Splits" comparison available in the Play Index at Forman et fils. From the "stat extremist" point-of-view (and, admit it, if you're reading this you know you fit that description to a "T"...) the Reds continue to amaze in their case of gopheritis--and the breakouts here, isolating performance by starters and relievers--show just how pathetic things have gotten for the Cincinnati starters this year.

After being the worst in the league in '16, they've gone into the business of serving up gopher balls at such an enthusiastic rate (2.187 per 9 IP) that they are nearly half a homer per nine innings ahead of the next worst team in baseball history in terms of this particular split. (And the next three teams on that list--not shown here--are all from 2017: the Orioles, the Mariners, and the White Sox. The 2016 Reds are the "reigning champions" in this stat, but their 2017 brethren are a lock to own this record, quite possibly for the foreseeable future.

The data here can show us that the increase in HR/9 rate in MLB between 2016 and 2017 is pretty much evenly divided between starters and relievers. The individual changes, however, are much more all-over-the-map in nature. We can see that the Arizona Diamonbacks have done an incredible job of bucking the HR surge, with solid improvements from both pitching groups.

Odd to see that as the Reds' starters have jumped to a world-record pace in surrending HRs, their relievers have managed to go the other way--at least for now.

Of the three 2017 teams we mentioned who are outpacing the 2016 Reds starters in HR/9--the Orioles, Mariners, and White Sox--it's the Orioles who've cratered the most from last year.

And you will notice that the Cubs starters have also had a hefty uptick in HR/9 thus far in 2017 as opposed to 2016, when virtually everything broke right for them.

And we would be remiss not to mention the most incredible and calamitous performance change of all--the near doubling of HR/9 rate of the Washington Nationals' relievers. Their current rate is just ahead of the record set last year by the Reds' relievers--a pace that may not be possible to attain (and the N's have made some roster moves in the past week that are certainly designed to address the problem). Whatever they do over the rest of the season, however, it seems likely that they'll set a record for the highest HR/9 rate for any playoff-bound team. The current record? 1.329, held by the 2011 Texas Rangers (who came within one game of winning the World Series that year).

[EDIT: It should be noted that the current HR/9 rates for each pitcher group in 2017 is, currently at least, the highest such rate in baseball history.]

Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 18, 2017


So--we know that home run levels are way up, even in the context of recent history. Let's get beyond the HR/G formulation, however, and quantify this on a game-by-game basis.

In other any given season, based on the HR/G average, how many games are played in which a team hits no HRs? Exactly 1 HR? 2 HRs? 3 HRs? More than 3 HRs? And what are the ancillary statistics accompanying these games?

We're just taking a quick look at this data, using four seasons for a basis of comparison. To match up with 2016 (with 1.16 HR/G, highest full season average yet...), we reach back to 1933, a "lull year" in the live ball era's early offensive explosion, where runs/game dipped to 4.48--which matches the R/G average in 2016. 1933 differs from 2016 radically in terms of the shape of XBH levels--particularly in HR/G (0.44 per game).

To round things out, we chose a couple of seasons roughly at the mid-point historically between these two seasons. 1976 is another "lull" year during a period of offensive resurgence, where run scoring dipped to just under four runs per game and HR/G dropped from the .75-.85 per game down to .58. 1970 is often mischaracterized as a "boom year" in offense, which is true in the immediate context of the times; but it's 4.34 R/G is not particularly robust. What is noteworthy, particularly for this quick snapshot, is that the year's HR/G rate was elevated (0.88/G) relative to run scoring and signals a return to the pre-strike zone-change offensive shape found in 1955-62.

So, with that, let's look at the accompanying data tables to get a sense of what a "game-level view" of things can tell us:

Looking at the 1933-2016 comparison, we can see that last year's teams went homerless in only a bit more than half of the number of games that such was the case in 1933. Conversely, they were six times more likely to hit 3 or more HRs in a game.

The averages for the two seasons from the 1970s fill in the blanks and demonstrate that these types of distributions are more or less linear in nature.

