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MLB lifers decry the state of the modern baseball: 'Unwatchable'

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I think the 3-batter rule and longer option periods next year will help some.  The Norfolk Shuttle and its 29 counterparts have helped tilt the balance towards pitchers.  Beane in Moneyball's observation that what's being attrited are pitcher's arms has begat "Dodger injuries" as teams have gotten savvier about conserving bullets.

Players have learned to go along because it mostly works.  It would have been glorious to see Hyun-Jin Ryu have some kind of '70's Gossage blowup about being IL'd with a "strained neck" a couple weeks ago, but I'm sure teams have also gotten really good about presenting to players how these kind of strategies can benefit them too.

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I've said many times, I find the current three-outcome game (where walks, strikeouts, and homers are a MUCH higher percentage of outcomes than at any time before in history) to be less interesting to watch.   Great defensive plays are exciting.   Doubles and triples are exciting.  

I am not an old man yelling at the clouds.   I understand each individual decision made by teams, front offices, etc., that led us to this point,   And in each individual case, if I was in charge and had access to the information they did, I would have made the same decisions.   If I had access to the defensive info that they did, I would have made my players start to shift like they do, or else fall behind all the other teams.   I would have gone to more pitcher specialization because of 3rd time through the order penalty, and would have brought in more and more guys who could throw hard for an inning, or else I would fall behind the other teams that went in that direction.   Launch angle to avoid ground balls that were being eaten up by shifts -- check.   Emphasis on onbase guys after Moneyball -- check.

Every one of those changes was the proper way for individual teams to adjust to maximize their chance to compete, and you would be an idiot if you don't try to do that.

But -- the cumulative effect of those changes is a more boring game.   Less importance for exciting defense and speed on the bases.   More pitching changes.   More walks which aren't exciting.   Games decided by who hits the most home runs.   At a time when the younger generation (and some of us older ones too) have had our attention span shortened by screens that provide us contstant immediate gratification, there is now less action and excitement on the field than there used to be.

One reason the greatest player in the game is not always universally recognized as such by non-discerning fans, and isn't as well known as the greatest players in other sports, is because one of his main talents it getting on base.   Which is critical to his success and makes him great.   But 23 years ago I'd go home from a game and say, "Wow, did you see that play Alomar made, I've never seen anything like it!"   Or Devon White.   Or Manny Machado.    Or I'd marvel at the prodigious power of a Juan Gonzalez.   Never once have I watched a game and said afterwards, wow, those 3 walks Mike Trout got were fantastic.   I'll remember that day at the ballpark for a long time.

The endless parade of strikeouts and walks, waiting for the HR that will decide the game, is just not as compelling as the game used to be.   I used to marvel at a 13 K game by an ace pitcher.  I'd go home from a game like that feeling I saw something I would remember.    Now most 4th or 5th starters toss up double digit Ks a few times a year.

I don't know what to do about it.   Better information and computing power led to teams optimizing strategies to win in such a way that the game got less watchable.   Tough to put the genie back in the bottle.

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A riff on the analytic state of the game I'm interested to see play out this offseason is Gerrit Cole's free agency.  His results these two years in Houston at 27/28 are Cy Scherzer type seasons, and he'll be one year younger than Scherzer was when he got 7 x 30.

With a year of youth and half a decade's inflation, it seems like he should beat it by some, but I have a feeling the market may hesitate, feeling like some of the outcomes are Astros intellectual capital driven.

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“I managed 3,400 games in the big leagues, and never once did I put on a full shift on anybody. Not once. And I think I won a few games without having to shift.’

This is the quote that makes me think “old man yelling at cloud”. That’s not a big picture quote. Lou Piniella lost plenty of baseball games. The shift will not necessarily win you a game.

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The ball does seem to be more lively this year. I didn't see anyone mention all of the armor that batters wear now. Make that elbow guard illegal and let's see how many batters crowd the plate. Many pitchers cannot pitch inside right now but that should even things out.

How many HRs have the stankees hit to right center? A ball off the end of the bat can get out there. Ridiculous.

