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!)