In terms of overall performance (R/G and team WPCT in the various game categories), we can use another way of measuring the data to evaluate the differences and similarities that exist. Here are the HR distributions and the R/G data displayed as percentages:

So, in 2016, homerless games accounted for just over a third of all games, as opposed to two-thirds of all games in 1933. Teams in 2016 aren't able to score runs relative to overall offense when they don't hit HRs--run-scoring levels were only 61% of average in such games last year, whereas they were 83% of average in 1933. Offensive strategies were aligned to other ways of scoring runs than hitting homers for much of the first half of baseball history, and they were able to win a lot more games without hitting homers (.435 WPCT in homerless games in 1933; .321 WPCT last year).

Interestingly, run-scoring levels relative to average track reasonably well with WPCT based on the number of HR/G. Today, hitting a HR in a game gives a team less than a 50-50 chance of winning.

With HR/G levels pushing even higher than 2016's average, those who go to the ballpark are getting closer to having a 75% shot of seeing someone hit a HR. Or should, we say hit at least one HR.

The "invasive techniques" discussed in the posts below will not take us back to 1933 or 1976 in terms of HR/G. We might get back to something like the levels in 1970, however, which would make it possible for teams that eschew home run hitting to still have a chance to be competitive--which is definitely not the case now. And that's the ugly specter of two-dimensionality that has slowly taken over baseball over the past thirty years. It's time to get all of our dimensions back...

Thursday, July 13, 2017


If you are coming in at the end--and it's a feature, not a bug in terms of how our brains now function thanks to the back-in-time backflow of the blog--you need to be oriented to what you may not bother to read before plunging in here.

So--the contention is that the shape of baseball statistics has morphed from a game where, as Brock Hanke noted, there was order and shape in the ratios of extra-base hits based on a presumed level of difficulty (singles easier than doubles, doubles easier than triples, and--wait for it--triples easier than home runs) to one where the relationships are distended, with home runs suddenly increasing to unseen levels, triples continuing their slow extinction, and the two-dimensional "all or nothing" game being set in stone by skyrocketing strikeout rates.

To summarize from the more extensive data table in the earlier entry:

We've had twenty-five years of a style of baseball that existed only intermittently in the 1950s and 1960s, with an extra-base hit "shape relationship" that is skewed and distended, but that has become (as certain beyond-reprehensible types continue to attempt to do with the Orange Malaise...) the "new normal" because, pace Ben Lindbergh, we've all been sitting in the pot as it has raised itself closer and closer to a boil.

Do keep in mind that the 2017 numbers have a 1.26 in the HR slot, have an ISO of .170, and push ISO/SLG (the percentage of SLG that is the ISO value) all the way to .400.

That's not the "new normal," it's the (not-so) new insanity. But ostensibly brilliant minds have aided and abetted this development over time, by preaching the gospel of the Three True Outcomes until it has come home to roost like the ominous avians in Hitchcock's The Birds.

So with all of this extremity excrementing itself all over everything (both in baseball and in American life...), just what can be done about it? Do we just let the cabal at the top "manage" things? Or do we take a hard look at what our standards and practices ought to be and try to bring them back into some kind of acceptable alignment?

For America, that's about as crucial as it gets. For baseball, most people don't have much of a clue that there's a problem. And with penny-ante pundits such as Lindbergh and Joe Posnanski, we have no actual historical perspective, hence no outrage.

What's clear is that baseball needs to change the shape of its statistics. It needs to quit stage-managing run scoring levels from behind the curtain. It needs to look at the consequences of a sabermetric movement that leads inevitably to a two-dimensional game. It needs to apply solutions to this problem before it really does become analogous to global warming. Lindbergh's attitude in his essay at The Ringer is perilously close to the dismissive claims of those embedded right-wing "scientists"--rather than look for signs of systemic distress and begin to deal with them before we reach a tipping point, Ben would rather wait for the game to go over the cliff before doing anything but "debunk" the frog-in-the-pot metaphor. (Yes, Ben, it's a metaphor for human folly.)