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I am not a fan of changing the game to appeal to the NBA type fan with a short attention span. The current game is not the same as it was in the 1970-1980’s when I first loved and learned the game. But change is inevitable and I am not going to bemoan subtle changes. No pitch clocks, and no Texas style tie breakers in extra innings. I do like that the catcher cannot take 15 visits to the mound in a game as well. And the netting was a must.

The fields have gotten smaller, the mound lower, the ball is juiced, modern hitter training has advanced exponentially, players are more physically fit, and there are more hanging sliders and curve balls than before (at least it seems that way.) The shift, although I hate it, I say leave it. Make the hitter adjust, which is what the game is all about, to me anyway. 

I’d like to see the mounds raised back up, just a bit. And raise the seams of the ball, so a breaking ball has more bite. I agree the current ball they use is just too hot. I also agree there is too many strike outs, but you cannot legislate players to make more contact.

I like a 2-1 pitcher’s duel. I appreciate great defense, and the execution of the little things. I like stolen bases and the hit and run. I think triples are more exciting than most home runs. That said, the home run is king. I just would like to see less of them. Make it mean something. My goodness, Al Bumbry would average 20 homers a year with the current ball. 

I’d like to see pitchers pitch inside more. Hitters today take swings that no respectable pitcher used to allow. You dig in, you get knocked down. You dive in, you get knocked down. You take great big hacks, you might just wear one. Everything that has changed over the years benefits the hitter. Time to allow the pitcher to prosper some. 

I don’t really like the bat flips, but I don’t really care if they flip and take a look at a bomb they just hit. Especially in a big moment. If you hit a dinger, and you’re still down 10-3 in the 8th inning, no flips please. 

I can see some of what the former players are saying. I miss the strategy, and more so the culture of baseball of 30 years ago. Talking to some of the old guys, listening to their stories, it just takes me back. But those days are gone. It’s not a Field of Dreams anymore. It’s a field of people staring at their cell phones and data driven calculations. No more umpire vs. manager arguments to entertain us on occasion. No big rivalries anymore. The players all get along. It’s a neat and tidy package now. Too bad.

 

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7 minutes ago, Jammer7 said:

I am not a fan of changing the game to appeal to the NBA type fan with a short attention span. The current game is not the same as it was in the 1970-1980’s when I first loved and learned the game. But change is inevitable and I am not going to bemoan subtle changes. No pitch clocks, and no Texas style tie breakers in extra innings. I do like that the catcher cannot take 15 visits to the mound in a game as well. And the netting was a must.

The fields have gotten smaller, the mound lower, the ball is juiced, modern hitter training has advanced exponentially, players are more physically fit, and there are more hanging sliders and curve balls than before (at least it seems that way.) The shift, although I hate it, I say leave it. Make the hitter adjust, which is what the game is all about, to me anyway. 

I’d like to see the mounds raised back up, just a bit. And raise the seams of the ball, so a breaking ball has more bite. I agree the current ball they use is just too hot. I also agree there is too many strike outs, but you cannot legislate players to make more contact.

I like a 2-1 pitcher’s duel. I appreciate great defense, and the execution of the little things. I like stolen bases and the hit and run. I think triples are more exciting than most home runs. That said, the home run is king. I just would like to see less of them. Make it mean something. My goodness, Al Bumbry would average 20 homers a year with the current ball. 

I’d like to see pitchers pitch inside more. Hitters today take swings that no respectable pitcher used to allow. You dig in, you get knocked down. You dive in, you get knocked down. You take great big hacks, you might just wear one. Everything that has changed over the years benefits the hitter. Time to allow the pitcher to prosper some. 

I don’t really like the bat flips, but I don’t really care if they flip and take a look at a bomb they just hit. Especially in a big moment. If you hit a dinger, and you’re still down 10-3 in the 8th inning, no flips please. 

I can see some of what the former players are saying. I miss the strategy, and more so the culture of baseball of 30 years ago. Talking to some of the old guys, listening to their stories, it just takes me back. But those days are gone. It’s not a Field of Dreams anymore. It’s a field of people staring at their cell phones and data driven calculations. No more umpire vs. manager arguments to entertain us on occasion. No big rivalries anymore. The players all get along. It’s a neat and tidy package now. Too bad.