So, all that said, what do we do about it? First, we need to recognize that, with respect to HRs, the toothpaste is out of the tube and we are never going back to the "inside game." People have become too accustomed to HR rates higher than baseball's historical average (see above table: still only two-thirds of a HR per game). You can deaden the ball, but you don't change the distended shape of XBH stats by doing that--you only decrease offense in general.

We don't necessarily want to decrease offense, of course. What we need to do is permit offense to manifest itself in as many ways as possible. That means limiting HRs and creating more triples. But ballparks have been constructed to encourage HRs and discourage triples. The standard way to create more triples is to push the fences back--it's no surprise that the ballparks that allow the most triples (Coors Field and Pac Bell Park) have the greatest distances in the relevant power alleys.

Since most parks simply can't be altered to create such conditions, what can be done?

Two things. First, to deal with the recent HR spike, it's possible to install a screen over the relevant bleacher areas that will prevent balls from landing in the stands if the ball is hit, say five-to-fifteen feet over the wall. Since the combination of adjusted swing arcs and a livelier ball has pushed warning-track fly balls over the wall, making junior sluggers out of people like Marcus Semien and Brad Miller (and the list goes on and on...), then the thing to do is to take a half-measure as represented by a screen that extends up over the viewing area and prevents these balls from reaching the seats.

These balls, when they land there, become ground-rule doubles. Any balls that hit the vertical portion of the screen, of course, remain in play.

So if one assumes that the HR rate has gone up from 1.12 per game to 1.26 per game because of the ball boost and the swing adjustment, this will bring things back down. Depending on how far you extend the screen back into the bleachers, of course, you can lower the rate further. The goal should be to keep the HR/G rate between .90 and 1.00.

Doing this will produce an increase in doubles/game, but we are still below the historical peaks for that statistic. Apropos of the reference to "half-measures," replacing homers with doubles is, literally, a "half-measure." This will drop run scoring levels a bit, but we can adjust for that elsewhere...because we aren't through adding wrinkles that will remedy the remaining aspects of the "shape problem."

And that is, unsurprising to those of you who've been here before, plainly and simply found in a technique to increase the frequency of triples. Given the constraints on ballpark configurations and dimensions that have been imposed by modern construction method, there is only one way to generate more triples...

--You must impose a 190-foot rule that comes into play in two selected half-innings (we prefer that it be selected semi-randomly, where Innings 3-6 are the eligible half-innings and occur based on chance) where the center fielder must play at or in front of that line (which will be drawn across the field to make its existence as explicit as possible) and no defensive shift can be employed to send an infielder past that line in order to foil the objective of the rule.

And that objective, of course, is to simulate the type of distances required for outfielders to track down balls hit in the gaps that add the 5-7 seconds onto the retrieval of the ball that allow the hitter to turn a double into a triple.

The result of such a rule change is expected to be approximately an extra quarter of a triple per game. Such an increase would more than double the number of 3B/G from its present frequency. It could be more--and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

So from the current shape that we have in 2017 (1.74 2B/G; 0.15 3B/G, 1.26 HR/G), we would move to a rule-imposed shape that looks approximately like this: 1.97 2B/G, 0.37 3B/G, 0.95 HR/G.

While we'll never return to Brock Hanke's golden paradigm (as seen in the deadball era XBH averages in the chart above), the shape change that results from the new rules would at least make doubles twice as easy to hit as HRs again--something that last occurred in 1992.

An elevated level of isolated power (ISO) is here to stay: we are not going to be able to limit that to the pre-1992 average shown above. Given that such is the case, the responsible thing to do is to engineer a statistical shape that allows for the greatest possible variety in run-scoring efforts. As with everything else in the world, the laissez-faire approach produces distortion, mindless uniformity, false equivalence.

And, finally, folks--if you could only see a half-inning of baseball with the defensive constraint of the 190-foot rule in place, you'd realize just how exciting such a chaos-inducing prospect as this would be in terms of watching the game. The greatest suspense in the game is based on balls in play, and the split-second timing between fielders retrieving the ball and runners trying to advance as far as they can. The 190-foot rule plays right into this multivalent on-field moment and adds an extra flashpoint of danger for both teams as they must try to survive an inning on defense where they've had the equivalent of one hand tied behind their back.