 

December 23, 1975

That changed baseball. 

There never was a field of real dreams. Frank Robinson would have told you that. Ed Murray will still. 

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13 minutes ago, o'sfansince1970 said:

The ball does seem to be more lively this year. I didn't see anyone mention all of the armor that batters wear now. Make that elbow guard illegal and let's see how many batters crowd the plate. Many pitchers cannot pitch inside right now but that should even things out.

How many HRs have the stankees hit to right center? A ball off the end of the bat can get out there. Ridiculous.

I actually do believe the armor is at fault in some ways. Helmets too. The ones' that Brooks wore would not really protect you much.

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1 minute ago, weams said:

I actually do believe the armor is at fault in some ways. Helmets too. The ones' that Brooks wore would not really protect you much.

Yep, I'm sure with an increased threat of life altering brain trauma in front of them hitters would be less likely to lean in.

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10 minutes ago, weams said:

 

December 23, 1975.

That day changed baseball. 

There never was a field of real dreams. Frank Robinson would have told you that. Ed Murray will still. 

 

o

 

In regard to the Messersmith/McNally case, a very interesting backstory came of McNally's retirement and subsequent involvement in that historic decision. 

1975, Dave McNally went 3-6 with a 5.12 ERA in only 13 starts before arm trouble force him to retire in June, less than halfway into the season.)
 

At the time, the battle for free agency between Marvin Miller (and the Player's Union) and the owners was in full swing. Although Curt Flood lost his case in the Supreme Court back in 1971, it got the ball rolling. One year prior to McNally's retirement, Catfish Hunter was declared a free agent due to a violation in his contract by Athletics owner Charlie O. Finley.

The next year, Andy Messersmith wanted to test the free agent waters after pitching without a contract in '75. Marvin Miller wanted to use McNally as leverage in Messersmith's case, and asked him to declare himself a free agent, even though they both knew that McNally had no intention of pitching any longer. The G.M. of the Montreal Expos (Jim Fanning) was aware of McNally's situation, and Miller's desire to use him to help Messersmith (and subsequently ALL baseball players) with their case for free agency. Fanning literally  went to McNally's house ....... he claimed that he "just happened to be passing through Billings, Montana," and thought that he would come by to visit. Even though Fanning knew that McNally was finished as a pitcher, he offered him a guaranteed $50,000, and a trip to the Expos' training camp in Florida. Keep in mind that at that time, the minimum salary for a Major Leaguer was only $19,000, so the $50,000 guarantee was a lot of money. Plus, it would have essentially been an expense-paid vacation for McNally in sunny Florida.

Before signing anything, McNally called Marvin Miller and told him what Fanning had offered. As much as Miller needed McNally, he also felt badly about asking him to pass up a free $50,000, plus a trip to Florida in February. Miller left it up to McNally. McNally said, "If you need me, I'm here," and declined to take the money (and the expense-paid trip to Florida) that was offered to him. Messersmith and McNally were both subsequently declared free agents by Peter Seitz, opening the door for the boom (in free agency) that came the following offseason.

 

Hence, McNally (in my rat's ass of an opinion) chose integrity over easy money, and along with Curt Flood, Andy Messersmith, Catfish Hunter, and Marvin Miller, has subsequently gone down in history as one of the major players in the Player's Union's early fight (and victory) for free agency.

 

o

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So I had a grand theory all ready to explain modern baseball, based on the impact of the information revolution on defense.  According to the theory, better data has allowed teams to better measure individual defense and the contribution of defense to run prevention, which has led to increased emphasis on defensive ability in personnel decisions.  Better data has also led to shifts and other improvements in defensive positioning. 

All of these factors have led in theory to improved defensive efficiency--an increase in the percentage of balls in play that are converted into outs.  In turn, this has led to a change in optimal offensive strategies.  If it's harder to get hits on balls in play, then it is less likely that you will be able to score runs by stringing a bunch of singles together, or by using small ball tactics like base stealing, the hit and run and the sacrifice.  Teams thus optimally put more emphasis on power in personnel decisions, because a home run is the one way to score runs that can't be stopped by good defense.