The arguments against this remedy are the same as any that get offered up when the status quo is threatened by any perceived or actual form of social engineering. Perversely, people (particularly those in advanced societies vulnerable to stagnation) seem to have a knee-jerk preference for organic but broken systems rather than hybrid remedies that involve giving up some illusion of personal autonomy. Criticisms and dismissals of the ideas above will all fall into such a category. Baseball as an ideological system is about as calcified as it's possible to get, despite (and, as noted, possibly because of...) the number-crunching minions who have no proposals--practical or crackpot or anywhere in between--for a issue and a looming crisis that they've helped to create. As George Clinton said: free your mind, folks, and your ass will follow. (More triples = world peace!)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017


All talk and no action remains the order of the day. First, in Washington DC, where a festering pustule on America remains propped up by a klannish cabal determined to create a terrorist theocracy around the conflation of two sense of the word "hoods" (as in the ones you wear over your head, and the ones who run the variegated forms of "numbers rackets" that keep the benighted akimbo on a fog-shrouded darkling plain. Three to six more months and the White House may simply need to be rebuilt, as fumigation is going to be woefully insufficient.

Don't grip that ball too tightly, just might EXPLODE!
Second, baseball, where Rob Manfred is stonewalling amidst a hue and cry about homers and strikeouts that--as is increasingly the case for those infected with neo-sabe blight--is missing the mark. (But then again the neo-sabes have all made careers out of missing the mark, or perfecting a particularly tiresome and homogenous brand of snark, even as their rhetoric-disguised-as-reason has spread its ruin to baseball's front offices and pushed the game deeper and deeper into two-dimensionality.)

Whether taking a woefully simplistic route to a dim grasp of this long-term dilemma (Joe Posnanski, still five years away from recovering from his Joe Paterno cataclysm, pushing the "cave man theory") or upping the "brat pack quotient" with a centripetal "kitchen sink" approach to "factor analysis" (Ben Lindbergh, drowning in the perfect storm of two-fisted, two-faced and too-clever-by-half historical distortions and half-baked analogies), we are increasingly ill-served by those who've been anointed as the numbers-savvy pundits.

Each in their own way (Posnanski, shrugging; Lindberg, shaking his fist) is dodging an issue that has been building up in baseball--just as it's been doing culturally and politically in America--for about thirty years now. We have a "devil's chessboard" complex that's taken root in the nation and in our so-called "national pastime"--and it has been frog-potting inside the minds in a way that encourages short cuts in logic, false equivalences, dubious assertions thrust upon us via increasingly complex mathematical formulas and models which escalate dehumanization even as they purport to "describe" the world.

We inhale this stuff, we become intoxicated, we become war-like in our pursuit of partiality, and we all wake up twenty years later unable to see the forest for the trees.

The moral and ethical crisis in the nation right now is all about dumbing-down, which creates two-dimensional people who are easily manipulated. The structural crisis in baseball stems from those who are too clever for their own good and have dumbed down the game itself in pursuit of "truth." In both cases, we have become disconnected from our logical and moral umbilical cord, leading to an "every man for himself" quagmire.

Marcus Semien: just one of four dozen banjo
hitters who've turned into junior sluggers...
Ironically, we will probably solve the cultural/political crisis more quickly than we will fix baseball. That's because the world is not a zero-sum game, and what's been festering for thirty years is finally hitting the fan in ways that can send the entire world off its axis. Baseball is just a trifle in the swollen river of humanity's larger maelstrom, and even if it continues to tether itself to a tiresome dalliance with the "Three True Outcomes" it will still have some structural linchpins to keep it from passing over into a realm of terminal boredom.

The most significant of those linchpins is the fact that the game inherently tends to produce close outcomes regardless of whether one plays the "inside game" of the Deadball Era or the "long ball/strikeout" model that has gone into overdrive since August 2015. (And, dear Mr. Manfred, we know what it is now--it's half the "science" of applied neo-sabermetrics turning the Marcus Semiens of the world into fly ball hitters, and the more tightly-wound ball--clearly a premonition of the more tightly-wound world that's borne down on us since August 2015, when the Orange Malaise became a candidate for "President"--has added 10-15 feet to their flies, making the Marcus Semiens of the world into 20+ HR hitters.)