Great theory, huh?  Then I looked at the data.  Here are the numbers for aggregate defensive efficiency for MLB since 2001:

2001:  0.691     2002:  0.695   2003:  0.694   2004:  0.691   2005:  0.693   2006:  0.687   2007:  0.686   2008:  0.689

2009:  0.690   2010:  0.691   2011:  0.694    2012:  0.691   2013:  0.692   2014:  0.690    2015:  0.689    2016: 0.688

2017:  0.688    2018:  0.691

So twenty years into the defensive revolution, we have...the same defensive efficiency that we had in 2001.  Teams on the whole are doing no better today at converting balls in play into outs than they were in 2001, despite all of the shifts and all of the zone ratings and other defensive measures that are now available.  

So much for my theory.  Some earlier posts suggest another theory--improved pitch design and velocity have made it harder to hit for contact, which increases strikeouts and reduces batting average.  In turn this leads to a greater emphasis on power at the expense of contact, increasing home runs, further increasing strikeouts and further reducing batting average. 

That theory may be correct, but it's less obvious to me that the correct strategic response to improved pitch design and velocity is to sacrifice contact for power. It could go the other way--in response to better pitching, it is even more important to hit for contact, to put the ball in play, to sustain an offense.  It would take a model simulation to determine whether the optimal response to power pitching is to emphasize power hitting.  

Or it could just be a juiced ball!  

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2 hours ago, Tony-OH said:

Yeah, nothing more exhilarating and exciting then watching a hitter take half swings and fight off any decent pitch until they walk or get fed a meatball. Such talent too to keep fighting those pitches off instead of actually trying to put a ball in play. and man, nothing like having to watch six pitching changes because the pitch counts got so high.

Yep, I see your point. Maybe we should just have one at bat for each team that would last three hours or until they could hit a home run. Everything else would be a foul. Man that would be fun.

That's called competition between two athletes trying to beat each other which is what sports are all about. You suggest rigging everything in the pitcher's favor. Also, you're making some wild assumptions here such as implying that most foul balls are the result of guys intentionally fouling pitches off. I don't buy that at all and I don't know why you think that would be the case or what you're even basing that on. You're calling for the removal, to some degree, of competition in a sport because you want the game to be over faster.

When games were faster, there were AB's like this in every game where guys would foul off several pitches. You're barking up the wrong tree with this as it has nothing to do with any of the issues plaguing the sport right now. If a pitcher can't put a hitter away, he gets rewarded for it? Strikeouts being called for three foul balls is cheap. I can't go along with any changes that aim to remove competition or strategy to compensate for problems that no one in baseball wants to address let alone try to fix. I'm not saying they are easy problems, but the risk of creating new ones on top of the existing ones seems quite high and Manfred seems determined to manifest this reality ASAP.

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3 hours ago, Tony-OH said:

Yeah, nothing more exhilarating and exciting then watching a hitter take half swings and fight off any decent pitch until they walk or get fed a meatball. Such talent too to keep fighting those pitches off instead of actually trying to put a ball in play. and man, nothing like having to watch six pitching changes because the pitch counts got so high.

Yep, I see your point. Maybe we should just have one at bat for each team that would last three hours or until they could hit a home run. Everything else would be a foul. Man that would be fun.

It is watching a battle.  I guess CC Sabiatha agrees with you he just hits a batter when they foul off too many pitches. 

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Consider this: Would you rather watch a replay of a homerun, a stolen base attempt, an intricate double play, a great running or leaping catch in the outfield, or a long throw to catch a runner trying to extend a single or double?

I guarantee you that the overwhelming answer would NOT be the home run. Defense is more interesting. Baserunning is more interesting. The problem with the home run is that it is now so common as to have lost all the impact it once had.

a 2-1 game with excellent defense and strategy is far more exciting than trying to bludgeon the ball at every at bat.

Although game 6 of the 2011 WS was the best single game I’ve ever watched, the 2014 ALCS was the most exciting whole series I’ve ever watched( the result was less appealing.)

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