As we were saying, the game itself produces close outcomes. Roughly half (just under 49%) of all baseball games--from 1901 to the present are decided by two runs or less. Which means that half of the games--regardless of how the runs are scored--will remain in doubt until the final inning, creating a natural tension that keeps the competitive side of human nature interested in the outcome.

As you might expect, there's a correlation between run scoring and the percentage of close games. Stop and think for just a second, and it will be obvious to you: the fewer runs scored, the less likely that the score of the game will be lopsided. The chart at left shows that this is pretty much a linear proposition. (We didn't draw in the correlation line, but you can readily visualize it.) The fewer number of runs/game, the higher the close game percentage will be.

But there are some odd anomalies that start cropping up once homers/game begin to cross over the 1/1 barrier. The chart has one data point diamond shaded in red. That's 2017, with its current 1.26/1 ratio of HRs/games. Its run scoring level would project to about a 47% close game percentage. Instead, it's down at 43.5%. A certain number of games are falling out of the "close game" category as a result of this home run spike.

At the moment there is little evidence that baseball attendance is being affected by this. But a protracted period of this--and without any adjustments this particular situation could persist for some time to come--could have a cumulative effect on baseball's base.

What neither Posnanski nor Lindbergh are either able/willing to acknowledge is that the shape of baseball stats--specifically, the ratio of the number of extra-base hits (XBH), and the escalation of both isolated power (ISO) and the ratio of ISO to slugging average (ISO/SLG)--has been getting more extreme--more distended--for the past sixty years. Lindbergh has an incredibly misleading passage in his essay about changes in offense at the beginning of the live ball era where he intimates that ISO and ISO/SLG rose to "modern levels" in the 1919-1921 period. As our master chart of offensive averages by era (below) reveals, this is just not so. ISO and ISO/SLG, along with HR/G, are through the roof in 2017: 1.26 HR/G, .170 ISO, and .400 ISO/SLG (!!). It wasn't until 1929--near the absolute peak of the first offensive explosion--when ISO went over .130 and ISO/SLG went over .300. The levels went up and down in subsequent decades, with a kind of serpentine pattern--until we get to 1993. Even in the biggest downturn year since the end of our modern offensive explostio (2014), ISO never dropped below .135, and ISO/SLG didn't dip below .350.

Notice, though, that the shape of baseball stats can be radically different (compare 1920-39 above to the 1993-2009 timeframe) and still produce similar R/G averages. The HR/G totals in the era of Babe Ruth are shockingly low. Only a relatively small percentage of hitters actually adopted Ruth's hitting strategy--despite Lindbergh's claims, it took nearly ten years for them to fully do so.

Today, of course, even the so-called "banjo hitters" are adopting it.

Tom's Tango Love Pies have never been more radioactive: a
data immersion effort leading to new dimensions for baseball's
Now "moral relativists" will look at this data and argue that this is the inexorable march of progress, science, etc. and that the game should simply be allowed to move forward along this "evolutionary" path. They can argue that this path was dictated long before advanced metrics and scientific analysis came into play. And, to a certain extent, that's true. But look at how HR/G jumped in 1993, with changes in ballpark construction, the baseball, the steroid boondoggle, and the beginnings of what has become a floodtide of analytics departments (capped by Statcast and the inevitable homogenizing effect stemming from baking the Tango Love Pie™into the crooks and nannies of that data effort). Look at the jump in ISO and ISO/SLG from 1973-92 to 1993-2009.

These are the ambient conditions that no one seems to have any framework for adjusting (except doing something surreptitious with the baseball). Modern ballparks have virtually no "wiggle room" to adjust distances, as was often the case in decades past. The game has slowly but surely been frog-potted into an approach that places ISO in the driver's seat.

Now let's be sure that you understand what we are advocating here. We don't expect to be able to go back to ISO and ISO/SLG levels prior to 1950. What we want to see happen is a significant change in the shape of extra-base-hit distribution. We cannot achieve this by deadening the ball--that would only lower offense and homers: it would not change the frequency of triples, which remains a crucial step in adding excitement and variety back into the game. (Those of you who've previously read about our infamous, off-the-wall "190 foot rule" know that we will never let that idea lie fallow for very long--and it would remain a centerpiece in any set of rule changes designed to adjust the ratios of extra-base hits.)

So just how would we go about doing that? How could we even do that, given the corner that the game and its dumbed-down sophistication at the hands of neo-sabermetric lockstep has painted itself into?

You'll just have to wait until the next installment, won't you...

Monday, June 26, 2017


One item from last year we left hanging: the Cincinnati Reds' pitchers did indeed set a new major league record for most home runs allowed, with 258. They breezed past the 2003 Tigers, who allowed 241.

Early this year, the Reds looked as though they were turning this around. But as the season has heated up, they've reverted to their old habits. Currently they've allowed 122 HRs in 74 games, which projects to 267 for the year...which would be another major league record.

The margin for error is pretty tight, however--and this year (as you might expect after perusing the previous blog entry...) they have some competition. The Seattle Mariners have allowed 121 HR in 78 games, which puts them currently on a pace to allow 251 HR. The M's have already used 31 pitchers this season, with Drew Smyly still awaiting his season debut. Getting Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma back in the rotation might not actually stem the tide of the M's homer flow, however: both of their long-time stalwarts have been giving up HRs at a strikingly elevated rate this year.

Stay tuned...

Sunday, June 25, 2017


Still too busy to post anywhere near regularly--French noir is a harsher mistress than the moon (take that, Jimmy Webb!)--but here, at least, is a follow-up that will prove suitably astonishing.

Last year (before the undertow made us predominantly AWOL...) we were pretty much first on the scene with the report that pitching dominance in the 2010s had come to a shocking halt. We did this with a look at monthly HR/G totals which showed that something happened in August 2015 to turn the game back toward the HR levels seen at the apex of the "offensive explosion" in 2000.

It was last June that broke things open--and, after a slight dip in July, both August and September remained red-hot in terms of HR/G. (The new revised rankings, including the first three months of 2017, show August and September 2016 as having the highest HR/G for their respective months in the seventeen complete years of data. The month of September had traditionally been a down-turn month, but not last year--the revised rankings show it coming in as #10 in HR/G for the 105 months in the data sample.)

And, as the chart at right demonstrates, that pattern has further intensified in 2017. This April ranks #12 in the data, trailing only April 2000 (#3). May pushed into the Top 5 all time (#4). And with six more days to go in June, it is looking certain that we will have a new #1 in monthly HR/G rankings. Right now June 2017 is shattering the record for HR/G, and even the R/G (5.02) are creeping up toward the averages compiled during the "offensive explosion" years.

[Raw numbers: the average HR/G for the period is 1.04. The current monthly record for a full month's worth of data is 1.32 (May 2000). Our current month of June is sailing along at (a frankly incredible) 1.41 HR/G.]

[Color codes deployed in certain ranking numbers: 71 (May 2009), in red on the chart, shows us the ranking where HR/G avearage goes below 1.00. 96 (July 2011), in green, shows us the ranking where the HR/G average dips below 0.90. And 105 (the absolute bottom of the ranking--September 2014), shows us the only month in the past 17+ years where the HR/G rate slipped below 0.80.]

The big question, of course, is just what happened in August 2015 to turn around the HR/G rate. There have been blips now and again over the 17+ years of data--check out June 2005, for example, and August 2009 was another example of a HR/G spike.

So, to get back to the "if/then" clause in the title block, this should be bringing us another attendance boost, right? Assuming that "chicks" really do "dig the long ball," that is. But at the moment at least, attendance is down, slipping below 30,000 per game. Could it be that all these big flies are getting a bit tiresome?

Saturday, April 29, 2017


Those are the vagaries of the blogger system...the post below may still be dated 7/31/16, but it was just added. As others have written in more auspicious circumstances, reports of our demise...